LIFE

The case of the vanished rickshaws

Today, they are good only for fetching water, where they still exist.

Today, they are good only for fetching water, where they still exist.  

RICHSHAAAAAW!" HOW long has it been since you've hollered for that rickety three wheel convertible drive that spewed no smoke and burnt no holes in the pocket? How long has it been since you have enjoyed a not so hurried/troubled dash through the city's streets?

Or, are you the type who asks rather contemptuously "Rickshaw (sneer)?"

For them and for all those who have been swept up by the bloody revolution in which the Evil Auto triumphed, here is a reminder. Not so very long ago, in Chennai, there was a breed of warm docile people who loved their beedis and enjoyed taking slow rides through the bends in the roads. We do not know whether they loved their beedis more or their vehicles, but since we are unlikely to gather empirical evidence on the above, let us assume then, that they loved both equally — the smelly beedi and pedalling their rickshaws.

That the Evil Auto (E.A.) has almost completely phased out its honourable predecessor is amply exhibited in the clearest mirror of them all. Like the Stepmother in Snow White and the seven dwarfs, the E.A. looks at the mirror every morning, and demands to know who the King of the Road is. They are that kind of people.

But not very long ago, the rickshaw was king of the road. Undeniably. For one, nearly everybody was happy with the service, because, the drivers were not rude. In fact, they were servile, and eminent hagglers. Imagine taking a ride to and fro school everyday for Rs. 100 per month? Can you do it today? You could have, in the days of the rickshaw. Despite their monopoly position, the rickshaw wallahs would ferry you for sums that would not even be commensurate with the labour involved. But they did not let it show. Whatever the price settled on, they would pedal away in the blistering heat, smelly beedi hanging from mouth and a song on their lips. Most times, quite tunelessly, they would belt out the songs of the day. Especially, numbers from MGR's `Rickshawkaran', which did tremendous things towards building their brand image, in the days when marketing concepts and brand gurus were making their fame and money on yonder shores.

Today, though thanks to the machinations of the E.A. gang, another kind of brand building is happening. Rajnikanth is the brand ambassador and the auto reigns.

Unable to bear the brunt of the assault, the docile rickshawkarans gave up their beedis and attached motors to their non-polluting vehicles. When even that did not work, they quietly stopped pulling and sold out to the E.A. gang. Some of them are honourable members of the Evil Auto Association today. In rarefied locations in the city, foreigners ride the rickshaw for a lark. Today, we regret to inform you that "The cyclerickshaw is dead. Long live the autorickshaw.

By Ramya Kannan

Photo: N. Balaji

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