Longing For Tongas: There Is No Going Back In Time, But What Is Left Behind Can Be Brought Back

Posted on September 5, 2013 in Culture-Vulture

By Zahidun Nisa:

When I was in school, some children who lived in the same vicinity rode to school in tongas. It wasn’t much of a surprise for me, and neither did I notice then, that apart from the area of my school, i.e. Saddar, tongas were seldom seen. Last week while reading Bapsi Sidhwa, and marvelling over the originality with which she has penned down her illustration of the pre-partitioned Lahore in the background of her story; I reminisced the time and composed my thoughts together, and the absence of tongas from roads in today’s times, struck me. I hardly see them now, except for carnivals, and on some streets where they’re brought for entertainment purposes.


In a country where cultural heritage is relished every now and then, the absence of tonga rides on city roads, as an alternative to taxis and rickshaws, is much felt. Other means of public transport suffice for the ones who do not own any automobile, but they add to environmental pollution. However, cars, jeeps and bikes are here now, and have become more of a need than want. Hence, their existence cannot be domineered. But the expanding space of this globalized world should have some room for ancient relics, which can be of good use, and feasibly maintained. And when it comes to ancient vehicles, tongas can well-serve the purpose.

Despite the availability of various time-saving devices, technology has not completely replaced the old druthers. In households, we have an option to choose mortar and pestle (sil batta) to taste the real essence of a spice. If there is no hurry to prepare a meal, and a chacha, mamu or khala from pardes (abroad) demands to have traditional food then sil batta is willingly taken out of cabinets with narrations of how dadis and nanis made finger-licking kababs with hand-grinded spices; otherwise for usual use an electronic blender is also there. Likewise, in Bollywood, there is a new wave of action films, i.e. Dabbang and Singham, similar to those from the late 1980s, in which the police wala is a heroic character, not a corrupt one like in many of the mainstream films, and his heroine is a traditional, family girl. This is moving parallel with the contemporary ones in which there are no songs with back-dancers, and usually a strong message against the system.

If there is room for parallels at home and in cinemas, then it is unfair on roads and people to have limited options of transport to choose from. It is no harm in balancing between both the means of transportation. If tongas come back in the groove, they will lessen the burden on fuel supply as they are fuel-free alternatives.

Therefore, we should realize the magnificence of our beloved tongas on streets, and make endeavours to carry them alongside taxis and Toyotas.

Photo Credit: paulancheta via Compfight cc