Photo exhibition on hand-pulled rickshaws in Kolkata

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Kolkata, June 26 (IANS) The hand-pulled rickshaw, which has through the decades emerged as a symbol of Kolkata despite facing threats to its existence in an age of speed and mechanised transport, is the cynosure of all eyes in an ongoing photo exhibition depicting the trials and tribulations of the pullers.

Part of A big project “Stone – Being and Becoming”, the 14-day exhibition that began on Friday, showcases 15 freeze shots of the slow-moving but environmental-friendly vehicles, which run through large parts of the eastern metropolis carrying passengers.

Clicked by Rajesh Gupta, an eye-catching photo captures a wheel of the rickshaw and the tired feet of a puller apparently resting on the vehicle.

Another frame in black and white presents a row of rickshaws against the background of a desolate house enveloped by the gigantic roots of what could be an unseen grand old banyan tree.

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A third photo contains a melancholy portrait of a rickshaw puller sitting on the footrest of his vehicle with an intense gaze.

With some of the photographs bringing out the lonely existence of rickshaw pullers, Gupta said: “While interacting with them I realised that they don’t have any dream. They are forced to stay within their circle. Even if they want to come out of that circle, they can’t.”

Forty two of the rickshaw pullers were felicitated on Sunday at the exhibition venue – Harrington Street Art gallery.

The rickshaw pullers had their moments under the sun as they were given t-shirts, served blueberry cakes, and introduced to celebrities like actors Om Puri and Swastika Mukherjee.

“Rickshaw pullers are intrinsic to Kolkata. Memorabilia, t-shirts everything talks about them. We wanted to glorify the real heroes of the city,” said photographer Kounteya Sinha, one of the key persons in the project.

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Om Puri, who once played the role of a rickshaw puller in Roland Joffe’s “City of Joy”, said: “Kolkata’s iconic rickshaw, which is part of its history, should never die.”

“In monsoons when the streets are flooded, rickshaws become the only mode of transportation” he said.

Puri added that like Hong Kong, Kolkata should also make rickshaws a tourist attraction and allow them to function in limited parts of the city where they don’t cause hindrance to the traffic.

The hand pulled rickshaw has been a medium of conveyance in the city since 1914, three years after the national capital was shifted to Delhi from Kolkata.

Few years back the West Bengal government brought a proposal to ban rickshaws. But in the face of tremendous opposition from green activists, civil society and heritage experts, the decision was taken back.

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