Baduku jataka bandi, vidhi adara sahebha
kudure nee, avanu peldanthe payanigaru,
maduvego, masanako hogenda,
nadegodu padakusige, nelavihudu mankutimma…
– Extracted from “Mankuthimmana Kagga” by Sri D.V. Gundappa
(Life is akin to a horse cart whose driver is none but destiny, man is the horse who will go wherever he is directed to go unquestioningly.)
Horse carts, popularly known as ‘Jhatka gaadi’ or ‘Tonga’ in this part of the world, are becoming extinct. Tongas were one of the main sources of public carriage few years back. But since the mid ’80s, auto rickshaws have replaced these ‘Poor man’s Ambassador’ in majority of the places. Today, you find them when there is a ‘Bangalore Bandh’ or near Palaces and other historic places where tourists enjoy a fun ride, just to have a feel of the good old days.
Ever since the dawn of civilization, man has loved and tamed certain animals and domesticated them to acquire benefits. Perhaps it was the wild horse that captured his imagination. All over the world, man realized the potential energy in the horse which seemed to be infinite compared to his own limited energy. The saga of domesticating the horse to meet his needs, politically and domestically evolved into a state of fine art over a period of time.
Horses known for their superior strength, were trained and used in war, to plough fields, to ride across the country… the list is endless. The invention of the wheel put the horse to further use as it was roped in to draw carts and carriages across the globe.
We find mention of very impressive horse-drawn carriages, chariots, carts, not to forget the equestrian sports in the ancient texts and epics like the ‘Iliad,’ ‘Odyssey,’ ‘Ramayana,’ and ‘Mahabharata,’ which reflect on how well the mankind had advanced in days of yore.
Kings and noblemen prided in owning the best of horses and the most luxurious of carriages till as recently as less than a century ago. The well-to-do and the elite took pride in owning a horse carriage or two while the not so rich derived satisfaction in riding in a rented cart or carriage. I have heard my mother tell that my grandfather owned a horse. He would be pampered with oil massage and excellent fodder. It seems my grandpa would ride him to office everyday. And he would also carry the kids to school, who also got a few joy rides to the market.
Not so long back, normal Indian life was without hurry burry and the honest tongawala would spare no pains to reach the required destination of the passengers, in pouring rain or hot sun, covering the simple vehicle with tarpaulin. This trend lasted for more than two millenniums and has now seen a downfall on the fast track in less than half a century. Today the tongawalas are in dire straits.
Yesterday, my son accompanied me to the library. On the way, I had taken him to the Tonga stand to show him a few horses. He was excited to see them wagging their neatly combed tails. Some ‘Ashwas’ looked at peace with the world. Some others were busy having dinner. Their menu: Horse gram, fresh grass and hay.
Ramesh, an elderly owner of a horse cart, was cheerful when I spoke to him about his trade. He let my son sit on his horse. He told me that although the business is pretty dull, there are a few electrical, sanitary and hardware shops who still prefer the tonga to carry their ware within the city. Reason: A tonga has capacity to carry more luggage than the auto rickshaws. Also, the tongas cause no chemical pollution.
Fodder and water is provided by the bounteous nature. Ramesh says the daily expenditure to maintain a horse is anywhere between Rs.50-75. He said that there are 13 horses, one exclusively for wedding purposes. This white horse is taller and well built than the rest of the team. I told Ramesh that on the day Bandh was called in Bangalore, we saw a few tongas doing brisk business. And that there was a photo of one tonga ferrying passengers from the Railway Station. Ramesh pointed to a horse (who was busy eating) and told that was the one we saw in the papers.
A few tongawalas were busy cleaning the stable while others were listening to the radio and some others were chatting (not MSN or Yahoo. One-to-one). I told one of them that the tonga stand in Malleswaram Circle looks a lone desolate spot in the otherwise busy place for which an old man told that the tongawalas there sold the horses unable to maintain them. It seems a good horse costs anywhere from Rs. 70,000 to one lakh. But it seems there are still around 150 tonga stands in Bangalore.
It was interesting to know that to bring the horse on the road, it needed quite a bit of pampering. “Catering to all the mundane routine of changing the horseshoes, foraging fodder and tending to frequent limb injuries is a tedious affair,” said Ramesh. Quips Nasiruddin, “It can get very hectic, but what can we do? The horse is our means of livelihood. It’s like an earning member of the family.”
My son was really happy to see so many ‘Kudures’. We bid farewell to the tongawalas. On the way back, I thought these tongas may one day come in the category of antique pieces, only to be found in the museums and the old films. But immediately I also felt that tongas were destined to come back as Bangalore is heading for utmost pollution levels.