|Of Rickshaws and Rickshawallahs
edited by Niaz Zaman
ISBN 984 70220 0003 5 2008 112pp 215x265mm HB Tk.950.00 US$35.00
Till the early seventies, rickshaws were the normal mode of transportation in Dhaka. Even today, this inexpensive, environment friendly, non-polluting form of transportation is a way of life for thousands of people: the men who ply rickshaws, and those who make, repair, or embellish them, as well as those who ride on them. Rickshaws are often the only form of affordable transportation during partial flooding or heavy monsoon rains.
Decorated rickshaws have been called “moving masterpieces.” Their colourful backplates reflect both male desire as they do contemporary politics, and serve as a useful barometer to gauge the mood of the people. Today, however, the rickshaw is viewed as a traffic hazard and an anachronism and is being increasingly threatened by rapid urbanization and mechanization. How long can rickshaws survive under these circumstances? Will they be relegated to tourist attractions as in Singapore or Malacca? Will Santiniketan be the only place where rickshaws continue to be the predominant form of transportation along with cycles?
Of Rickshaws and Rickshawallahs is both a paean to the rickshaw and the rickshawallah as well as a sobering look into their world. It is a novel attempt to portray the different facets of the lives of the rickshawallah and the different forms of the rickshaw across Asia. It includes the several genres that the world of the rickshawallah and the rickshaw has inspired. This miscellany includes, among others, stories by Rudyard Kipling and Humayun Ahmed, photographs by G.M.B. Akash and Tanvir, paintings by Farida Zaman and Rokeya Sultana, poems by Mahbub Talukdar and Kaiser Haq, essays by Syed Manzoorul Islam and Sudeep Sen. The editor has masterfully woven the available literature on the subject to make this anthology a unique presentation. It projects a three-dimensional look at the rickshaw and those who depend on it, encapsulating a way of life that may, in a few years, disappear altogether.
Niaz Zaman, who recently retired from the Department of English, University of Dhaka, has written on literature as well as folk art. Her book on kantha, The Art of Kantha Embroidery, was the first book written on the subject. She has also written numerous articles on folk art and rickshaw art for journals and encyclopedias, including Banglapedia, of which she was Consulting Editor, Arts and Humanities. She has edited a number of anthologies, including The Escape and Other Stories, 1971 and After, Under The Krishnachura, From the Delta, and New Age Short Stories. She is also a creative writer and has published The Crooked Neem Tree, No Lilacs Bloom, The Dance and Other Stories, and Didima’s Necklace and Other Stories. From 1981 to 1983, Dr Zaman was posted to the Bangladesh Embassy in Washington D.C. as Educational Attaché.