Visit my historic Sopore town on a reasonably sunny day, and you are transported back in time. It is just getting into a time machine and enjoying the simplicity of the bygone era.
Ah, the traditional Tanga transport! Talk to coachmen, book a ride from a buzzing yard and enjoy the grand feeling while touring the town. The clip-clop of the trotting horses produces a lilting melody.
That rhythmic galloping, the sound of the bells and horse-hooves on the road are music to ears. A feeling that can’t be weaved in words.
No smoke billowing out like a chimney, no poisonous gases. No Fossil fuels. No pressure horns. Just smooth, slow, and tranquil travel, and the tic-toeing on the cobbled streets makes it a joy ride.
This eco-friendly royal ride has a medico-psychological aspect attached to it. It scatters positive vibes when you see a strong, decent animal in the neighborhood.
The construction of Tanga is an ancient engineering marvel. There are conflicting narratives about its introduction in the subcontinent. Many say Mughal Emperor Jehangir introduced it but the dominant description is credited to the Pathans of Peshawar.
Sadly, this humble mode of transport is taking a beating from all sides. The coachmen, rendering stellar service, are in dire straits. Struggling for their survival, they are being asked to stop operating from the town’s municipal limits.
What is the criterion? Why do privileged few want them to burn their ships? If they were not a source of pollution for over a century, why now? And how? Medical research doesn’t prove the claim.
Horse manure doesn’t stink much as compared to the very uncomfortable stench that predators and omnivores (including humans) leave behind. In this world of uncertainties, they are not bracketed in a safety net of an insurance policy. Markabaan community earns their livelihood by nursing horses. Why snatch the bread of their families?
Sopore administration issued a funny statement last year stating that the decision to ban Tangas was to save locals from accidents. The truth is, no reported accident happened due to Tangas. Fundamentally different from the mainstream mode of transport, Tanga, horses, and coachmen share an umbilical camaraderie.
With no support from corporate cronies, they are unable to cope with the pincer grip of pressure and penury. The wearied Tangawalla is boating it down to the safety of the coast but his hunter, the prisoner of protocols, is trying to kneel him down.
Backing the unsubstantiated assertion of the officials that Tangas cause pollution, sidelining the inadequacies, some PR-driven half-baked pieces, full of semantic errors, were written in local dailies to praise the irrational decision. When fable fills the fact, rationale takes a back seat.
The idea of an outright ban shall be watered down. It is not a progressive agenda. The real progress is to honor the tradition. Carriage, cart, and horse shall survive. Domesticating horses as a source of earning must be appreciated.
The joy of carriage driving is still alive and is one of the fastest-growing equine sports in the world. The prim and proper antique vehicle can be used for a pleasurable recreational experience.
Even now, studying Tanga is a serious pursuit for many since it encourages a low carbon-footprint lifestyle. The physical prowess of a horse is amazing. Tanga has an aesthetic appeal. It has a strong cultural reference.
Tanga is accepted as a saner option as per UN’s SDG 2030. Man’s greed is unstoppable. Some literates believe that only they should exist on earth, other living creatures are redundant and can be easily eliminated. This omnipotent thinking is catastrophic. When kids see that animals are being fed, they develop a sense of compassion.
The fact is that horse is one of the oldest friends of human beings. Horses have been an integral part of every phase of the development of civilization. Horses are gentle. They respond to kindness and love. A horse is a projection of people’s dreams about themselves- strong, powerful, and beautiful.
Tanga Associations have a legacy and they must uphold it with pride minus prejudice. A section of our population is directly dependent on it. I remember the blacksmith in my village used to heat the horse-shoe and artistically place it to the hoof as if doing its pedicure. Cawing crows and chirping sparrows, perched on Tanga, would beat their wings, while the coachman would feed the fodder to the horse.
Ah, the good old days. Brushing and bathing the horse, checking leather tire covering before embarking on a day’s journey is akin to worship for coachmen. It is delusional to suggest that these happy, healthy horses are mistreated.
Sitting on the Paidaan (foothold), dragging the long reins made of rawhide, using Chante (a stick with string attached to it) to hit the canopy, spikes of the wheel, and sometimes gently tapping the horse’s chest or back speaks of the bond they share.
Without any lip movement, they understand each other. They work in tandem. The synchronization, the balance gives us a sense of togetherness.
Their house should be set in order for the state’s larger interest. Policemen shoving them away is HR abuse. Disliking their work and calling them to quit speaks of a massive class divide and an unhealthy authoritative mindset.
If these hard-working men from the Economically Weaker Section of our society earn their livelihood decently, why harm them? Instead, they can be hired for pick and drop service for our school children.
Markabaan community will eke out a living out of it and it will also thrive and survive our culture. Tangas can also be rented out for social, religious, and political gatherings.
There is a separate enclave in Manhattan where people go and enjoy the ride on these horse-driven carriages. Why is MC Sopore hell-bent to snatch the livelihood of those holding onto our heritage.
The financial prospectus of coachmen was good until we asked them to stop. The sacred book Rigveda states that men and women are as equal as the wheels of a cart. From Victoria number 203 to the famed Dhanu of Basanti in Sholay, over 100 songs have been filmed on Tangas since it was the romantic and glamorous mode of transport in Bollywood.
Why abandon it now? Innovation starts with a dream and then technology catches up. The transition from horse-driven carts to motorized marriage is inevitable. We, indeed, can’t have flashy or sporty chariots running on our roads but Tanga as a mode of intra-city travel is very much possible.
Before it goes into oblivion, the government shall promote it. If just fifty licensed Tangas operate in Srinagar and Sopore each, it will altogether give it a new look. Lalchowk, the trade heartland of the city, will experience a different aura.
We can identify some dedicated routes and pockets and use Tangas in these clusters. For less-in-demand coachmen, the choices going forward will need to be strategic. I suggest the Honorable LG come up with a rehabilitation Yojana for them.
Under the patronage of the government, we can save this legacy. Tanga ride is cherished irrespective of changing pace of life but their modest earnings are swallowed up by the maintenance of the carriage and feeding the horse.
They are not able to make a good fortune out of it. Government can execute it as a revenue model- hire them, have checks and balances, pay their salaries regularly and Sarkari coffers can keep the profit. Am I asking for too much?
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.