Pedalling through the twilight years of cycle rickshaw

July 07, 2014 12:00 am | Updated 05:39 am IST - CHENNAI:

Dakshinamoorthy pulls up his cycle rickshaw close to a pavement near Pattalam market. He gasps for breath and inches towards the pavement to escape the sweltering sun.

As sweat pours down the head of this frail-looking sexagenarian, he waits for a passenger who may or may not turn up.

In the fast-paced life of this metro, rickshaw pullers like Dakshinamoorthy have been pushed into oblivion as cycle rickshaws have become a rarity in Chennai.

This mode of transport continues to have patronage in very few areas in the city, particularly northern parts such as Pattalam, Choolai, Purasawalkam, Sowcarpet, Walltax Road, and near Chennai Central railway station.

Dakshinamoorthy only vaguely remembers the number of years he has toiled away with his cycle rickshaw. “Maybe for around 25 years now. Things have changed a lot over the years. With numerous autorickshaws and share autorickshaws flooding the roads, who wants to travel in a cycle rickshaw?” he asks.

With each passing day, rickshaw pullers find the number of savaris (rides) dwindling. This fast-falling demand has pushed many of them to other trades, including driving of autorickshaws.

Many of them charge as little as Rs. 10 or Rs. 15 for short trips. Das, a rickshaw puller on Walltax Road, says there are nearly 400 rickshaws plying routes from Central to areas like Purasawalkam. “We hardly get savaris nowadays. When we do get regular trips, it involves ferrying loads on Walltax Road,” he adds.

Fatigue and pain is something that these rickshaw pullers struggle with on a daily basis. “It is particularly difficult during summer,” says Das.

Fifty-eight-year-old Pandian says there were at least 50 cycle rickshaws in Pattalam a few years ago.

“There are hardly 10 now. Most of us depend on school trips. I take 10 to 12 students to schools in the vicinity, including in Vepery and Choolai. Parents pay Rs. 200 to Rs. 300 for a child per month. That is just not enough to meet my monthly expenses but I have to manage,” he adds.

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