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Rickshaw - A Socio-Mechanical Study

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Owais Mughal

Over the years I have conducted detailed engineering and social analysis of a rickshaw design and following is my final report.

The motor- (sometimes auto-) rickshaw was invented by the Reverend Jonathan Scobie, an American Baptist minister living in Yokohama, Japan. The first model was built in 1869 in order to transport his handicapped wife. Today it remains as one of the most important modes of transportation in Pakistan where it was first seen on August 14, 1947. Before that it was not possible to see it in Pakistan.

Three Wheel Desgin

The three-wheel-design of a rickshaw provides it a better road grip than a bicycle. It also provides gasoline savings when compared with a 4-wheeler taxi and green salad saving when compared with a 4-legged horse. When in need of repairs, the three-wheel structure also helps in lifting it from any side. When a side is lifted, it conveniently sits down on the other two while a mechanic goes looking for underbelly mechanical faults.

Pilot Seat

A rickshaw is a perfect example of a compact automobile design. The driver practically sits on a bench seat which is strategically placed on top of the engine. This causes inductive heat transfer between man and machine and keeps the engine cool. The same however, cannot be said for the driver’s butt. The presence of a hot engine underneath, keeps a driver cozy during winters and boiling during summers. It is literally one heck of a hot seat to sit on. The advantage of a bench seat is manifold. A driver uses it to his own advantage to slide from one corner to the other depending on whichever side gives him a better view.

A rickshaw is immaculately designed to keep a driver relaxed during long hours. This has been accomplished by limiting the driving controls to both hands and a leg only. This keeps one leg of the driver free which he can dangle around when tired. Many of us must’ve seen the common practice where a tired driver lifts one of his legs and conveniently places it on top of the dash-board while still driving the rickshaw.

Starting Mechanism

The height of automotive engineering is the design of rod (danda) start mechanism of the rickshaw engine. A 3 feet long lever is put on the floor of the rickshaw. To start the engine, a driver bends down to the side and lifts one end of this ‘danda’ in a quick swift motion. If everything else is right then the engine starts. Otherwise the whole exercise of ‘danda’ lifting
is repeated as many times as needed.

Passengers' Foot-hold

While a rickshaw floor’s mean height above sea level is less than 2 feet, a one-step foot hold is nonetheless provided on the passenger side of the cabin. I’ve never seen anyone using it but it is a detail important enough not to be missed out in this analysis. Most of the passengers bypass this one-step climbing assistance and put their first step directly inside the passenger cabin.

Head Lamp

Rickshaw comes with a single headlamp. The light emanating from this headlamp is usually just enough that other people can see that something is on-coming but a rickshaw driver doesn’t see anything. Its luminescence makes one constantly reminded of Elton John’s song ‘candle in the wind’.

Laws of Reflection

A rickshaw driver usually adorns his rickshaw with a multiple array of reflective mirrors. If a ray of light enters a rickshaw once, it gets trapped and it takes a while for it to get out after being internally reflected many times. These mirrors are placed by the driver to his own strategic advantage. If a passenger is to his liking then these mirrors help the driver to keep an eye on the passenger from many different angles.

Small is Big

I have never seen a group of people denied a rickshaw ride just because of their numbers. It can fit them all including luggage. Many times one can see a family chilling out in the passenger cabin while their younger ones sharing driver’s cabin with the driver. If a rickshaw picks up passengers from a railway station, luggage is easily placed in driver’s cabin.

Flat Tire Replacement

In case of a flat tire adversity, a rickshaw comes fully equipped with a mechanical jack. This jack is in the shape of a rectangular sheet-metal of roughly 12”x 24” dimension. The simplicity of design here beats all modern hydraulic and geared jack designs. A rickshaw driver simply tilts his rickshaw on a side, inserts this sheet metal plate for support and changes the tire. The whole process of tilting a rickshaw and inserting the jack takes less than 10 seconds.
The Rickshaw Driver Culture

Over the years certain etiquettes have evolved among rickshaw drivers. A passenger cannot just walk into an empty rickshaw and sit. He/She has to take drivers’ permission first. The magic question to ask is ‘Is rickshaw empty’ (rickshaw khali hai?). This question must be asked even if a rickshaw is visibly empty because depending on his mood a driver at anytime may declare a visibly empty rickshaw as occupied. Then there is no question of arguing. Rickshaw drivers have also mastered the sign language. If a rickshaw is empty then instead of saying ‘yes’ a driver usually moves his neck towards the passenger cabin in a long swooshing motion. This means rickshaw is empty. Please get in.
Mirror of Society

Rickshaws are also a mirror of our society. Rickshaw drivers use back of the rickshaw as their scrap book. It displays their favorite poetry, puzzling questions, messages to other drivers, etc. I don’t remember seeing any rickshaw ever without anything written on its back side. Some of these comments are a running commentary on our society’s social and economic fabric. Take a look at 10 sample rickshaw messages:

1.meiN baRa ho kar Corolla banooN ga
(I will become Toyota Corolla after growing up)
2.malik ki gaaRi, driver ka paseena
chalti hai road par ban ke haseena

3.kabhi aao na Karachi, khashbo laga ke
(come visit Karachi sometimes, after wearing perfume)
4.Daalar ki talaash
(searching for dollars$$$)
5.uff baji, rickshaw gayee
(Oh Sister, you just missed the rickshaw)
6.Allah Allah baRa zor hai meray deewanay mai
kal hi zamaanat karwaai thi aaj phir se thaanay meiN
PORT pe rehtay haiN, SOHRAB GOTH meiN sotay haiN
jab teri yaad aati hai jee bhar kar rotay haiN
7.neem ka peR chandan se kam nahiN
hamara shehar karachi,london se kam nahiN
8.aai samajh?
(Got it?)
9.Ba-kamaal log, la-jawaab service
(miraculous people, one of a kind service) - this is actually the motto of Pakistan International a
10.aakhri goli
(The Last Bullet)

My personal album of 46 rickshaw photographs from Pakistan is available for viewing here (all pictures here are from this collection). The more serious rickshaw connoisseur is referred to iFaqeer's full fledged blog dedicated to Rickshaw.

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posted by S A J Shirazi @ Thursday, December 13, 2012,


At 09:00, Blogger EXSENO said...

It's a cute post and very informative too. I learned what a hot seat was. lol
And as for the step, if I were to have the chance to ride one I would have to use the little outside step as I am very short.

I really enjoyed the post and learnd a lot.
They are decorated beautifully just like the pakitan buses.

The only rickshaws that I have ever seen were in old movies and they usually had a person pulling them running or riding a bike.

At 10:43, Blogger Deb S. said...

Like Exseno, I thoroughly enjoyed this post and learned quite a bit. I look forward to reading more of your articles.

At 11:13, Anonymous Syed Sibgatullah said...

A really beautifull post about the rickshaw, the noisy and taken for granted mode of transportation. Infact, there's another observation too. And it relates to rickshaw drivers. The most enjoyable experience has always been with pathan drivers. They give good company, both when you negotiate the fare and while riding towards your destination.

At 12:01, Blogger Alina said...

Owais, thanks for this post. Informative and a little funny. Loved the displayed messages and enjoyed your photo collection.

At 13:13, Anonymous webduck said...

I had no idea that rickshaws were used in Pakistan. How interesting to find out all about them. I am going to look at the link to the pictures too. Great post!

At 17:04, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you heard of "Pathan da Rikshawa" - the one that is heavily decorated. Socially rooted nice post.

At 05:58, Anonymous Marz said...

In Indonesia, there is something similar to the rickshaw mentioned in this entry, except that in Indonesia, it's called a 'bajaj' (pronounced 'bajai'). If I am not wrong, the name and the vehicle has Indian roots.

The bajaj in Indonesia tends to only be plain orange, yellow or green, quite unlike the beautifully ornate ones displayed on this entry.

I enjoyed this post very much. Thanks for sharing.

At 11:34, Anonymous cyberkitty said...

Oh ! so that's what a pakistani auto rickshaw looks like - all colorful and pretty. Here in Delhi they are green and yellow and run on CNG.

At 06:29, Blogger Sidhusaaheb said...

This post is a laugh riot!

My brother and I nearly laughed our heads off, while reading this!!

None of the auto-rickhshaws here in India are as gorgeously decorated as the ones shown here in the photos here.

We (my parents, brother and I)visited Pakistani Punjab in April this year, but most rickshaws we came across there were of the 'Qingqi' variety, apart from a few like the ones shown here (though none of those were decorated colourfully).

Thanks once again for writing this wonderful blog entry!

At 09:21, Blogger Rahul said...

This was TOO much for me to read while at the office...

Through and Professional... My kind of professional!!!

Keep it up Dude!!!


At 22:19, Blogger Dr. Iccapot said...

Really a nice post.
What you call a rickshaw we call, here in Italy, 'Ape' (italian for 'bee') and was, and still is , made by Piaggio manifacturer, now owned by FIAT car maker, from 1947 on, in Pontedera, near Pisa (Tuscany). The three-wheeled vehicle was born with a 125 cc motor, and derived his design from 'Vespa' (italian for 'wasp') motorcycle which was the project of the very gifted italian engineer Corradino d'Ascanio.
'Ape' was really important for our life just at the end of World War II, and it served very well in our countryside or very small villages, where is still very popular the 50cc motor version; for his slowness and mule-like attitude this one is considered a secure vehicle for old (or even very old) country people.

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