Sunday, July 25, 2010

The ways of the old

Auto Rickshaw in Bangalore, with the Vidhana S...Image via Wikipedia
On the occasional Friday, I need to take my guitar along to my after-office classes. Not wanting to risk breaking it on the front of a bus which swerved too close to my motorcycle on Calcutta's cramped roads, I have to abandon my favourite mode of transport for that day and go the bus-autorickshaw-autorickshaw route to work which the majority of my co-workers take. After a jittery bus ride to the Sealdah station which never abandons its reputation of being a constant example of the term 'human sea', I now need to take the auto-rickshaw (autos) to Chingrihata. A lot of people hate autos for the monstrous traffic jams that their tendency to sneak into the smallest possible gaps in the slow moving traffic causes. I on the other hand think they are rather funny with their whirring engine noises and fun to ride since they convey an illusion of being at high speed even at 40 kmph thanks to their rickety light little body frames. Its like having a convertible experience on 3 wheels!

The auto route from Sealdah to Chingrihata follows a road which embodies all the problems you would think define Indian driving conditions. On a mostly very smooth stretch of road, a couple of terrible patches would pop out of thin air, the surprise element in their attack critical to inflicting the maximum damage to your vehicle. Apart from the usual mess that a busy two lane road sees with buses, trucks, motorcycles, hand pulled loads, cycles, cycle-rickshaws and auto-rickshaws all trying to overtake each other with very little success and thereby blocking the oncoming traffic, the situation is compounded by the bazaar which lines the road on both sides with fruit and vegetable vendors comfortably settling down on the road itself. Its great daily entertainment if you include the the honking horns and bells of a huge variety and the volatile emotions of the drivers, cyclists & walkers in the mix, entertainment as long as there is someone else doing the driving for you or you are riding something of negligible external dimensions like a motorcycle enabling you to slink your way through the often stalled traffic. If it rains, wading through standing water at a low enough speed so that the walking crowds don't get splashed and therefore angry is another challenge in store for the hapless driver.

My destination is at the very end of the auto route at the auto stand itself so I along with my fellow passengers take it easy as getting worked up over bad traffic and long delays is not something which is of constructive value considering the road we are on. It is more of an accepted fact and the extra time required to negotiate this portion of our commute is incorporated into our schedules. For someone who needs to disembark on a section of road somewhere in between, the Bengali for "Brother, could you stop to the left?" is what seemed really curious to me once I gave it a little thought. The Bengali version of the request goes "Dada, ektuu baa dikey baandhben?" which literally translates to "Brother, could you please tie it to the left?"

Almost all of Bengal is composed of fertile flatlands with more than generous amounts of tropical rainfall and a numerous little rivers which at one time and age must have been the main routes of transportation through boats and ferries. No wonder that fish is such an integral part of the Bengali diet. To see a reflection of that old way of life, a remnant of a totally different world, in those few words adapted to a modern context was quite a strange feeling. The original use of "Tie it to the left" can only be explained as a request to the boatman to stop at the left bank of a narrow river or canal. Without tying the boat would just drift ahead on the river current. The rivers, once the lifeline of many a civilization may have been pushed away to the rural landscapes by relentless urban development but they continue to make their presence felt, in our daily language, and at the back of our minds.

"The road like a river of flowing might,
Wheels like oars on the tugging tide,
Much we have changed or so we are told,
Yet alive through thoughts... the ways of the old."
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Kunnu said...

which building it is in the photo?

Cool post, by the way. I am really glad you are spending time on doing things you like.

Roy said...

Thanks buddy! But I don't know the building. Just some random auto rickshaw image from Wikipedia. The place is probably not Calcutta.

Srirupa said...

Then how will one translate..

" ba dike side kore din" :)