Wednesday 1 May 2013

The Handcart Men of Mumbai

When you are sitting in your nice air conditioned car - or bus, taxi or rickshaw - you will always see some poor bloke (or a pair of poor blokes) pushing an elongated handcart through Mumbai's manic traffic. This very long cart is usually piled extremely high with all manner of heavy items.  And I have to say, it is to these fellas that my heart always goes out.  Usually they are stick thin, older men who don't look like they could push a shopping trolley, let alone a two tonne cart.  

This photo is taken at a crossroads, just after the lights have changed.  You can't see the melee of traffic around them.
I have been thinking about them even more recently, now that temperatures are soaring towards 40 degrees in the city. I find it so hard to walk the smallest distance in this heat, that I can not begin to imagine what it must be like to push or pull such massive loads through the city.  Bear in mind that with the average salary for a slum dweller (which they likely will be) being something like $1.50-$2.00, there is also very little financial reward in what they do.  And also consider that India does actually have vans and trucks to transport large loads but evidently the human method is still the cheapest.  

I marvel at the way that they drag their load through the traffic as if they were just another van or truck.  They move at the same pace (Mumbai traffic is that slow!). They stop at the traffic lights, which no doubt gives them a little respite.  When the lights turn green, they will try to pick up some momentum to get the cart rolling - the guy at the front clenches his face, pulling as hard as he can whilst the man at the back pushes as hard as he can. Then they proceed to turn right or left through the ensuing melee at a crossroads, along with all the other cars, buses, cows and bikes.'s mental.  And I always wonder what on earth are actually in those tightly bound packages, boxes and sacks!

Of course - and as is usual - there is no regard for Health & Safety.  No steel toe-capped boots to protect their feet from the tyres of passing vehicles. The handcart men are usually to be seen wearing flip flops instead. There are no harnesses to help balance the load. No face-masks to prevent these men breathing in traffic fumes. No nothing.   Am I surprised?

Here are some pictures I have gathered over the last year:

Above and below - you can't really see just how long this hard cart is...but at least there two men pushing at the back of these ones!

A sight I often see - men pushing along extremely heavy gas canisters (whether empty or full, I do not know) 
A close up of the guy pulling from the front.

A close up of the guy pushing from the back. The cart behind is piled even higher with these mysterious white packages.

This was actually taken in Delhi - a lone man pulling a cart of neatly wrapped packages - containing I do not know what - vying for space with bicycle rickshaws in very narrow backstreets.

Another lone ranger -  pulling heavy sacks of laundry.

I saw this a year ago when I first came to Mumbai when I was staggered by the length of some of these handcarts and the way that the 'pullers' get to the front of the traffic at the lights.  

Taking a load off.  Quite right!

 A relatively light load of wooden battens. This is being dragged through a pedestrianised street - it's amazing how quick these fellas can go and you will have get out of the way sharpish if you see them coming your way!

1 comment:

  1. The ones that I have seen--and as you show in a few of your photographs--are of men who do NOT push the handcarts; they PULL them, which is even more difficult.
    A similar sight in Kolkata--although with perhaps less physical exertion--is of the runner-pulled rickshaws. Some of them have no footwear, and in the hot months the streets probably burn their feet.



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