What follows are a few quick sketches of some aspects of India’s transport scene. Yes, in the 21st century.
Here’s the vehicle of our dream. It is non-polluting and economically beneficial for both the pilot and the passenger. If you are a believer in the ‘trickle-down theory’, this should be your means of conveyance. You are even allowed to take your luggage up to a reasonable limit for no extra charge! With a little effort from the steersman, your three-wheeled conveyance glides on the road and at the end of the journey, there is no need to empty your pocket to pay the fare. So everyone is happy. After all, India exports most of its oil.
This is one of the best specimens of ‘human-powered transport’. They are being quickly replaced by the cycle rickshaws and the auto rickshaws. Some consider this inexpensive and popular means of transport as the ‘most degrading for human beings to pursue’. For short distance travels and for negotiating the narrow alleys and by-lanes of Kolkata (Calcutta), they are an ideal vehicle. They are also the most effective during the monsoon when the streets are flooded. But it is sheer hard work in the summer. In this sweltering heat, who would wish to miss a nap?
It’s a question of demand and supply after all. When there are more people with a need to travel and not enough means of transport, what else do you expect? Are you dreaming of an auto-rickshaw ride in the districts? Here’s your dream ride.
Another very unconventional vehicle, that used to ply on the roads of Calcutta, is the Tempo van. These three-wheeled rickety vans carried goods for small businesses and vegetable vendors. They made more noise and less progress on the roads and always appeared to be rather unstable. I imagine that in the world of automobiles, the Tempo van was the consumptive patient who always coughed terribly, whose entire body trembled as he coughed and who walked ever so slowly dragging his feet.
At the same time, the Tempo must have been indispensable to some people for those ramshackle vehicles were ubiquitous on Calcutta’s roads and especially its many lanes and by-lanes for quite a few decades. But they must have gone through a painfully slow process of obsolescence until their eventual death through the decades of the 80’s and the 90’s for in recent years, I haven’t seen them on the roads here at all.