Lockdown spells doom for small community of horse cart drivers in KalyanUpdated: Sep 19, 2020, 01:21 IST
The modes of transport have progressed by leaps and bounds in the last few decades. However, the historic city of Kalyan has still kept the good old tongas (horse carts) alive through a small community of tonga drivers.
This community, however, is now facing its worse downfall since March this year as public transport has been stopped under lockdown norms. For many whose only livelihood was ferrying commuters in their tongas are now struggling to make ends meet.
From ferrying passengers and newly-weds to giving a joy ride to children, the tongas have been an integral part of Kalyan. Over 30 tonga drivers continued to give the cheapest mode of transport.
Rehaan Falke, 52, who used to earn for his family with his tonga in Kalyan city, is now completely dependent on his son’s income for his livelihood.
“Since March, the tonga business in the city has completely stopped. I used to earn for my family by transporting people in tonga. Now, since I am not earning at all, I am completely dependent on my son’s salary, which is also not much. We are adjusting from whatever we get. Sometimes my son earns only Rs 5,000 a month, which is not sufficient, “ said Falke, who lives with his wife, daughter and son near Bail Bazaar in Kalyan (W).
A few of the horse cart drivers have started looking for passengers with the relaxations in lockdown; however, they claim that not many hire their tongas. On Wednesday, after waiting for three hours at the Kalyan railway station road, Falke managed to get 3 passengers.
“This is a huge loss for business but I decided to take the streets just thinking that I might earn some amount and help my son, as the entire burden of the family is on him now. Earlier I used to make around Rs 300-400 a day which was sufficient, “added Falke.
A Tonga can carry a maximum of four passengers, while each passenger is charged Rs 10 for a ride covering a distance of 1-1.5 km. Commuters from areas like Paar naka, Doodh naka and Tilak chowk in old Kalyan, who used to travel by local trains for work, preferred the tongas to auto rickshaw during the peak hours.
The horse cart drivers not only have no income these days, but they also have to incur additional expenses on the horse and the tongas to keep them in shape.
“We spend around Rs 200 a day on the horse for its food. Even though we are earning nothing, we have to look after them. Also, there are no such occasions like marriages, festivals where the horse carts are required and we can earn from it. There is no scope of business with the horse cart anymore, “added Falke.
Shahid Dolare, 35, who has two horse carriages and five horses and used to give it to other tonga drivers to ply in the city, said, “I am into this Tonga business for the last 40 years. My father started it. Now, this is the first time we have seen such a bad time as tonga transportation is stopped and also the horse carriages are not booked for any function. I spend around Rs 300-400 a day to maintain the carriages and feed the horses from my pocket.”
Some of the residents in Kalyan take a tonga as a fun ride for their children. With the lockdown on, children are also not taking the ride.
Akram Shaikh, president of Tonga association, Kalyan, said, “When the local trains will resume for all commuters, then the tonga transportation might return to the streets as regular passengers will again take the tongas. We will obviously follow all the required sanitation norms. Many of the tonga drivers are either sitting at home jobless while some have taken up selling vegetables or other items in their areas.”
In the olden days, driving tongas was the livelihood of several families in Doodh naka, Paar naka and Tilak chowk in Kalyan (W). With the passage of time, only a few individuals practiced the profession before the lockdown. Families in Kalyan who drove tongas for a living used to wake up early in the morning, dedicating two hours to clean and groom their horses, and then feed them hay, jaggery and Bengal gram. Around 7am, they began ferrying people from Doodh Naka to Kalyan station and back.
Tongas used to play a major role in transportation before buses and autos started to ply in the city. Kalyan then was a port near Durgadi Fort, famous for trade. Horse carts decorated with colourful veils (pardah) and lights (kandil) were seen on the streets and royal families from different parts visited the city on the decorated horse carts.
Fifteen years ago, there were around 300 such tongas in the city. Today, it has reduced to 30.