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Reckless Rickshaws

By Suzanne Schefcik


            The transit system of India was much like the country: a land of contrasts. India has no cultural boundaries or a defined transit system. Cows, cars, camels, horses, rickshaws, buses and trains are all used to transport people and goods from place to place. The spontaneity of India’s public transportation system replicates many different aspects within the country.

            The train system throughout the country remains a feasible way to maneuver around India. First, second and third class cars are available to those who can afford it. My public transportation experience to New Delhi took place in a third class train. There was no AC or fans. The heat was deadly; however, the cultural experience I gained was unmatched. The train was lined with locals and children who all wanted to meet the white Americans. We talked about their schooling and played games with the natives. It was interesting to see them in their own cultural realm.

            Rickshaws were abundant throughout India. These small, yet fast, little cars bumped and rolled along the streets carrying passengers for small amounts of money. As I rode through the various cities in India, I felt as though there were no rules on these vehicles. Drivers pulled over whenever they felt like it to bring you to their buddies’ storefront, prices were negotiable, and one way streets seemed to be optional. Most drivers I encountered knew little or no English, indicating they had little schooling. Usually, they gave me the head wiggle and I hoped I was headed in the right direction.

            In correlation with the article written by Sudharak Owle, “Not a pretty picture,” the rickshaw drivers live impoverished lives, like street sweepers. The conditions in which these drivers work are not the best. Along with this, they do not make an ideal amount of money for the amount of work that they do. Hours can be long and strenuous. Passengers can be rambunctious, rude and cheap. The lifestyle of a rickshaw driver can be very demanding. Unfortunately, drivers receive little recognition.

            Along with rickshaws covering the streets, animals roam around freely. Camels, cows, dogs and chickens can be seen aimlessly making their way around the cities. Many animals are used as transportation among the people. Camels can be seen carrying people to various destinations, while horses pull heavy loads to others. Personally, I thought that this crazy mixed variety of transport worked well within the society. People obviously came from all different castes and economic backgrounds. The different modes of transport available seemed to meet the needs of the contrasting groups.

            The bus system in India seemed just as hectic as the rickshaws. An over abundant number of people were crammed into small buses to reach their destinations. Obviously, the number of buses fell below the necessary amount needed in order to comfortably fit the number of people. The over-crowdedness of India was apparent in nearly all aspects of the society. Not only buses, but cars, carts and trains were filled to the brim. The government evidently has a hard time instating mass transit that meets the needs of the expanding population.

            The spontaneity of India’s transportation reflects the mayhem and disorganization within the country. The caste system enables India to maintain a vast range of transport modes. Cost efficient vehicles and animals are necessary for lower castes, whereas higher prices and efficient means of transport are necessary for higher castes. India, the land of contrasts, seems to have no defined transit system that can be captured in one single description. Transit employees who must cope with the harsh terms and low pay where they work hopefully will gain respect and wages need to live comfortably.

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