Rickshaw, too, is a product of assembly. Numerous parts, components, materials and thrown-awa"> Rickshaw, too, is a product of assembly. Numerous parts, components, materials and thrown-awa"> Rickshaw, too, is a product of assembly. Numerous parts, components, materials and thrown-awa">

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Art and assembly: The making of a rickshaw
Online Desk |:| Fri, 01 Apr'2016, 10:59 PM |:| Online Version
Art and assembly: The making of a rickshaw
Rickshaw, too, is a product of assembly. Numerous parts, components, materials and thrown-away items go into the making of a rickshaw. And the rickshaw combines art and mechanics to form a vehicle that is nothing short of heritage in motion.

The magic of a machine lies in its assembly. That machine can be the human body - a complex set of cells and tissues and organs, each component specialised in performing an essential function, which, put together perfectly, makes a human being. The machine can be a clock – a collection of intricate mechanisms that coordinate to tell us hours and minutes, down to the second.

Rickshaw, too, is a product of assembly. Numerous parts, components, materials and thrown-away items go into the making of a rickshaw. And the rickshaw combines art and mechanics to form a vehicle that is nothing short of heritage in motion. A visit to a rickshaw workshop opens one to a fascinating world of art and assembly.     

If you ever visit New Fazlu, a rickshaw workshop in West Nandipara, you will understand this for yourself. The plot of land is filled with examples of assembly and assembled things. Beams, ropes, wooden planks, tin and several other objects form an open living area on an elevated platform, which you can reach by a ladder. Toolboxes and shelves are built and attached to the walls in an unintended shabby chic style.       

A wide plethora of random objects, from coconut husks to small pieces of colourful cloths, lie here and there. 


And there are rickshaws; in all stages of making. A set of the seat and the foothold of a rickshaw lie in one corner. A bare hood of a rickshaw, without the cloth covering its bamboos, rests on the side. Meanwhile, an unpainted rickshaw awaits decoration. 

Hammers, nails, nuts, bolts and screwdrivers are everywhere - a whirlwind of confusion fuelled by utter randomness. 

Md Fazlul Hoque comes to the rescue. One of the owners of the workshop, he belongs to a line of ancestry of rickshaw-making. He, along with co-owner Md Ajahar Hossain, and their staff, can make sense out of this utter chaos.

They are two very experienced, very amiable people in the trade of rickshaw-making. There's another soul in the team: Qutb, resident pet dog of the workshop. Now, what role the keen and curious puppy plays in the making of rickshaws may be pondered upon, and we surely will do so - but for now, let's understand rickshaws a little bit. 

A rickshaw has several parts. There's the cap, which is like a sunshade, extending out of the hood. 'Kobja' is the hinge with which you can fold back the hood or fasten it when you need a covering over your head. 'Dhelna' comprises of either sides of the seat, and the back, offering support for the passenger. The seat itself is commonly referred to as 'godi'. The seat and the foothold is another part.


To assemble a complete rickshaw requires many things that are practically thrown away by us. "We recycle a lot of things. Basin pipes are used to cover brake handles, so that they're a bit easy on the rickshaw-puller's hands," Hoque exemplifies. "Coconut husks are stuffed inside 'dhelna'. Cement bags cover the rear side of the seat." 

And there are wheels and bells and brakes and a million other things, with bolts and nails performing the seemingly impossible task of keeping everything in one form. 

It all starts with the wheel. Getting the chassis right is a crucial process. And when that's done, the frame is ready. And then, little by little, the other parts are compounded and put together.

A lot of the parts are bought from Bongshal, Old Dhaka. We know it as the Mecca of bicycles, and hence, it does not take much thought in understanding why it is one of the major hubs for the components of rickshaw too. 


"It takes about three days to finish work if we are making one rickshaw. But we build anywhere between fifteen and thirty-five a month. Firms order one or two rickshaws at a time. In rare cases, they may order five or ten," Hoque informs. "A rickshaw is sold for about Tk18000 to around Tk20000."   

From time to time, everyday, rickshaws enter the garage, to get repaired and properly working again. Manoeuvring through the difficult streets of Dhaka indeed puts a lot of stress on the vehicle. 

Qutb is always there to bark and wag his tail to greet a visitor, hopping and running randomly around the transport. The place also runs the business of renting out rickshaws. 

Md Fozol is one of the rickshaw-pullers here. Completing his shift, he returns to the garage. Sitting on the foothold of a rickshaw, with his legs crossed, he becomes engrossed in watching 'jatra' on his phone, which he had recorded at his village. Qutb has joined him. 


The jatra got interrupted at the point where the 'shahzada' was making ambitious promises to his king - when Hossain took his place on a worn-out 'godi' in the rear of a new rickshaw. He was about to decorate the vehicle, making it a piece of art. 

Rickshaw art, with its distinctive style, is a matter of pride for us Bengalis. Hossain has learned to paint from his 'ustad'. He too, comes from a family involved in rickshaw-making for generations. The tin board on the back of the rickshaw is his canvas, portraying a wide array of subjects - village, Taj Mahal, actors and actresses, parrots, tigers, lions, peacocks, etc. With the use of colours and much flexibility in scale and form, rickshaw art stands out from the rest. 

Qutb and everybody else gather around him. Hossain was in mood for village scenery: huts and trees near the river, with birds dominating an orange sky, reflected on the bluish-orange waters where a lone boat sailed by. 

Qutb seemed content and began moving about the rickshaw. It is not just the back-end of the rickshaw that requires painting; colours are also added on the frame and many other places. 

Rickshaw decoration is not restricted to painting. The covering of the hood is basically a Rexine cloth. First, Rexene is cut according to the size needed to cover the hood. Then, paper and cloth cuttings are made to shape out fish, birds, flowers and the like. The cuttings are afterwards stitched to the Rexine cloth. Finally, the cloth is attached to the hood, providing the covering.


"There are various designs of hood covering. Baro Chand, to illustrate, is an elaborate design featuring many elements, like fish, moons, stars, peacock and flowers," Hossain says.

After the artwork is done, and the company name and phone number written out with the paintbrush, the rickshaw is ready. 

Making a rickshaw indeed requires a lot of time and patience, and combines art and craftsmanship and carpentry to create something very beautiful and at the same time, very functional.

Qutb has become tired. After supervising the whole process, it goes to a corner and rests, until the process begins again.

By M H Haider
For those interested in buying rickshaw art, you may make a call at 01819467002 to this workshop and have them ordered.   
 

Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed

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