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A search for the Kuthiravandi or the single horse carriage on Google throws up titbits of meagre consequence. It has vanished from existence and there are very few people who remember the days when it was one of the preferred modes of transport in Malabar. What made the Malabar Kuthiravandi special was that it was unique in construction and style and very popular till the middle of the 20th century.

Chances are that the Kuthiravandi traced its genetics to the hansom cab patented by Joseph Hansom in Britain. The design was gradually introduced to the British colonies in the latter part of the 19th century and then modified locally. Some of these had longer lives than others and have lingered on in places like Mandalay till today. Nobody referred to it as a pony trap, or a horse trap but in some parts of India, a version of it was known as the tanga[1] or just simply the goda ghadi[2]. The Malayalam name for the vehicle came from the combination of two simple words – kuthira meaning a horse and vandi meaning a vehicle. There were other horse drawn carriages used in Malabar, but the Kuthiravandi was in a genre of its own.

Calicut, the Malabar District head quarter’s town had its share of kuthiravandis operating within the town limits and in nearby localities like Feroke. It ferried children to school, took the family on social visits and for shopping and was very popular to get to and from the railway station. The kuthiravandi never competed with the hand-pulled rickshaw – one was able to carry four adults while the rickshaw was able to carry just one adult. When a family wanted to go somewhere, the vandikaran or the driver of the carriage was informed well in advance. Minutes before the departure time, one would hear the bells announcing the arrival of the carriage. Seating in the kuthiravandi was decided by the vandikaran. He would assess the height and weight of the passengers and then politely suggest that those with ample proportions sit up front to help maintain the balance of the carriage. Children were lifted up last on to the laps of the elders.

The kuthiravandi was assembled in Calicut and customised for the needs of the community. It was a two-wheeled cart, high above the ground with a basic suspension arrangement. Atop this was a placed a near square wooden structure that was linked to the driver’s seat in front and had a little door at the back for passengers to get in and out. Above the wooden base was a frilled canopy that served as a sun screen but was of little use in the rain. Below the rear door was a footstep that was fairly high above the ground; many Malabar matrons had to get a little back end push while getting in and a brief hand-holding when alighting. The outside of the carriage box was painted and decorated and the inside had padded seats covered with a white cotton fabric. The seating was a tad cramped and knees knocked but then there were flounces and curtains and clean upholstery.

The driver perched in front and most often had a little boy with him. The little boy’s role was to hold the horse while the passengers alighted and at the end of the journey to feed the animal with grass and horse gram generously laced with tiny laterite stones. The horse was decked with a saddle, decorated with blinkers, and had a bunch of colourful feathers flying above its head gear.  On either side of the carriage there were head lamps that were low on lux but would today have been a collector’s item. A number of bells of different dimensions on the wheels and on the saddle announced the movement of the carriage in the narrow lanes of the town.

There were few safety measures in existence during the kuthiravandi era. The carriage performed well on a flat road but when the horse had to move up a slight slope there was anxiety all round.  The biggest challenge for the horse was the gradient leading up to the Kallai bridge. With carrot and stick, the horse was prepared for the slope but everyone held their breath to see if the animal would make it up to the top or slip back and often just go on its knees. On occasions when this climb was made at a time when the train was passing on the adjacent rail bridge, there was added anxiety in spite of the best set of blinkers. Everything was set right when the vandikaran coaxed the animal back into the bridle and harness.

Sometime in the last century the kuthiravandi disappeared from the town without fuss and fanfare. By then, Calicut had grown up and become a city.  Around the same time, the hand-pulled rickshaws were withdrawn, cycle rickshaws were introduced and three-wheeler autorickshaws made their debut.  It was swansong time for the Kuthiravandi and the vandikaran accepted that change was on the way. The tragedy that remains to this day is that it is difficult to locate even the skeletal remains of a Kuthiravandi anywhere in the area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Horse carriage

[2] Horse carriage

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A morning in Goa begins with reports of the road accidents of the previous day. A mother and child run over, an elderly gentleman the victim of a ‘hit-and-run’ and a variety of accidents that causes both loss of life and property. There have been several studies to check the state of the roads, the behaviour of drivers and other statistics that would help initiate remedial action. Every day a new speed breaker or pedestrian crossing is added somewhere in the State. These measures have done little for the safety of people on the road.

The rules of the road in Goa broadly reflect what is prevalent in other states in India. Roads in Goa are at different elevations and drivers have to content with both uphill and downhill driving. It is a universal rule that traffic going downhill must always give right of way to uphill traffic. This elementary principle has not been part of the driver training or testing. Both two and four-wheeler vehicles speed down a slope making it difficult for an uphill driver to stay on the road.

Another global rule is that vehicles joining a main road from a feeder or service road or lane must come to a stop at the point of entry into the main road. They need to look right and left and then proceed to join the traffic. This rule has been wrongly communicated to the drivers. People excel in speeding on to the main road from every lane – it is a frightening experience to watch two wheelers and bullish car drivers join the main stream as a birthright! Those on the main road are traumatised! There are no STOP signs at the head of any main road in Goa!

Every two-wheeler driver dreads having to put his foot down on the ground. It breaks the speed and momentum and upsets the fine balance. Putting the foot down on a slope is a manoeuvre that is more dangerous. It impacts everything, and disturbs the equanimity of both the driver and the team of four on the pillion. It is even more perilous when he may be carrying a ladder, a full-grown pig, a gas cylinder or a 50- kilo bag of rice. Two wheelers are today both salon cars and goods vehicles rolled into one and that calls for special road rules. Can two wheelers overtake from both right and left?

What makes it more difficult for a two wheeler to stop and proceed is the state of the road after a hot mix treatment. Each hot mix treatment raises the elevation of the road by a few centimetres and creates a sheer drop at the edge of a road – no one is bothered about the effects the hot mix treatment has on the safety of drivers and the difference in height between the main road and the shoulder. Differences in road and shoulder level of roads are fraught with serious danger.

Drivers have no respect for a pedestrian crossing – it’s time to brainstorm and see how this can be inculcated specially in front of schools, colleges and hospitals when pedestrians are on the crossing.

Drivers also experience confusion at some junctions and at roundabouts. A simple white circle in the middle of the road will make all the difference to a confused driver. The rules of the roundabout are not clear to many drivers. Roads in Goa could also do with more ‘Keep Left’ signs.

It is perhaps time to re-train the trainers and also get to know what they are communicating to students of driving. Training of new drivers needs to be more safety-oriented and testing more stringent.

There’s a lot more – texting or phoning and driving, speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol, stopping without signaling and the unbearable high beam at night!

One hopes that the country has a book of standards for both national and state roads. It is time to make these standards public so that citizens can understand what they have and monitor where standards have been compromised.

A planned approach and Goa can be a safe state even before being a smart one!

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