130 years of Kolkata's hand-pulled rickshaws: A brief history of the City of Joy's most recognisable symbols [Photos]

Like the Victoria Memorial, tramcars and Howrah Bridge, the hand-pulled rickshaw is one of Kolkata’s most well recognised symbols

Satwik Paul April 24, 2018 18:23:41 IST
Like the Victoria Memorial, tramcars and Howrah Bridge, the hand-pulled rickshaw is one of Kolkata’s most well recognised symbols. Photo by Satwik Paul.
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Like the Victoria Memorial, tramcars and Howrah Bridge, the hand-pulled rickshaw is one of Kolkata’s most well recognised symbols. Photo by Satwik Paul.
Hand-pulled rickshaws have been plying the streets of the City of Joy since the end of the 19th century. Photo by Satwik Paul.
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Hand-pulled rickshaws have been plying the streets of the City of Joy since the end of the 19th century. Photo by Satwik Paul.
The means of transport is now in its 130th year of existence in Kolkata, and has been inextricably linked with the city’s socio-economic evolution for the past century. Photo by Satwik Paul.
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The means of transport is now in its 130th year of existence in Kolkata, and has been inextricably linked with the city’s socio-economic evolution for the past century. Photo by Satwik Paul.
Pre- and immediately post-Independence, the rich in Kolkata would ride in palanquins. The hand-pulled rickshaw became a way for the middle and upper-middle classes to show their status. Thus, a means of transport also became representative of social class. Photo by Satwik Paul.
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Pre- and immediately post-Independence, the rich in Kolkata would ride in palanquins. The hand-pulled rickshaw became a way for the middle and upper-middle classes to show their status. Thus, a means of transport also became representative of social class. Photo by Satwik Paul.
Traversing Kolkata’s streets — especially in the northern part of the city — can pose quite the challenge: the narrow lanes are littered with garbage and a slew of vehicles honk constantly. Amid the din, you’ll find a few (mostly) emaciated men, pulling their rickshaws behind them. Photo by Satwik Paul.
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Traversing Kolkata’s streets — especially in the northern part of the city — can pose quite the challenge: the narrow lanes are littered with garbage and a slew of vehicles honk constantly. Amid the din, you’ll find a few (mostly) emaciated men, pulling their rickshaws behind them. Photo by Satwik Paul.
The plight of the rickshawallas has moved many writers and artists to tell their stories. Kolkata's hand-pulled rickshaws got literary recognition with Dominique Lapierre’s novel City of Joy (1985). Photo by Satwik Paul.
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The plight of the rickshawallas has moved many writers and artists to tell their stories. Kolkata's hand-pulled rickshaws got literary recognition with Dominique Lapierre’s novel City of Joy (1985). Photo by Satwik Paul.
Bimal Roy's Do Bigha Zameen (1953) — which depicted the misery of the lower middle class in a steadily-in-decline Kolkata — portrayed the story of a poor farmer, compelled to leave his village and become a ‘tana rickshaw wallah’ in the city. Photo by Satwik Paul.
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Bimal Roy's Do Bigha Zameen (1953) — which depicted the misery of the lower middle class in a steadily-in-decline Kolkata — portrayed the story of a poor farmer, compelled to leave his village and become a ‘tana rickshaw wallah’ in the city. Photo by Satwik Paul.
A day for one of these pullers typically begins at 4 am, ferrying packages to and from the Burrabazar or New Market areas, or the schoolchildren who happen to be their most regular customers. Photo by Satwik Paul.
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A day for one of these pullers typically begins at 4 am, ferrying packages to and from the Burrabazar or New Market areas, or the schoolchildren who happen to be their most regular customers. Photo by Satwik Paul.
A conservation will reveal that the rickshaw pullers take deep interest in the nation, politics, elections — and of course, sipping on numerous cups of chai. Photo by Satwik Paul.
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A conservation will reveal that the rickshaw pullers take deep interest in the nation, politics, elections — and of course, sipping on numerous cups of chai. Photo by Satwik Paul.
The Calcutta Hackney-Carriage (Amendment) Bill, 2006 called for the withdrawal of these rickshaws. Of the 6,000 or so sources of livelihood that will be lost, little has been said, apart from promises of ‘rehabilitation’. Photo by Satwik Paul.
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The Calcutta Hackney-Carriage (Amendment) Bill, 2006 called for the withdrawal of these rickshaws. Of the 6,000 or so sources of livelihood that will be lost, little has been said, apart from promises of ‘rehabilitation’. Photo by Satwik Paul.
And yet, when the city floods in one of its seasonal torrential downpours, it is these rickshaws that continue to ply. Photo by Satwik Paul.
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And yet, when the city floods in one of its seasonal torrential downpours, it is these rickshaws that continue to ply. Photo by Satwik Paul.