Tuesday, October 14, 2008

This Time? Solar! Solar!

The last time we checked in with the goings on in India was when they were releasing the ringtone for cell phones that would sing out "Condom! Condom!" whenever your phone rang. The point was that it was supposed to normalize how the public thought of condom use. Riiiiight. Because having your phone sing out "Condom! Condom!" is normal. Got it.

Well, now we're moving from the condom and onto the rickshaw. Yes, the rickshaw. That quaint little transportation contraption that is commonly found in parts of Asia (and probably other parts of the world as well, but there's a whole lot of rickshaws in Asia). It's basically a wheelbarrow, only there are two wheels and instead of the, um, barrow there is a small seating area for no more than two (barely enough room for one). The device is then pulled by a surprisingly willing fellow who will run you all over the place that way. Go figure. I find it odd. It's as if someone sat down one day and said, "I like wheelbarrows. And I like oxen. But I have neither. Maybe I can come up with a reasonable substitute for both!" And after many fortnights of toiling away by candle light in a cave somewhere, the rickshaw was born. (I'm going to have to assume that the first individuals to pull the rickshaw were the inventor's children.)

OK, so back to India where for many, many years the rickshaw has been an oddly popular form of transportation for the masses. It has evolved somewhat to the degree that a lot of rickshaws now sport what is basically a bicycle with pedals so that the poor sap doing all of the transporting doesn't have to run and can instead pedal. I'm sure that the best part of that is whenever that thing goes downhill and he doesn't have to pedal. Before it was always run, run, run! But with the pedals, they get a break every now and then, which is nice.

But India is on the move once again with it's innovative rickshaw innovations. The latest, according to the Australia Broadcasting Corporation, "has been touted as a solution to urban India's traffic woes, chronic pollution and fossil fuel dependence, as well as an escape from backbreaking human toil." How great does that sound? (Yeah, after the Condom! Condom! thing, I'm not so sure either.) It is "a state-of-the-art, solar-powered version of the humble cycle-rickshaw". It is "motorised cycle rickshaw that can be pedalled normally or run on a 36-volt solar battery." It is the "soleckshaw"! Wait. It's the what?

Correct. The "soleckshaw". That makes little to no sense to me. It's a solar rickshaw. Where do they get the "sole" from? Why do they insist on keeping the "ck"? Is there a problem with "solarshaw"? I mean a problem besides the fact that it sounds as stupid as the first one. I don't know what's wrong with just "solar rickshaw", but I don't have to pedal one, so I guess they don't care what I think. (They'll probably just ignore that email that I just fired off to them a few minutes ago.)

They sure did put a lot of thought into this thing. It has been "...developed by the state-run Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (the ol' CSIR)", "has a top speed of 15 kilometres per hour" and "the fully-charged solar battery will power the rickshaw for 50 to 70 kilometres". And after the battery runs out, one simply takes it to be "deposited at a centralised solar-powered charging station and replaced for a nominal fee." (A nominal fee? Guess how much it costs that dude pulling the rickshaw by running to recharge his feet? Nothing!) (Yep. Put that in the email too!) Below is an artist's rendition of how they had envisioned the "soleckshaw" while it was in the developmental stages. Behold!

Well, they're right. That is much more modern than the rickshaws of yore! Oh, right. Behold! The rickshaws of yore!

Definitely an improvement, I will say. Especially when you consider that India has approximately 8 million of the cycle-rickshaws. Thus, they also have 8 million people who are, again, seemingly willing to be pedaling these things around. (If you see something like that here in the US, there's usually a cooler with ice cream in it attached to the guy who is pedaling.) I didn't know there were that many idiots willing rickshaw pedalers in India. I always think of the Seinfeld episode where Kramer and Newman had a rickshaw and they recruited the homeless to pull it for them. (It's not like they didn't have the time!) The head of the Centre for Rural Development, a one Pradip Something-Unpronounceable, even said, "It will dignify the job and reduce the labour of pedalling. From rickshaw pullers, they will become rickshaw drivers." If you say so.

But wait! That was the artist's rendition up there. It didn't quite turn out to look exactly like that. There were apparently a few alterations to the overall design that were made. See if you can spot them in the photo below. Behold! The real "soleckshaw"!

Oh, good Lord, what the hell is that? Did the "soleckshaw" just get back from Hawaii? What's with the brightly colored garland adorning the wave of the future there? Well, if you're asking a one Anumita Roychoudhary of the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (and really, who else are you going to ask?), that person will tell you, "Rickshaws were always environment friendly. Now this gives a totally new image that would be more acceptable to the middle-classes." Oh, it's a totally new image all right. And seriously? THAT is more acceptable to the middle class? What, pray tell, would less acceptable consist of? NO garland?

And this is kind of where the whole idea falls apart for me. Well, for them, really. But what they don't seem to quite get is that their initial vision looks nothing like the final product. I mean NOTHING like it. And so when the CSIR director says stuff like ""In the age of global warming, the soleckshaw, with improvements, can be successfully developed as competition for all the petrol and diesel run small cars." I think he's a bit delusional. Competition for the vehicles that run on gasoline? I'm not seeing it. At all! The director makes another reference to global warming and it's relationship to the "soleckshaw" by saying "Greenhouse gas emissions are showing an increasing trend year on year and 60 per cent of this comes from the global transport sector." Well, perhaps if they all rode on elephants as well, that would help cut down on some of those gases also. Oh, look.

And while that's all fine and everything and quite possibly true (I can't research everything!), I'm unaware that the basic rickshaw (you know, the one powered by a guy running), was all that big of a contributor of greenhouse gas emissions! In fact, I'll go out on a limb and say that I'm pretty sure they weren't a contributor AT ALL! And now, while there still won't be any greenhouse gas emissions from the "soleckshaw", there will now be batteries that will eventually be unable to be recharged and then need to be disposed of, taking up more space in more landfills; and there will also be more power needing to be generated due to more power being consumed by charging the batteries. (This is why I hate it when products tout themselves as being "green". Because from what I can tell, "green" isn't always all that much different from "not green" and it's worse or the same in a lot of cases. But say that something is "green" and you'll have morons lined up three deep to get whatever it is.)

And if the rickshaw pullers reactions to the "soleckshaw" is any indication, then they're just as delusional as the folks over there at the CSIR. Take a one Bappa Chatterjee, a 25-year old who is one of the 500,000 rickshaw pullers in Dehli. "Pedalling the rickshaw was very difficult for me. I used to suffer chest pains and shortage of breath going up inclines. This is so much easier." Dude, you're 25! But, then again, you are pulling a cart full of human beings. I hope it's as much of an improvement as he wants it to be, but I don't think it's going to quite match up to his hopes. That's because he also said "Earlier, when people hailed us it was like, 'Hey you rickshaw puller!' Police used to harass us, slapping fines even abusing us for what they called wrong parking. Now people look at me with respect." You think?! You think this gets you looks of respect?! Behold!

Oh, sure. That'll do it. Another delusional rickshaw puller, a one Mohammed Matin Ansari, showed his delusional thinking patterns when he said that the "soleckshaw" offered "parity with car, bus and scooter drivers." "Now we are as good as them," he said. Do you think? Really? That must be because, according to the article, "Gone are the flimsy metal and wooden frames that give the regular Delhi rickshaws a tacky, sometimes dubious look." Right. And the new "soleckshaw", it isn't tacky at all!

Oh, wait. I just saw a picture of Dehli. Now I understand why they both think that they will commandeer respect and not have to hear "Hey! You rickshaw puller!" hollered at them all the live long day. Behold! Dehli!

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