I often come across a question: why Rickshaw, in the time of skyrocketing aspirations of youth? Many dub it regressive to ride a rickshaw in the age of development. If at all, it has to be an auto-rickshaw or an electronic rickshaw! Perhaps, it is fine to think through the prism of human progress and technological advancement. It is indeed progressive to think of freedom from drudgery by the aid of technological advancement. But then, there is adequate room for a romantic advocacy, not necessarily regressive, of a manually driven cycle-rickshaw. And more importantly, one ought to be engaging more with the symbol, it’s symbolic significance, irrespective of the desire to connect with the unsung peddlers in the street. And what is harmful about connecting with the Rickshaw-pullers! After all, the wretched of the earth are capable of bringing about myriad encounters with milestones.
On a serious note, the smaller the carrier, the better possibility to personalize it. It is akin to a smaller container, such as a teacup, which one could hold in the palms and walked around without much discomfort. One may find it tedious to personalize the mammoth airplane. The owners of airline companies are also not very sure, and hence we get to hear of divesting. Quite a few of them come crashing down in business and the owner is stripped of the personalized stakes. So could happen with a Rickshaw. Yet, one could find it easier to experience a personalized association. One could share a fag with the puller, exchange notes on the ups and downs of life, and debate about the choice of candidates in the forthcoming elections. None of this applies in the case of a pilot of a jet plane, who will be communicating to the travellers on mike- kindly fasten your seatbelts as there are disturbing clouds shaking the plane!
Enough of the romantic comparison. This is certainly not the motif to extoll Rickshaw in comparison with jet plane;as the proverb in Hindi goes- kahan raja bhoj, kahanganguteli(one is not even fit to hold a candle to the other). The purpose instead is to underline the significance of the academic and extra-academic activism of students who constitute the collective called Rickshaw. And this is a responsible activism geared toward creating a meaningful structure of youth engagement. Not to unceremoniously earn a few brownie points as an individual doer, but more to architect a possibility, Rickshaw is a forum for experimentation with ethical sensibility and aesthetic enhancement in its perspective. It is colorful, dynamic, and youthful; it is a wish fulfillment for all those, as Bernard Shaw once indicated, who teach, but cannot do!In nutshell, it is a forum to realize that a youth is not merely a docile compliant character, but also a very agentive doer. Thus Rickshaw ceases a chance to ‘merely crib about the absent opportunities’. It enables every rider, and of course the pullers, to be creatively aware and perform to fill the vacuum.
On a personal note, when I am down with a bout of cynicism I look up to the next event in the calendar of Rickshaw. I am so sure that it would be give me the much-needed uplift I always need at South Asian University.
Dr. Dev Pathak teaches sociology at South Asian University.