The Commonwealth games claim one more victim, the tongas! The death knell has sounded for the age old horse drawn carriages that were part of Delhi's heritage. True only a few remained, 200 or so, but the clack of their hooves and the sound of their bells were an intrinsic part of old Delhi, and added to its old time charm. In a few days they will all be laid to rest. I guess the day had to come but what is terrible is the way in which it all happened and is happening. The past should be allowed to fade out gently and gracefully. But that was not to be. You see the Commonwealth games are coming and someone had decreed that all that is not modern has to be sanitised: smells, sounds and sights: so street food is banned, street vendors are evicted, beggars are hidden, slums raised and tongas taken off the roads. Strangely the common denominator seems to be the poor! They simply have to be wished away.
Yet all that is thought ungainly, ugly and apparently un-modern and thus not worthy of the Game is also part and parcel of this city. They are what gives Delhi its soul and thus need to be handled with care and sensitivity. This so called cosmetic modernisation is unacceptable and yet we watch it helpless and hurting.
I know tongas would have had to go one day. But the way in which it has been done is nothing short of inhuman. The 200 odd tonga owners find their livelihood snatched from them overnight. They were promised a space with hawking rights. They were promised covered stalls, all that is being handed out to them is a pavement along a busy road, miles away from the place they called home. Some have been promised three wheelers or rickshaws but the author ties are still working out the rehabilitation plan! God knows how long it will take! Most of the tonga owners are old and have never done anything else but tend to their animals and drive their carriage. Asking them to become hawkers overnight is nothing short of inhuman. They all plan to sell their horses to a state across the border and then try and reinvent themselves.
Street vendors or horse carriages have never upset any foreign visitor, on the contrary they were part of every picture a tourist took and every memory they carried back. Modernisation does not mean dealing a fatal blow to tradition.
I am sure there were more humane ways of phasing out the 200 odd tongas left in this city. Maybe they could have been spruced up and made a tourist attraction as is the case in many cities the world over. My heart goes out to the tonga drivers today as they set out finding new ways to feed their families.
Labels: commonwealth games