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Tilak Rishi, born in India, has been working as a career corporate executive, after doing his MBA. Passionately pursuing his hobby for writing, he also remained a regular contributor to newspapers in India and the U.S. Many true happenings and characters he came across in life, including interaction with former president Bill Clinton, inspired Paradise Lost and Found, his first novel. A family saga, it starts from Kashmir, when this paradise on earth is lost for the tourists who thronged in thousands every year to enjoy its scenic splendor. Terrorists have turned it into one of the most dangerous places in the world. The family is not only a witness to the loss of this paradise, but also to another tragedy of much bigger magnitude. In the aftermath of the partition of India, along with millions uprooted from their homes in Pakistan, the family leaves behind all that it has in Lahore. Starting from a scratch on the difficult path to progress, it still has many joyful moments when along the way it makes a difference in many a life. The survival-to-success story climaxes in California where the family finds the paradise that was lost in Kashmir.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Kolkata's Rickshaw Pullers

Among the great cities of the world, Kolkata, the home of nearly 15 million people, is often mentioned as the only one that still has a large fleet of hand-pulled rickshaws. 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 rickshaws. 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 Home. The most famous scene from Bimal Roy's highly acclaimed and awarded movie, Do Bigha Zamin (1953), is when Shambhu (Balraj Sahni), the rickshaw puller, pushes himself to the limit pulling a rickshaw. The rider on the rickshaw offers Shambhu more money to pull faster because he is probably chasing his girl friend who is in a horse pulled carriage. Shambhu cannot resist the temptation and he keeps pulling faster in anticipation of getting more money. However, his wealthy customer is not worried about his plight. In Rollen Joffe film City of Joy (1992), the human horses of Kolkata are both reviled and revered.

Hand-pulled rickshaws have been a feature of Kolkata streets for more than a century. The rickshaws were first introduced in Kolkata in the late 19th century by Chinese traders, primarily to carry goods. But British rulers made them the cheap mode of transportation in 1919. It is a sad and offensive scene on the streets of Kolkata, even after 60 years of independence, to see one man sweating and straining to pull another man. People in the lanes use rickshaw as a 24-hour ambulance service. The steadiest customers are school children. Middle class families contract with a puller to take a child to school and pick him up, puller essentially becoming a family retainer. In monsoon Kolkata gets torrential rains, when the rickshaws are pulled through water that is up-to the pullers' waists.

Thanks to the mounting pressure from humanitarian agencies, the hand-pulled rickshaws of Kolkata could soon be a thing of the past. In a city which loves its traditions, the authorities and human rights groups want the rickshaws phased out. Sooner it is done, better it will be for eradicating the human disgrace and plight of Kolkata's rickshaw pullers.


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