Monday, October 13, 2014

Tonga - The Lost Shahi Sawaris

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These days having a car (the more gadgets in it the better) or an expensive motorcycle, is considered fashionable. It has become a status symbol of sorts. Roads in Pune (or for that matter my hometown too) are crowded with fancy cars, bikes, and the three wheeler taxis that zoom past at neck breaking speed. I often see children of around 10-15 years, zooming around without fear on bikes and wonder how their parents allow them.

There are very few bicycles and the Tonga rides that I loved have become relic of the past.

I grew up in Papua New Guinea and came back to India at the age of 16 in 1983. I remember the lovely Tonga rides from my childhood. There was a time when my hometown had a lot of Togas and it was the most common form of transport. I remember going to school in Usmaan Uncle’s Tonga. All the children sitting together, chatting, giggling, laughing..the water bottles hanging on a hook at the side..

Tonga rides for me were a unique experience. I always felt like Cinderella. The rides had a romantic feel to them..the tap tap of the horse’s hoof..the conversations with the tonga-wala bhaiyas..and the tinkling of the bells..it all took me to a totally different realm. .the nawab-like feeling was amazing.

Togas were once considered a shahi sawari (a royal ride).  Alas..gone are the days of the Tongas. The Tongas are fast dwindling..restricted mostly to tourist spots.

The ever-growing population, the fast pace of modern life, the fancy cars, buses, bikes and auto-rickshaws have forced  the Togas off the roads into oblivion. The pollution of petrol and diesel, the smoke of burnt tyres, and the fear of being run over by maniac drivers are all we are left with.