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     Volume 4 Issue 62 | September 9, 2005 |

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On the Wheels of the Rickshaw

Tulip Chowdhury

Every morning I have some mixed feelings brewing inside me about the half an hour rickshaw ride to my office. I am anxious because I have to find a rickshaw on time. I am also a little relieved for I don't have to take the mile long walk to the bus stop because I can always find one of those three wheelers nearby. Yet, the hidden perils of rickshaw rides on the streets of Dhaka haunts my mind. As I step out, I am accompanied by the noise of my two school going sons screaming their heads off as they get ready for school. My husband can be heard hollering after them as he gets ready to drop them off to school on his way to his office. Our pets, a dog and a cat join in. On weekdays hell seems to break loose in my house in the morning. I turn a deaf ear to all this hullabaloo and start on my way to the office. Inside me is a small bubble of happiness from the anticipation of the rickshaw ride. I forget the troubles of home and call up a rickshaw.

Before I get on to the rickshaw I make sure that the rickshaw puller is neither too young nor too old. The aged ones are sometimes too slow and cannot always keep a safe distance from the other vehicles. At times they even turn a blind eye to the directions of the traffic police. The young ones, on the other hand are often heedless to the passing vehicles and the other rickshaws around them. Buses, trucks or cars; they care not. They try to run on the same track!

My rickshaw has its front wide open with the passenger's seat at the back. I therefore have the advantage of having a clear picture of the road ahead. Lines of rickshaws move on the road in colourful processions. Some rickshaws have rounded hoods and some hoods are straight. There are some that are new in appearance and some that look old and shabby. However most of them come in very bright colours. The new ones have glittering handles with bright red, yellow, golden or silver streamers hanging from them. The handles have two metal vases and they are decorated with artificial flowers. The metal backside of the seat usually has some bright pictures painted on it. These pictures are usually of sizzling dance sequences of the latest cinema heroes and heroines. Some of them have religious quotations written on them. There are others with birds or a ferocious tiger painted on them.

The rickshaws that are a little old may have patched hoods and their metal parts are rusted. I have often noticed that the man paddling a new rickshaw appears to be in a jovial mood where as the owner of the older ones appear to be little miserable. Some of them however hold their shoulders straight and their faces are set as if in determination. Perhaps they are the ones who have accepted the realities of life with all its hardships.

I start looking around me to observe the passengers on the other rickshaws. I request the rickshaw puller to go slowly and carefully as a reminder because if they get a free road they may start racing with the wind. One rickshaw paddling along by my side holds an elderly gentleman. In his hands he is holding on to a plastic food carrier and a bottle of water. I wonder if he has someone in the hospital and is taking the breakfast. A bus blares its horns from the behind and my rickshaw puller moves over to the left. Over my right another rickshaw holds two young girls in uniforms laughing and talking and their loose hair streaming behind them. Maybe students on their way to their school, I tell myself. That rickshaw is followed by another one that holds three young girls. I note that they are not as well dressed as the girls in the previous rickshaw. I take them to be workers of some garment factories. A little farther away three young boys are also riding together. I remember the days when we were school going and used to take such triple rides. It was absolutely forbidden by our parents and against the traffic rules. But and then forbidden fruits were always sweeter in those days of the youth!

As we come to a traffic stop I overhear a lady bargaining with rickshaw puller,
" Why do you want so much fare, said the lady. "its very near."
"Khalamma" says the rickshaw puller "even the moon seems to be so near, but when you go all the way it is rather far."
"Why do you call me Khlamma{Aunt) " snaps the lady, "do I look that old to you?"
" What can we do? All the women these days wear salwar kameez, we cannot understand who is Apu(Sister) and who is Khalamma"

Well, I tell myself, these rickshaw pullers have their own stories! As the traffic light turned green I was once again on my way. A rickshaw coming from the opposite direction caught my attention. A girl and a boy sat huddled together. Both of them looked to be teenagers. The girl was in white uniform. Ah. I told my self. Must be skipping college or school to be out on the date. Many times I have witnessed young men and women, going on rickshaw rides. Perhaps there was some special charm on dating on the rickshaws!

Coming to the topic of love and marriage, I remember the sight of new brides being taken to their new homes in rickshaws in the village where I grew up. The palanquins were out of the scene then and rickshaws were more in use for the village wedding ceremonies. The rickshaw of the new bride would be surrounded with glittering cloth. There would be a long line of little boys and girls following the bride's rickshaw that would roll up and down along the rough village path.

Speaking of rough roads I remember that I have to sit tight when we come to the last part of my journey. It is a bumpy ride. There are large ditches where some repair work is going on. When the ride is downward I have to sit tight against the seat. But when the rickshaw is climbing upward I have to sit with ease to help the wheels climb upwards.

The weather too can make a difference in how I ride the rickshaw. If the day is windy then I let the hood down and feel the wind beat against my face. How I love to feel the wind blow my hair and kiss my face! If it is raining then I have to keep a piece of plastic which often called the "curtain" held in front of me against the driving rain. The curtain has to be tucked in under the thighs or stuck against the rounded bamboo used on the hood. You do get a little wet. But, it's fun to move around in a rickshaw in the rain or when its a windy day.

Come rain or sun, the good thing about the rickshaws is that they are always there just around the corners. You don't have to walk miles in the blazing sun to reach the bus stop. Rickshaws may be a hindrance to the throbbing traffic, drivers who whiz past in shiny cars may curse them, but they are indispensable to the lives of the common people like us. Life in Dhaka would indeed be very dull without my rickshaw rides!

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