Sunday, February 19, 2012

Basanti – the poor man’s auto cart

If you are a movie buff and follow Bollywood, then you must have watched the movie Sholay. The heroine of the movie is a feisty village girl who drives a horse-cart and one of the heroes repeatedly asks her name – “Tumhara nam kya hai Basanti?” (What is your name Basanti?). While Basanti drives the tanga (horse-cart), people in Nepal’s Eastern Terai drive an auto-cart called Basanti.

Airy and spacious journey
The cart is a modified version of a horse-cart or bullock cart. Instead of a horse or bullock pulling the cart, an engine rotates the rear wheels with the help of a belt. The only problem the cart faces is the falling off of the belt which stops the cart. In that case, the helper puts on the belt and pushes the cart to start the engine.

The cart is open and spacious with a tarpaulin overhead to save from rain and sun. It can carry upto 10 passengers at a time and in rush hour some more can join hanging at the back! As the cart contains just a wooden base and a mat on it, the journey is airy, windy, hot, humid or cold depending on the weather – basically it’s an open cart.

Locally made basic structure
When I first travelled in a Basanti, I was fascinated by the idea of the inventor of such a simple vehicle. It has nothing – just three tyres, one engine, a wooden base, few iron rods to hold the tarpaulin overhead and a steering handle – that’s it.

Asking the driver about the machine, I got to know that it was assembled in nearby Sunsari district. The mechanics copied the idea from the bordering town in India. The cart is not expensive, you can buy a second hand cart at a price of one hundred thousand Nepali Rupees (1 USD = 80 Nepali Rupees).

Assembled from stolen bikes
I was curious to know from where the mechanics brought the engine, as it was the only part which could not be made by the local mechanics. The driver had a simple reply – the engines are from the stolen bikes, especially of the brand Pulsar. The engines of stolen bikes are also used in assembling water pumps. The bikes stolen from the urban areas are disassembled and the engines end up in the Terai – to be used in water pumps and of course in Basantis.

Hot during the haats
The Basanti is a much used public vehicle besides tempos and jeeps in the Eastern Terai. It can travel on bumpy roads, gravel roads and even the village streets. In the Terai, at major village junctions, twice a week make-shift markets called haat are organised, where people from nearby villages come to sell and buy the objects of daily need. Especially, during the haat days, the Basantis are full of passengers, most of the times overloaded!

When I asked the driver, why they called the cart Basanti, he just smiled and said, “Go watch the movie Sholay and you will know why we call it Basanti.”

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