Today the modern Kolkattan can stand on Park Street holding his phablet in one hand, look for a free wifi hotspot around him, get a cab at the tap of a screen on his latest mobile app, while updating his days’ activity on Facebook.
But, as a wise man once said, us Kolkattans live both a hundred years in the past and a hundred years in the future, Kolkata, in many aspects is still stuck in the old worldly mechanism of over-dependence on human labour.
While other cities seem to have embraced technology at workplace with both hands, it is interesting to see how these ‘human machines of Kolkata’ co-exist and often compete with technology and its advances.
Here we present an exclusive on the human machines of Kolkata—A list of unique, age old procedures which are still carried out as professions in the city by its people.
1 The Rickshaw– wala
Job profile: Pulls people and things around in a wooden carriage.
Two wheels on an axle, a seat on top and a man to guide it around; and mankind’s first ever luxury-filled means of conveyance was ready. The world has moved on and created wonders of science out of the same wheels on the axle concept, but the city, sticking to its vintage charm has ensured that the age old mechanism still exists.
It is estimated that there are 18,000 rickshaw pullers earning a meager living on the streets of Kolkata.
And these 18,000 strong micro-entrepreneurs are unique with an onus on a rich heritage. Simply put, after this current generation of pullers, the ‘rickshaw-wala’ will be no more.
2 The Saan-wala
Job Profile: Rides around the city sharpening knives
Well, your local Saan wala is the guy who goes around the city on his bicycle which is also his mobile workplace.
A quick shift of levers and the pedal used to spin the wheel starts spinning a grinding disc which is used by the Saan wala to sharpen knives and earn the days’ meal for his family.
These guys are almost nowhere to be seen these days in the bustle of the city. And trust us, it was a herculean task for us to find one.
When asked why it was that they still carry out this profession, they answered simply that,
“This is what my father used to do; this is all I have done all my life, I don’t know what else to do apart from this.”
3 The ‘Bichay’ or ‘Bhishti’
Job Profile: Carries water to people’s houses.
Yes, you read that right. The bichay’s job is to carry water from the local pump to your doorstep. As primitive as it may sound, these guys still exist in central Kolkata and support their families with this job.
The sheath they carry the water in is made out of goat skin and needs to be replaced after a year.
Most of them got into the profession because of their forefathers who used to flourish during the colonial era in Kolkata.
They used to be highly in demand when access to drinking water wasn’t as easily available.
Ask your parents about it and they’ll tell you a whole lot more about them than us.
4 The Aak er rosh wala
Job profile: Manually uses the sugar cane grinder to extract juice.
While other cities have moved on and use motors and mixers to grind the sugar cane to extract the juice from it, Kolkata still sticks on to the age old mechanism of grinding the sugar cane stick with the brute force of the juice maker.
When asked why they don’t use the motor:
“It increases cost of making the juice and when I do it with my own hands I make sure every inch of the nectar is extracted from the sugar cane.”
5 The Pau rooti wala
Job profile: Mixes the dough and pours it into the containers for baking.
The loaf of bread that you have for breakfast each morning is made possible by these guys.
So, they literally ‘Give to you your daily bread’!
Although most bakeries in the city are automated, there are a handful in the interiors of central Kolkata which still employ their staff to mix the dough and stack them in countless arrays to be baked to perfection.