Once upon a time people used to travel on a palki in Kolkata, nowadays it has been duly replaced by a rickshaw. It is difficult to decide whether this transition from no-wheels to duo-wheels is a forward leap or a backward one. Once in palkis we used to float and commute..resting all our weight on the shoulders of the carriers, and now we are pulled on the wheels of a rickshaw by the rickshaw puller. See, its pretty difficult to decide whether we have moved forward or not. Though the palki and rickshaw move in a slightly different tortoise stride, yet I think they are bound together by a sublime sense of kinship and friendliness. Among all the different types of commuters on the road, the orthodox rickshaw passenger seems more romantic in their approach.(..reminds anyone of the gondola !!). Like Hazlitt he would also say : “a clear blue sky above ,isolated oases of greenery, and a meandering road..if I am permitted a rickshaw, then I journey riding my reveries to the end of the horizon..”. In this eerie silence the mild cadence of a rickshaw bell is his only companion.
Ever noticed someone in Kolkata who feels suffocated in a bus, and weary on a jeep or a streamlined Hudson ? Maybe you have seen but not noticed. If you notice you can find him and his rickshaw everywhere; from bazaars to theaters, courthouses to a friendhouses, marriage halls to cemeteries, he is omnipresent. For reasons yet undeciphered a rickshaw commuter bears an innate affection for a rickshaw. Psychologists may classify them as rickshaw neurotic. As Pavlov’s dog used to salivate at the sound of a bell, similarly a rickshaw-man feels an impulse to disintegrate and get laid on a rickshaw at the chime of a rickshaw bell. Another surprising phenomenon is the approach of the rickshaw puller towards this man. There is a marked difference between his approach towards us and him. If we loiter on the road gaping at the line of rickshaws, unsure about whom to board..a rickshaw puller wont even bother a passing glance; but if he strolls by, a rickshawwallah may even discard his khaini (! !) and run to him. This deep spiritual connection between the rickshaw puller and the rickshaw man is indeed astonishing. This also proves another thing: in the perfection of passenger hunting, even hardened cab drivers would feel humiliated to him. Though there’s a very basic difference between an ideal taxi lover and a rickshaw person. The taxi people carry along a very natural sense of smartness with them, which you may say a ‘bourgeoise smartness’; but what the rickshaw commuter has is a ‘ feudal slackness’. If you have seen a taxi goer, you would not fail to notice the swift mechanical rhythm of him, from opening the door of a taxi, getting inside it and then giving the directions to the driver; but a rickshaw goer cares least about mechanicality and the bondage of routine. He rather emanates a lazy and elongated melody in his relation with the rickshaw. More like a baadshah boarding his royal chariot. Unlike the rush of a taxi goer to keep up time, an ideal rickshaw passenger embraces the slowest and the yawniest of time as his ideal in life.
Whatever his ideals are, a typical rickshaw commuter in Kolkata is an indomitable entity. Apart from all the rickshawallahs , his reputation carries far and wide to the taxiwallahs and the buswallahs . His sudden emergence like a slumbering hippopotamus amidst the lunatic torrent of city traffic, and the resulting confusion of a busy road has made him ferociously familiar amongst the bus and the taxi drivers. But nevertheless a rickshaw-man manages a characteristic drowsiness . Not only he gives a damn about traffic, he does not even bother indulgence in social formalities as well. With or without luggage or family, irrespective of the distance, a rickshaw is his one and only preference. Be it any season; or be it anywhere, he never betrays a rickshaw. He says there is no other way of transport other than a rickshaw if you want to travel a levitation path.
In his own locality a rickshaw man is legendary. He has got his own pandora’s box of adventures and thrills. If he is awake, he may as well tell you about the romantic anecdotes of his bachelor life, or how he eluded rioteers and murderers during the riots. These stories never end and be rest assured not a word of them is false.
A rickshaw commuter says a bus or a tram journey is nothing but a weary rush where you end up panting heavily. And a taxi or a private car can never give you the open flowy freedom of a rickshaw ride. In a rickshaw you are at the freedom of choosing your stride; you may prefer a rumbling ride or a slow sauntering motion; the rickshaw will cater you comfort as you need.But what if the humanitarian question of being pulled by another man surfaces !? a rickshaw babu says once you board a rickshaw , everything is forgotten in pleasant reveries. In scorching sun or flooded roads, whenever you board a rickshaw , the only thing that exists is the sweet melody of a rickshaw bell and the drowsy bright feeling of being absorbed in it.