The cycle rickshaws in Santiniketan have been replaced by battery-run 'totos'.
These 'totos' strangely are not registered with the regional transport authority but by the strange rules of West Bengal administration are 'empanelled' with the ruling party, says Keya Sarkar.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com
One of the high points of coming to Santiniketan since our childhood was the cycle rickshaw rides.
The slow ride through town which allowed you to look at the beauty of every house and every garden and smell the sweet scents of flowers and fruits as you turned each corner was a real treat.
Even when my father bought a car and we occasionally drove to Santiniketan, once we reached the house the car was parked in the driveway only to be taken out for our return to Kolkata.
All travel within Santiniketan to buy provisions or see friends and relatives was by cycle rickshaw.
Often when we visited Santiniketan as children it would be with my parents and other relatives or friends. So getting out of home often meant a convoy of rickshaws going together with the kids screaming and talking to those in the other rickshaws.
Over the years most of the rickshaw drivers would be known to us and they would be sharing their joys and woes with my parents as they pedalled along.
Very often the drivers would pull out a little stool from their tiny dickeys for the elderly to use them to get on to the rickshaw.
Years later, when I came back from Mumbai to stay in Santiniketan permanently the rickshaws were my mode of transport.
My only anxiety I remember was when in times of power cuts or load-shedding the roads of Santiniketan would be pitch dark.
The rickshaws had no lights. So whenever the driver had to turn left or right he would just make a deep guttural noise to warn others of his existence.
I used to be petrified that I would be dropped into a ditch. But they always brought me back home safely even if many of them were way drunk by the evening.
The cycle rickshaws in Santiniketan are sadly a dying breed. They have been replaced by battery-run 'totos'.
Almost every able-bodied rickshaw driver I knew bought himself a 'toto'.
The residents loved them because they were faster. The tourists loved them because they accommodate four and because the sides were open and were still as breezy as the rickshaws.
Very soon the rumour was that the twin towns of Bolpur and Santiniketan had 4,000 'totos'!
These 'totos' strangely are not registered with the regional transport authority but by the strange rules of West Bengal administration are 'empanelled' with the ruling party.
So the more the merrier. But as the party members rake in the moolah for such empanelment it became almost impossible to manoeuvre any other vehicle on the roads of Santiniketan or even walk without the totos climbing on to your toes.
Obviously 4,000 'totos' did not have enough passengers to ply and one started hearing of 'toto' owners coming to blows over picking passengers.
Things came to such a pass that finally the 'party' (in Bengal that means the 'Trinamool') had to call a meeting of 'toto' drivers to sort the issues.
But apparently the party netas in their wisdom felt the 'totos' which belonged (defined by where the driver stayed) to the municipal area of Bolpur could ply only in Bolpur and those which were from the panchayat area of Santiniketan could ply their totos in Santiniketan.
So if a passenger wished to get off at the Bolpur station and get to their residence in Santiniketan they would need to change 'totos' midway.
While the 'toto' drivers are now beginning to appreciate the pleasures of a parallel administration system, the few old cycle rickshaw drivers still left are having the last laugh.