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Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Good Old Days of Tongas

It's indeed sad to read in a leading Urdu daily that Delhi tongas are on their way out. One more relic from the past will soon cease to exist and with it, one of the nostalgic memories of olden days will also peter out. Tongas (tangewala / Ikkewala) of Delhi, Agra, Lucknow and Kanpur have a ring of fascinating history. Till sixties, Urdu and Hindi literature was replete with references to tangewalas and interesting anecdotes constituted the corpus of Hindi-Urdu literature of that era. Munshi Premchand used to enjoy a tonga-ride to activate his thoughts and imaginations to write something striking.

When Ashutosh Mukherjee was the VC of Calcutta University during British Raj, he'd go to the varsity in a tonga with a big bowl of rasgullas which he'd consume by the time he reached the gate of the University. He enjoyed tonga-ride because it gave a 'tasty twist' to his fondness for Bengal's legendary rasgullas. You still get to see tongas on the roads of Lahore and Lucknow, albeit the latter has lost that charm in all respects. Emperor Jahangir was the greatest patron of tongas. It was Jahangir, with an artistic and aesthetic bent of mind, who gave carts to the cavaliers who used to give ride to people but were not allowed to carry women because of the close proximity on the horseback! Jahangir gave them decorated carts. Tongawallas, like erstwhile mobile ear-cleaners and palanquin-bearers of Bengal, were great raconteurs and story-tellers. I remember, I'd gone to Sikandara from Agra to see Akbar's tomb.

It was a memorable tonga-ride. And the unlettered tongawala was full of interesting stories that were not mentioned in any history-book. Despite knowing that he was exaggerating, I was all ears. There's a rhythm in a tonga, coupled with the sounds produced by the horse-shoes. This has a very soothing effect on the frayed nerves and if you're a poet, you get new ideas for poetry like Raghupati Sahay Firaq Gorakhpri's immortal quatrain 'Kat-te kat-te kateen raatein/ Hote-hote savera hota/ Raat ki raat kabhi mera ghar/ Tera rain-basera hota' (I wish the night would never come to an end / And the morning would be deliberately delayed / On such an endless night /You (beloved) will accidently drop in to grace my humble abode). Firaq wrote this one of the finest quatrains in Urdu literature while returning from Allahabad's famed Muir College to his home at Mutthiganj.

 Alas, gone are the  days!! In the abominable crowd of two-wheelers and four-wheelers, the musical sounds produced by horse-shoes have been overshadowed by the cacophony of horns. You can't even hear those heart-warming sounds and have to listen to O P Nayyar's numbers from Naya Daur  to revive those days. Government has never been symapthetic toward the tangewallas, whose horses starve and die and with the horses, eventually die their families as well, like en masse suicide of tangewallas of Rampur in 1979. No one cared then. No one ever cares now.     
                                                     -----Sumit Paul

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