Across the developed world, arguments rage about how to make car travel more energy efficient. But one fact has by far the biggest impact: on journeys in the US and Europe, on average, most automobiles have fewer than two occupants. Almost everybody in the West, almost all of the time, uses only the front two seats of their car.
The Indian state of Gujarat has the same population as Italy. But where Italians have one car to every two people, Gujaratis share one between 80. Every day, there are enough empty seats in cars on Italy’s roads to carry the entire population of Gujarat twice over. In Gujarat, however, a one-seat motorbike can be made to move as many people as a minibus, once it’s been turned into a chakda.
Sanjay Manibhai Urmania, 36, a chakda builder, estimates that there must be 125,000 chakdas in the area around Gondal, Gujarat. In the absence of reliable public buses or freight, chakdas dominate the transport infrastructure of the Gujarati countryside. They are used for almost everything, from carrying goods to market, to providing fuel supplies, to the local school run.
Build your own chakda
The first thing you need to create a Gujarati chakda is an old Royal Enfield Bullet. This popular motorbike has been on Indian roads since 1949, so there should be plenty of scrapped ones around. You only need the gears, so don’t worry if the engine’s broken; you’re better off using a Greaves Cotton 7.5HP water pump anyway. With a water pump as an engine, a liter of diesel will last over 35 kilometers.
You’re going to need help cutting the Bullet in half, so you could follow the example of the New Shreeji company in Gondal, near Rajkot: organize your siblings, and work as a family production line. The intuitive understanding between the four Shreeji brothers helps them build one chakda every two days.
Scrap merchants can help you get wheels and steel for the chakda’s cart section, but perhaps it’s worth splashing out on specialist parts, available at local workshops. No one is sure who invented chakdas in the late 1960s, but since then a whole industry has grown around them. Just make sure the cart is strong: people expect chakdas to last over 15 years, carrying up to one ton every day.
With transport in Gujarat chaotic, and people relying on cheap, private chakdas rather than government-funded transport, yours could make you 500-800Rs (US$11-18) a day. But with a dozen workshops near Rajkot, each building 10-12 chakdas a month, you’re going to have to make sure that yours really stands out from the crowd. It’s time to get painting.
Paint a logo for your chakda workshop that will help it stand out. The symbol above is for Bansidhar, one of 12 rival workshops around Gondal.
Show your faith. Most chakda drivers are from the Ahir, Bharwad and Rabari shepherd communities, and worship Krishna’s incarnation as a child shepherd (above).
Paint eyes onto your chakda’s headlamps to ward off evil. You can’t get insurance for a chakda, so this is the next best thing.
If you don’t have your own children to celebrate, paint a picture of someone else’s. The portrait above is of Sejal, Ramesh’s niece; her veil is a mark of respect to her elders.
From the pages of COLORS #82 - Shit.