Ask anyone, who has a taste of Kolkata, what are his/her most enduring images of the city, chance is the common choice will be tram and rickshaw in that order, or perhaps in reverse. Both are unique to the city, though not seen at all places, the trams less so. Both represent a bygone era when there were fewer modes of transport, when there was less congestion on road, and people didn’t feel the hurry as they now do. But both somehow clung on.
Time however – as it flows without pause – tells on old and obsolete, and so the turn comes to render them to the pages of history. But bidding them goodbye is not proving easy. Not without reason.
Rickshaws and trams are so much part of Kolkata’s psyche that forgetting them in a hurry is just not done. Trams, for example now have a fresh lease of life. Its tracks are being concretized, so if you now ride one, it’ll not be as bad as in the past.
But don’t trams obstruct vehicles, so much so that during peak hours they are seen as a menace? Tell that to authorities, you’ll most likely be lectured on a litany of reasons why your wish to have trams removed cannot be fulfilled. Never mind none of that would address the actual issue.
With rickshaws the concern centers mostly on what the pullers would do to earn once out of profession. In other words, the idea is to find an honorable exit for them. The rickshaw-pullers – most of them from neighboring states – are hardworking and for them to find other works may not be as difficult as we’d like to imagine.
The government though is not taking any chance, its hands already full with sundry other issues. It plans to allot parking zones to rickshaw-pullers to sustain a living after they are told to stop plying. That’s a good step, and if approved by all concerned, we may soon see the last of hand-pulled rickshaws in the lanes and by-lanes of the city.
Ten years hence, hand-pulled rickshaws will just be a fond remembrance, a relic Kolkata once had.
The feet never tire, come sun or rain. [Picture source]
Related reading: Hand-pulled rickshaws