Monday, 19 January 2015

Rickshaw Wallahs | Tewfic El-Sawy

I've just published Rickshaw Wallahs on the Exposure platform, with some of the photographs I made during the Kolkata’s Cult of Durga Photo~Expedition & Workshop which I organized and led in late 2011.

Since the end of the 19th century, hand-pulled rickshaws have been transporting Kolkata residents in its crowded streets. These ‘vehicles’ have remained an integral part of Kolkata’s fabric for more than 100 years. The word ‘rickshaw’ originates from the Japanese word jinrikisha. They were invented in Japan in 1860, and appeared in India a few years later.

Despite protestations, this archaic form of transport continues to be popular, despite ongoing debates regarding ethics and traffic-flow efficiency. During Kolkata's monsoon, the streets flood regularly, and only hand pulled rickshaws can carry people where they need to go. It is also regularly used by housewives for shopping, by small businessmen to carry merchandise, and by families to get their children safely to and from school.

Whilst in Kolkata, I photographed Muhammed, a rickshaw puller and to capture a few frames of him pulling it from a passenger's perspective, I sat on it. 

The sight of Muhammed straining to pull me these few meters upset me, and I asked him to stop, and got down. I suppose there is a difference between the hand-pulled rickshaws such as those in Kolkata and elsewhere, and the bicycle rickshaws in Old Delhi. I have ridden the latter; grudgingly perhaps, but I haven't felt the same way.