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
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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.”


Japan’s ‘Uncle Olympics’ fan dies just short of 2020 Games

Naotoshi Yamada, above, was planning to attend the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020. (Reuters/File)
Updated 18 March 2019
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Japan’s ‘Uncle Olympics’ fan dies just short of 2020 Games

  • The man attended all summer games since 1964
  • He often wore a golden hat when he attended the games

TOKYO: A Japanese Olympic mega-fan who attended every summer games since Tokyo in 1964 has died, just over a year before his home city was to host its second Olympics.
Tokyo businessman Naotoshi Yamada, 92, who died on March 9 from heart failure, was a national celebrity in his own right with his repeated, gleeful appearances in Olympic stands.
“Uncle Olympics,” as he came to be known, was an omnipresent fixture for Japanese TV watchers cheering on the Japan team at the “Greatest Show On Earth.”
Often sporting a gold top hat, kimono, and a beaming smile, Yamada also became a darling of the international media.
“After 92 years of his life spent cheering, Naotoshi Yamada, international Olympic cheerleader, was called to eternal rest on March 9, 2019,” said his web site, managed by a firm he founded.
Born in 1926, Yamada built a successful wire rope manufacturing business, and also expanded his portfolio to include the hotel and real estate sectors.
But away from work, his passion was for sport, particularly the Olympics.
He did not miss a summer games since 1964, taking in Mexico City, Munich, Montreal, Moscow, Los Angeles, Seoul, Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney, Athens, Beijing, London and Rio de Janeiro.
For good measure, he also attended the winter games when it rolled into Nagano in 1998, and told local media of his strong desire to attend the 2020 Tokyo Games.
Yamada saw the first Tokyo Olympics when he was 38.
But his passion was truly ignited during the 1968 Mexico City Games, according to his website.
He donned a kimono and a sombrero hat and loudly cheered for a Mexican 5000-meter runner, mistaking him for a Japanese athlete.
Local spectators embraced the scene and loudly cheered for Japanese athletes in return, leading to an electrifying show of support that went beyond nationality, his website said.
“He saw the awesome power of cheering, and was mesmerised by it ever since,” it said.