Perception is all when we see someone pulling a rickshaw. The Western gaze will often see this man as oppressed, taken advantage of, his poverty attached to a loss of dignity. Instead, he is a proud, skilled, admirable rickshaw wallah. He is a model entrepreneur in one sense of the word, engaged in an Uber-like practice that for more than 130 years has woven itself into the cultural and economic fabric of Kolkata.
Dressed in a worn lungi wrapped around his waist, his day begins as early as 4 a.m. and involves expert navigational skill. He delivers packages and food to markets and transports children to school, operating a no-carbon footprint rickshaw powered by human strength and coordination.
To my eye, the patina and proportion of this man do not suggest fragility. Although he is thin and wrinkled and appears ancient—the dilapidated building behind him furthers the aged quality—he suggests a vibrant history. There is a semblance of lives lived, of rich family stories filled with daring, discipline, and devotion, of dignified labor and honorable traditions. Perhaps this man will be one of the last rickshaw wallahs, indicating an end to a centuries-old endeavor. Look upon him today and pay tribute to a disappearing avocation and do not disallow the feelings of wonderment at the eternal dignity of his legacy.
18 x 24 inches (45.72 x 60.96 cm)
24 x 32 inches (60.96 x 81.28 cm)
30 x 40″ inches (76.2 x 101.6 cm)