In Kolkata, the ‘Last Days of the Rickshaw’?
Travel Blog • Michael Yessis • 04.03.08 | 4:08 PM ET
Calvin Trillin’s look at the fate of hand-pulled rickshaws in Kolkata (aka Calcutta) leads a terrific package on the subject in National Geographic. “To Westerners, the conveyance most identified with Kolkata is not its modern subway—a facility whose spacious stations have art on the walls and cricket matches on television monitors—but the hand-pulled rickshaw,” he writes. “Stories and films celebrate a primitive-looking cart with high wooden wheels, pulled by someone who looks close to needing the succor of Mother Teresa.”
For years the government has been talking about eliminating hand-pulled rickshaws on what it calls humanitarian grounds—principally on the ground that, as the mayor of Kolkata has often said, it is offensive to see “one man sweating and straining to pull another man.” But these days politicians also lament the impact of 6,000 hand-pulled rickshaws on a modern city’s traffic and, particularly, on its image. “Westerners try to associate beggars and these rickshaws with the Calcutta landscape, but this is not what Calcutta stands for,” the chief minister of West Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, said in a press conference in 2006. “Our city stands for prosperity and development.” The chief minister—the equivalent of a state governor—went on to announce that hand-pulled rickshaws soon would be banned from the streets of Kolkata.
Related on World Hum:
* ‘Human Horses’ Defy Calcutta Rickshaw Ban