Calcutta. One night, walking through cones of warm streetlight in an otherwise dark lane, I saw before me an intersection of time.
Against the red brick wall of the Park Circus tram depot, stood a green and yellow auto rickshaw. Its interiors done up in shiny red rexine, a brilliant neon pink light spilled from within, onto the road, overpowering the faint streetlight. The sight was surreal. Hues of color, which through decades of Hollywood movies one has come to associate with space and time traveling machines, were streaming out from an auto rickshaw, a mode of transport I use most often.
Unlike elsewhere, auto rickshaws in Calcutta, ply fixed routes, on a passenger-sharing basis. Route no: 54, takes one from Lohapool to Dharamtala, the erstwhile heart of Calcutta during the British Raj. Here, in-between the aged, moss-dried, weathered walls lie arched doorways and parted louvered wooden windows, reminiscent of a time gone by. Of the several hundred auto rickshaws that ply this route, there are some that stand out from miles away.
In the driver’s seats are young men from the areas around Lohapool. The influence of popular culture and the desire to emulate their idols in both cricket and bollywood is strongly reflected in them – in their trendy attire, newest hairstyles and in their choice of music, usually the latest in bollywood. This pursuit for ‘newness’ is mirrored in their auto rickshaw’s décor. A canvas for expression of their views and emotions, each rickshaw has a nickname – Tarzan, Titanic, Zoya, Ruby, Garibnewaz…
This series portrays these young men and their auto rickshaws – a symbol of pride and an extension of their identity.
Karan Kumar Sachdev