Fifties Facts          

Modes of transport in India in the 50s and 60s

By Sunita Rajiv Chikhalikar

In villages and small towns, bullock-carts were used as a means of transport. Some of our relatives stayed in a village. Their main occupation was farming. The distance from their homes to the fields was about two to three kilometers. Generally, they would either walk to the fields or enjoy their journey in their bullock cart.

The bullock cart was also utilized as a means to carry goods like grains, vegetables, crops, hay, cattle feed and other essential commodities.

It was the only means of transportation for members of a family residing in the village, to commute directly from their homes to other villages, towns, or places at district levels.

The manufacture of the wheels and the body of the bullock cart was the main business of the carpenters in the village.

A ‘Tonga’ or a horse driven carriage was many a times employed as a mode of conveyance for about four to six passengers at a time, on sharing basis, to commute from one place to another in towns and cities. The horses were generally fed, groomed and maintained by their owners.

The bicycle was the most common mode of transport in India in the 50s and 60s.It was considered as an ideal vehicle mainly due to its low purchase cost. The maintenance was also very easy and cheap. In addition, it was eco-friendly and speedier than either the bullock cart or the Tonga.

In today’s world, we come across geared bicycles. In the olden days, bicycles manufactured were generally of only two basic single-geared models. The main difference between the two was the upper connecting tube: curved for women and straight for men. The mechanism of brakes too was simple.

In those days, the maintenance of the bicycle was generally done at home itself. Weekly oiling and greasing sufficed. Tubes within the tyres were inflated by means of a ‘Hand Pump’, which was owned by every household. It was an ‘easy to use’ air pump with a piston and a detachable slim rubber tube that could be connected to the inlet of the cycle tube. Most of the times, these pumps were fitted on the frame of the cycle itself and carried everywhere, even to remote places. Tube punctures were fixed by Dunlop rubber solutions, popular in those days.

Many bicycles did not even have mud-guards. Men who wore soft trousers called ‘Vijars’ and women who wore saris, used metal clips to clamp their clothes on their ankles, to prevent them from flapping into the spokes of the wheels.

At many places there were no street lights. So people who traveled on bicycles at night used to fit dynamos and bulbs on the bicycle. These dynamos were operated by cycling, by rotating rear wheels of the bicycles using friction between the rubber tyres and the knurled shaft of the dynamos. Due to this, electricity was generated in the dynamo which in turn used to light up the bulb on the handle-bar of the bicycle.

Two-wheeler vehicles which ran on petrol were scooters and motorcycles. Vespa, Lambretta and Bullet were the popular models.

We owned a green Vespa scooter. My father purchased it in the year 1970. We sold it in 1980 as we had to shift to another city. It served us very well and dad was sorry to see it go. The day we were to sell our Vespa, my elder brother asked my dad whether he could have ‘a last run’ on the vehicle.

“Yes, but do drive carefully and make its run last,” were my dad’s teasing words to him.

The two main models of cars Ambassador and Fiat were popular in those days. Of course, buses were used as cheap public transport vehicles to commute long distances between places which were connected by road.

Aeroplanes, trains and ships too played an important role in transport.

And many people of the old, relied on their naturally-gifted vehicles: their legs to travel surprisingly long distances without fear of fatigue, time or place.

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This bullock- cart was used as a mode of conveyance from a house in a relative’s family to the fields.

This is a photograph of some acquaintances on a horse-driven Tonga.

This is the photograph of a bicycle used by my husband’s elder brother in the late 60s.

This is the photograph of my uncle and me posing on our Vespa in 1970.

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