A reminiscence: I’m six years oldold and driving on a rickshaw with my mother and father. It’s 1973 in Chandannagar, a small bustling city in West Bengal, 30 extraordinary miles upstream from Kolkata on the Hooghly River banks. I’m sitting on the high cushioned seat, playing with the breeze blowing my hair lower back on a warm, humid day. The rickshaw-wallah weaves via the slim lanes; we move past one in every one of the larger ponds, and the curved trunks of coconut timber loom over its edges. He swerves, narrowly avoiding the rows of clay goddesses laid out to dry on the floor by humans getting ready for the festival of Durga Puja. I see their garish purple-and-gold paintwork and almond-shaped eyes staring up at me. The rickshaw wallah’s a thin, wiry guy, sweating and likely tired from pedaling to earn a living all day.
Few vehicles are on the roads as they’re too expensive for most people. Prime minister Indira Gandhi’s Soviet-style protectionism way that there was no influx of reasonably-priced imports – and there’s a ready list of several years to buy the most effective Indian-made car, the Ambassador, a sad old-style vehicle that looks as if it has come directly out of a 1940s movie. In any case, the slender roads make driving hard in Chandannagar. We bypass different rickshaws, cyclists, cows, and mounds of garbage on the roadside. It is a dirty, messy area but lovely, too. I will stay here for a few more months before we go back to England, during which I will spend the relaxation of my existence.
I’ve constantly been obsessed with the rickshaw rides of my formative years: the big wheels, the driver, and the old-fashioned silvery carriage reminding me of Cinderella’s train. These photographs are held in a kingdom of undying suspension within the pool of my memories of India; however, they also make me uncomfortable – a reminder of the tough realities of life for tens of millions of humans in India.
In a generation of environmental crisis, I assume, but there were components of my Nineteen Seventies childhood in India that have been small-scale and much less polluting: the clay pots used to drink sweet milky tea; the paper baggage constituted of old newspapers; the person who cycled round with his pails of milk every day – milk that got here from cows kept in people’s returned gardens. And the rickshaws that plied the small roads, requiring no petrol.
I desired to return to Chandannagar for a vacation with my husband and daughter. It would be a first go-to in six years. But, recently, I’ve been packed with dread about the turbocharged boom in India: the increase in the number of cars, the ranges of pollution inside the cities, the results of weather exchange, the McDonald’s restaurants, and Vodafone stores. Someone stated that a KFC might also be inside the Chandannagar bazaar. I am concerned that, like an unstoppable plague, the metropolis might be altered through capitalism’s advances. I also worry that Chandannagar’s narrow roads, timber, and ponds might be overrun with cars – steel junk, spewing smoke, and pollution.
I took the plunge, although, and off we went.
We arrive, and to my relief, it all appears identical. I go with my aunt and daughter to go to the bazaar – there’s no KFC. Many dark little stores promote spices, gaudy plastic mugs, glowing piles of wet fish, and lumps of okra, onions, and aubergines. We prevent the Banerjee Tea store, where I buy loose Darjeeling tea, weighed out using the shopkeeper on antique handheld metallic scales with small darkish weights. As we stroll out onto the busy street out of doors, stepping round goat mendacity at the pavement, I go searching.
Nevertheless, there are rarely any vehicles, and it’s the identical chaotic blend of pedestrians, cycles, and scooters. But I recognize that cycle rickshaws seem to have disappeared. Instead, there are small 3-wheeled e-rickshaws everywhere.