Tongas now a rarity in Lahore

By Atif Nadeem
IN 1980s, Tonga was no doubt considered an economical and prominent source of transportation in the provincial metropolis especially in the Walled City but this is a fact that it has seen a sharp decline in the last few years, thanks to changing times.

There was a time when ‘coachwaan’ felt pride while sitting in the front portion of his Tonga, holding reins and speaking at the highest pitch of his voice to get his passengers attraction.

Gone are the days. Now they are spending their lives in sheer obscurity and strive hard to engage themselves in someway or the other. Some of them, following the Darwinian Theory ‘survival of the fittest’, have adapted themselves to the changed circumstances and started making money instead of seeing themselves doomed due to starvation and hunger.

In the provincial metropolis, transportation on Circular Road bordering the Walled City including Lohari, Taxali, and Mochi gates was shouldered by these coachmen with the slow but steady pace of the hoofs of their horses.

What went wrong with that traditional transportation system? Is it all about the invention of auto-rickshaws or fast growing-trend towards urbanisation, which has made vicious inroads into the cultural heritage of the city?

In fact, both these things contributed towards elimination of Tonga culture in the city as auto-rickshaws made the movement quite fast because the people wished so to keep pace with fast paced daily life and the second factor was obviously urbanisation, which kept the people oblivious to the fact that they were playing havoc with their culture and tradition at a time when the world was allocating billions to preserve their culture and tradition. Replacement of Tonga culture had also proved disastrous for decaying environment in the Walled City as the area was already congested and auto-rickshaws, bellowing pollution, did prove harmful for the people and the cultural heritage as well.

“Putting aside advantages of the auto-rickshaws, this new transportation system has caused immense damage to environmental conditions in the Walled City,” said Irfan Mehmood, a resident of Lohari.

There were a large number of people like carpenters, horse-breeders and body-makers who were associated with this transportation system.

What happened to them? Where had they gone? These could be the real questions of human-interest, which had definitely remained unanswered so far. However, one thing that could be assumed was that they might have lost their bread-winning sources for once and all or they switched over to some other vocation.

“Those people have switched to other trades as they had large families to rear and replacement of Tonga culture made them take this decision,” said Allah Ditta, a coachwaan, sitting with his friend in his Tonga at Akbari Mandi.

Tongas, covered with flowers and ribbons and painted white, have become a traditional feature of weddings and other social functions in the provincial metropolis as most of the bridegrooms, to make their weddings quite traditional, use these ‘Bagghis’. Tongas were also used for economic activities, mainly to carry heavy goods within the city but with the advent of auto-rickshaw culture, such commercial activities are also being carried out with the help of rickshaws.

“Most of the coachmen have become buggy-men as they are considered adept in running buggies with the same enthusiasm as they were used during pulling their Tongas,” said Muhammad Ilyas, a buggy-man at Liberty Market.

Some Tongas, though remain unoccupied, are still seen in the Walled City. In addition, the commuters throng the auto-rickshaws to reach their destination in the shortest possible time without thinking for a moment about the coachmen who keep their glances fixed at them in a hope to make their contribution for revival of the old transportation system and also for the sake of their survival as well. However, who cares?

Source: The News, 19/10/2008

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