Kolkata, Dec.1 : Want to travel in style? Then hail 'Sarathi', the cycle rickshaw plying in Lake Town in Kolkata, for a short trip.
The two-seater comes equipped with a radio playing all FM stations, has the day's newspaper for passengers to read, offers a water bottle if you are thirsty and is prepared with a first aid box in case of any accident. But the best is yet to come - it has a mini-zoo and is surrounded with greenery!
'Sarathi' is a sight to behold. Green money plants climb all over, there is a neem as well as a tulsi plant. Faux flowers add colour to the vehicle.
Children, however, are drawn to the livestock the rickshaw carries. While the gold fish swim excitedly in the fish bowl, affixed to the front rail, a rabbit and white mice watch interestedly from their cages fixed behind the rickshaw. Two budgerigars also flutter their wings and hop on the back rails when taken out of their cages.
Despite all this, the passengers can comfortably seat themselves and allow rickshaw puller Sanyasi Jana to take them to their destination.
The rickshaw plies only in the city - from the Lake Town Police Station Rickshaw Stand. The fare is according to distance from the stand, varying from Rs.5 to Rs. 20. Two passengers can sit in the rickshaw.
Siddharth Bakshi, a regular passenger, is all praise for the humble rickshaw puller.
Sanyasi Jana is a pleasant, well-behaved man with no vices who loves to spend any extra money he earns on the animals and the plants, says Bakshi.
The inquisitive passenger has also discovered the driving force behind Jana's dream rickshaw.
Jana hails from Nampo village in Orissa's Baleswar district, where there were ample animals and greenery. When he missed his surroundings in the hustle and bustle of Kolkata, he decided to convert his rickshaw into a place where he felt more at home, surrounded with greenery and livestock.
Sanyasi Jana says he spends about Rs.30 each day for food for his pets. He also spends money to buy the daily newspaper and for batteries for the rickshaw- radio and clock. The self-effacing man says he had merely decorated the rickshaw according to his liking.
It says a lot about the inherent awareness of this rickshaw puller that besides the animals and plants, he was thoughtful enough about the requirements of his passengers to equip the vehicle with a newspaper - a service available only on aircraft or Rajdhani trains - a calendar and clock as well as a radio, water bottle and first aid box.
The simple villager, with great ingenuity and imagination has turned its humble vehicle into a mode of transport which is visually pleasing, has utility items and also offers entertainment.
A class III drop out himself, Jana proudly points out that his daughter is in class X and son in class V. His family is still in Nampo but his daily earnings averaging between Rs 120-130 is enough, he says to take care of their needs as well as the Rs 40 he spends on an average on his rickshaw.
While some passengers like Deepali Pal, prefer to enjoy the music from the radio as they travel on 'Sarathi', others prefer to catch up with the happenings round the world through the newspaper. Jana also devotes lot of time in entertaining the children who throng to his rickshaw, attracted by the animals. He feeds the animals and waters the plants himself.
"The rickshaw draws my daughter out of our flat here every morning and Sanyasi allows her to hold the birds," says Lake Town resident Shilpa Chandi.
Unlike other rickshaw pullers, Jana did not do up his rickshaw with film posters. He attributes this to his devotional nature, having taken 'diksha' from a guru.
He says he doesn't mix well with others and prefers to do things he likes.
"Hence, 'Sarathi' reflects what Jana wants and likes in life. He has no vices like alcoholism or gambling like other rickshaw pullers in the city, and therefore, he can save the extra money to indulge his love for animals and plants," says Siddharth Bakshi, adding that Jana's efforts should be appreciated.
The trauma of moving from the green, simple surroundings of a village to a bustling metropolis in search of a living, has been experienced by many. But hardly any have managed to move their village into the city.
Sanyasi Jana, however, has achieved this to a great extent in his home - the rickshaw - and also allowed many city dwellers to partake the joys of handling animals or touching plants and enjoying the greenery along with him within a fully functional venture. By Ajitha Menon