Cutting people out of my way does not mean that I hate them, it simply means I am smart. I am Chandigarh. City beautiful is now a Smart City as well under the much publicized government initiative. But as it gets smarter does it have place for the poor?

Perhaps no, not for its rickshaw wallas the poorest of the poor at least. The youngest city that is pedaled as amongst the cleanest as well as most planned chooses to disregard the penurious rickshaw pullers.

Rickshaw rides used to be a delight in this city, given its tree covered roads, short distances and good roads. But all that has fast vanished and along with this are vanishing the rickshaw pullers who had once thronged to this town availing the opportunity to eke out a living mainly from Uttar Pradesh.

As The Citizen tried to understand where these people fit in the scheme of a Smart City, this reporter came across Bindeshwari and Shardha Nand from Devariya as they sat on the pavement under a street light to cook their dinner. The humbleness and satisfaction after hard day remains unmatchable. It has been three decades of pedaling rickshaws. They live in the Sector 16 which used to have around 250 rickshaws one time but is left with less than 10 now.

With lesser people preferring to travel by cycle rickshaw now, their daily earnings vary from Rs 100 to Rs 150. The dim streetlights have become synonymous with their existence. This class of unskilled labour lives in total trust. Their belongings are kept in the corridors of the market on the shelves which they leave unguarded as they leave every morning to earn their daily bread. Every day they make purchases in small quantities to cook and eat as rodents destroy anything edible which they try to store.

The changing lifestyle where every house has at least a two wheeler, more frequency of air conditioned buses etc. have left the simplicity to die a slow death.

Ram Shingar, who has been plying his rickshaw for the last 37 years says in all humility, “Ab logon ko rickshaw me baithne me sharm aati hai. Par ise chalana humari majboori hai. Aur kuch kaam to aata nahin. Jab tak hai yehi kaam karenge. (People feel embarrassed to travel by rickshaw but its our compulsion. We do not have any other skill. We will continue with this vocation till the time we can).”

The poor rickshaw pullers see no future for themselves in this city. The pomp and show of Punjab have taken a toll on them.

The charm of traveling by a rickshaw in incomparable. The time that one gets to admire the City Beautiful can be bought only on rickshaws. The free lanes are left to the rich who like to cycle after a heavy meal to digest it and get in shape even as the poor rickshaw wallas cycle in search of their humble morsel.

Eminent art critic of the region Nirupama Dutt relives her nostalgia remembering how without giving a second thought she used to ask her daughter to take a rickshaw and reach her. ”These hardworking people were very trustworthy.“

As the City Beautiful covers inches to turn its beauty into smartness, the grace of simplicity is being made to pay for its cosmetic changes.

A renowned artist Madan Lal who has covered Chandigarh's life of camera extensively says that he has often been getting his inspiration for painting and celebration of life from these humble beings.

“ The way they dress. The gamchas (scarves) they use putting it into multiple use saving them from heat, wind while also making it their hanky is the way a poor rickshaw wala resorts to multitasking and adjusting to the way of life. They are a part of Chandigarh. They bring shades of autumn to this city, “

As Chandigarh moves to the Smart City mode, it has nothing to offer to these vanishing rickshaw pullers for protecting their livelihoods and rehabilitation. Chandigarh Municipal Corporation officials wash their hands off saying, “We are only concerned about giving them licences. After that they are not our responsibility.”

These non polluting beauties would soon be a thing of the past. “Is shehr mein sab rahega par Bhaiyya nahi rahega. Hum jald hi khatm ho jayenge. (Rest all will survive here except the rickshaw wala Bhaiyya. We will soon be no more,” was a comment heard from one of them in the Sector 15 market as he gave vent to his frustration, desperation and fading hopes.

(Cover Picture by Artist Madan Lal)