Rickshaw pullers fade from India’s streets

The eastern Indian city of Kolkata is one of the last places on earth where pulled rickshaws still feature in daily life and 62-year-old Mohammad Maqbool Ansari is persevering as the gruelling trade is slowly fading from India.
Updated 27 April 2018
0

Rickshaw pullers fade from India’s streets

KOLKATA: Mohammad Maqbool Ansari puffs and sweats as he pulls his rickshaw through Kolkata’s teeming streets, a veteran of a gruelling trade long outlawed in most parts of the world and slowly fading from India too.
Kolkata is one of the last places on earth where pulled rickshaws still feature in daily life, but Ansari is among a dying breed still eking a living from this back-breaking labor.
The 62-year-old has been pulling rickshaws for nearly four decades, hauling cargo and passengers by hand in drenching monsoon rains and stifling heat that envelops India’s heaving eastern metropolis.
Their numbers are declining as pulled rickshaws are relegated to history, usurped by tuk tuks, Kolkata’s signature yellow taxis and modern conveniences like Uber.
Ansari cannot imagine life for Kolkata’s thousands of rickshaw-wallahs if the job ceased to exist.
“If we don’t do it, how will we survive? We can’t read or write. We can’t do any other work. Once you start, that’s it. This is our life,” he tells AFP.
Sweating profusely on a searing hot day, his singlet soaked and face dripping, Ansari skilfully weaves his rickshaw through crowded markets and bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Wearing simple shoes and a chequered sarong, the only real giveaway of his age is his long beard, snow white and frizzy, and a face weathered from a lifetime plying this disappearing trade.
Twenty minutes later, he stops, wiping his face on a rag. The passenger offers him a glass of water — a rare blessing — and hands a note over.
“When it’s hot, for a trip that costs 50 rupees ($0.75) I’ll ask for an extra 10 rupees. Some will give, some don’t,” he said.
“But I’m happy with being a rickshaw puller. I’m able to feed myself and my family.”


France gives World Cup winners a heroes’ welcome home

Updated 16 July 2018
0

France gives World Cup winners a heroes’ welcome home

  • Commentators have focused on the outpouring of patriotism and sense of national unity created by the multi-ethnic French team
  • Some analysts believe the 40-year-old centrist Macron will benefit from the feelgood factor sweeping France

PARIS: The World Cup-winning French team returned home to a heroes’ welcome on Monday, parading down the Champs-Elysees as hundreds of thousands of cheering fans gave a raucous welcome to the country’s newest idols.
France overcame a determined Croatia to win 4-2 in Sunday’s final in Russia, with teenager Kylian Mbappe applying the coup de grace and cementing his place as a new global superstar at the age of just 19.
Millions of fans in France then celebrated into the night, honking car horns and flying the tricolor flag while the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe were lit up in the national colors of blue, white and red.
Crowds began converging early Monday on the Champs-Elysees, the gathering point for all national celebrations, to catch a glimpse of a returning squad which has captured the country’s imagination.
“We’re so proud of this team, they have truly become our players,” said Priscilla Lagneaux, 28, as she waited under a wilting sun on the avenue. “We had to see them.”
As the celebrating players descended on an open-air bus under heavy police guard — some of the 2,000 officers deployed in the capital — nine jets from the Patrouille de France, the air force’s acrobatic unit, did an honorary flyover trailing blue, white and red smoke.
Commentators have focused on the outpouring of patriotism and sense of national unity created by the multi-ethnic French team, many of whose stars including Mbappe and Paul Pogba hail from deprived and often overlooked suburbs of Paris.
Laurent Joffrin, editor of the leftwing Liberation newspaper, said they had lived up to the ideal of “the republic that we love: united and diverse, patriotic and open, national without being nationalist.”
After leaving the Champs-Elysees, the players quickly changed into custom-made blue suits before being welcomed at the Elysee Palace by President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte, who were also decked out in blue for the occasion.
Macron has already promised the Legion of Honour for the victors’ “exceptional services” to the country, an award already given to the legendary team which won France’s first World Cup title in 1998.
The first couple then posed with the team as they sang the Marseillaise national anthem and waved scarves for a joyous group photo, before heading inside for a private meeting.
“Thanks to you all!” Macron told the team after gathering again outside. “This team is beautiful because you are united!“
Despite a voice nearly failing him, Pogba then proved himself a showman off the field as well as on by leading the guests in an impromptu celebratory rap punctuated by “Allez les Bleus!“
“It’s true, we went on the pitch, and we said, We’re going to crush them all!” he said.
Nearly 3,000 guests have been invited to the reception in the Elysee gardens, including around 1,000 youths from local football clubs such as Bondy, the gritty Paris suburb whose towering housing projects produced Mbappe.
“We’re going to say thank you!” said Sacha, one of the young players at the palace. “I don’t regret not going on vacation this summer.”
Afterwards guests will be treated to the beats of DJ Snake, who has worked with pop stars including Lady Gaga and is part of the Pardon My French collective of French DJs.
Macron had already celebrated with the team on Sunday — even doing “dab” dance moves with players in a video that has gone viral — after attending the final in Moscow.
Some analysts believe the 40-year-old centrist will benefit from the feelgood factor sweeping France, with Macron able to show a common touch after months of criticism from his opponents that he is distant and elitist.
Later the team will attend a dinner in their honor at the posh Hotel du Crillon.
In Paris, the metro system has temporarily renamed six of its stations in honor of the key players, with the Victor Hugo stop — named after the famed 19th-century writer — becoming Victor Hugo Lloris after the team’s goalkeeper.
Two stations were rebaptised in tribute to Deschamps, who captained the national side to its first World Cup victory, won on home soil in 1998.
“There are two things that matter — one is that these 23 players are now together for life, whatever happens, and also that from now on they will not be the same again, because they are world champions,” a champagne-soaked Deschamps said Sunday.
Macron will be relieved that joyous and occasionally chaotic celebrations across France on Sunday night passed off without any major incident following a string of terror attacks in France since 2015 that have claimed nearly 250 lives.
There were 292 people arrested nationwide and isolated clashes between police and rowdy crowds in Paris, Lyon and Marseille.
For Croatia, a country of just four million people, the loss was bitter but their fans took solace in the best run in the nation’s history, which featured a stunning win against Argentina and a semifinal victory against England.
“Thank you, heroes! — You gave us everything!” read the Sportske Novosti front page. “’Vatreni’ (the “Fiery Ones” in Croatian), you are the biggest, you are our pride, your names will remain written in gold forever!” the newspaper said.