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Life views from the seat of a three-wheeler.

Summary: The rickshaws with their colours, lines and spaces represent the cultural vibrancy and throbbing life of the cities and towns and add uniformity across a country of stark contrasts and amazing diversity

Fyna AshwathSpecial to Gulf News

On a visit to a restaurant in Dubai recently, I was awestruck at the sight of the bejewelled, bedecked beauty displayed near the entrance. It was a vibrantly painted, glistening auto rickshaw (three-wheeler) immediately transporting along with it, memories of how it jostles with everyday life in many Indian cities.

I envisioned my rides to and from school on a hand-pulled rickshaw in Kolkata, singing aloud with my two school mates, as we felt the breeze on our faces, talking incessantly and feeling the ground beneath our feet (which was the metallic floor of the rickshaw), heave and sway with the rhythm of the wheels. The trustworthy rickshaw puller ensured our safe journeys between home and school and along the way we had tremendous fun, observing everyday life and learning many lessons beyond the textbooks.

I also remember the bigger auto rickshaws with seating for six or seven people (and a couple of male passengers squeezing in with the driver) swerving along the streets of northern India. And while visiting Old Delhi one cannot miss the romantic ride on a cycle rickshaw along the meandering alleyways and a spin around the old buildings to experience the leisurely charm.

The journey from the motorised, three-wheeled auto-rickshaws that are ubiquitous on Indian roads to the remodelled auto taxis in southern India that I notice on visits during recent years, is a reminder of how the lives, thoughts and aspirations of the people have changed over the years.

Every summer in India we travel often on these rickshaws and delight in the different views of life they offer. Many auto rickshaws down south have inscriptions or names painted on them that range from poetic to funny. My children have a look of amazement on their faces during these exhilarating auto-rickshaw rides where the lack of windows or doors enables them to observe life unfolding right in the midst of the bustling crowds. The splash of colour from the shops, the tempting aromas from crowded wayside eateries or the thrill of watching the rain trickling in as the rickshaw bumps along during a heavy downpour all make it a ride to remember for a long time.

The rickshaws with their colours, lines and spaces represent the cultural vibrancy and throbbing life of the cities and towns and add uniformity across a country of stark contrasts and amazing diversity. They remain witnesses to the way of life of a nation which never fails to inspire by the ability of its people to somehow pull themselves above all the differences, struggles and the unfortunate incidents that plague it every now and then and yet retain an astonishing vibrancy and contentment.

Revolutionising travel

In Dubai, it was great to spot the smart bikes which are basically cycle rickshaws around the Burj Khalifa. On a recent holiday in Vietnam, the cycle rickshaws with the passenger seated in front provided wonderful joy in exploring the place.

As we continue our race into the future, autonomous driving and driverless cars are speeding towards us faster than we anticipated, all set to revolutionise the way the world travels.

These technological wonders promise luxurious, smoother commuting with a lot more efficiency as well as reduced congestion and the comfort of connectivity. Driverless auto-rickshaws are also being tested in some Asian countries.

With all these innovations, a ride in the traditional rickshaw may soon become as old fashioned as travelling in a horse carriage these days.

However a bumpy rickshaw ride with its element of adventure, the opportunity to be directly connected to the life around and a long chat with the driver about the everyday changes in the city will continue to be remembered as an unparalleled experience.

Fyna Ashwath is a journalist based in Dubai.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Jul 13, 2017
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