Rickshaws, not sports cars
The rickshaws that we see on the roads of Dhaka have essentially become a very important element of the lives of a wide range of people. The emotional attachment that we have with this simple machine has hardly anything to do with the mechanical or the engineering build that a rickshaw has. Originally invented in Japan, a rickshaw has not received as much technical attention as it deserves considering the fact that it is the only source of income for millions of families across our country.
Being a student of mechanical engineering in BUET (Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology), this truly interesting machine caught my attention a year back and I took the opportunity to study it closely. It stood before me as a perfect implementation of our courses on machine design. The machine that earns the daily food of millions amazed me far more than a posh European sports car! It was not long before I started to detect the technical shortcomings of the popular rickshaw that we find on the road these days. The significant characteristics that are present in the engineering of these rickshaws make it inhumanly hard for the person who is pulling it. I can remember a doctor joking with my friend suffering from extra fat prescribing rickshaw pulling as his exercise! The puller has to be strong and young; the passenger to pull faster often scolds the aged ones. Achieving the acceleration seems to be very strenuous even though keeping a steady velocity later on becomes relatively easier. The aerodynamic design consideration is another important issue. A windy day often becomes a day of harsh adversity for the puller. Rainy days bring rather strange problems. The puller pulls defenseless against the rain while the passenger tries to hide beneath a piece of plastic paper that looks very inhuman indeed. I will prefer not to expatiate on how inhuman it actually looks, as it does not concern the subject matter of this essay. Only that sight alone states how ignored this transport has always been because engineers are only interested in working for big names like Toyota or McLaren designing sports cars even though, in the context of a poor country like Bangladesh, a rickshaw plays a very important role (the most important role, according to many) in public transport! But who cares about a stupid rickshaw in Bangladesh if you are working for a German automobile-giant!
The reader will be able to perceive the amount of negligence the rickshaws receive even after being so important if you think for a moment about the fact that even a fifth grade student will be able to propose a better protection against the rain for the puller and no one ever bothered spending a few hours on thinking about it let alone taking practical steps. Moving on, an uncomfortable seat and poor sitting arrangements decrease the satisfaction of the passenger, adding more to the pile of the problems. The absence of effective shock absorbers brings irritation to the puller as well as the passenger. I started thinking about a better design if it was achievable as I am sorry to see that this earning machine of the poor has not received any attention of the engineers that we produce every year in our country. I had a feeling that, if the purpose of my education has nothing to do with helping the poor, who are, of course, the majority of our population, then we are simply holding ourselves back from going forward.
A few illiterate machinists who have no solid base of theoretical science are the only ones who tried working on the rickshaw design improvements. They did nothing but sustaining the front part design of the rickshaw and adding necessary sitting arrangements in the back. The idea of turning a bicycle in to a three-wheel rickshaw is a very good one. But can we not make it better?
An ordinary rickshaw on the street of Dhaka (photo by German tourist)
I made regular visits to the rickshaw workshops in Purono Dhaka to study the assembling process as well as the manufacturing of various integrated parts that make up a whole rickshaw. An ordinary rickshaw usually costs around 12,000 taka and is readily available to be purchased. The prize is going higher day by day as childish efforts of beautifying the rickshaw making it more uncomfortable for the puller continues. Not every element you need is manufactured locally. The chain and a few other key parts are imported from China and India. It is a very impressive fact that we manufacture most of the parts ourselves. I asked the workers in the workshops (who became quite friendly with me) about the reason behind our dependence on foreign countries to make even this small machine. They informed me that the chain manufactured in the local workshops has the history of inaccuracy and failure. It lets you see the fact that Bangladesh is still quite undeveloped in the field of the production of engineering elements that are a little complex. Surprisingly, rickshaws have managed to escape everyone's attention!
I have been working on paper for a few months on the design considerations of the rickshaw searching for improvements. A few technical suggestions can quite clearly be given to reduce the effort to pull the rickshaw, make it affordable and cheap, an efficient transport. Over-design and exaggeration in unnecessary decorations can be marked as two very significant problems. I would prefer not to make the readers yawn mentioning the engineering analysis on the improvement suggestions. I will continue to study this magnificent machine and in the future, when I become an engineer finally, I wish to take practical steps in making this machine an 'easy' one. A day may come when the sight of a lady pulling a rickshaw will not be a surprise!
Winter is here!
In spite of being late, winter is at the doorstep and there is a change in the wind at the Dhaka University Campus (DUC). Students are preparing themselves for the biting cold by buying new clothes like jackets, full T-shirt, shoes, blanket used as a wrap against cold etc. Some are washing the old ones. Since the ambience of DUC full of is surrounded by greenery, cold here is more intolerable than any other place in Dhaka. The season has changed our attitudes, our activities, our clothes, and even our culture! Even our food has changed. Stalls are seen busy selling traditional winter cakes or pitha. Though in winter one can enjoy delicious and sweet cakes, we, who are living in a dormitory, are deprived of enjoying these things. Stalls are trying to serve us to fill that void. The cold of winter nights hampers our late night gossips, but we still do find time to enjoy a good chat with friends. The season brings a great opportunity for couples sitting close together. Seasonal fever and flu is here too, but that won't last long. National as well as student politics is hampering our education. Without any stable situation until transfer of power to a new government, exams or classes won't be held in our campus, or so it seems. Soon winter and Eid vacations will start and students will go home. But, we, who want to sit for the exam but the university authority hasn't yet taken any initiative, will only say looking at ourselves, “how time does fly!”
Department of International Relations(4th year),DU