Calcutta aka Kolkata is the capital of the Indian state of West Bengal. Located on the east bank of the Hooghly River, it is the principal commercial and cultural centre of East India. The dirty and chaotic megacity with her suburbs has a population of c. 15 million, making it the third-most populous metropolitan area in India (after Bombay and Delhi).
Old-fashioned human-drawn rickshaws pulled by wiry coolies are still commonplace. Many migrants from rural Bengal and Bihar, one of the poorest states in India, are involved in rickshaw pulling; most of them are pavement-dwellers who live very hard lives. No rickshaw puller owns a rickshaw; they rent their rickshaws for c. 250 rupees (c. US$ 3.60) per shift. A rickshaw puller’s daily routine begins at 06:00 and ends at 21:00 at night. On his best day he can earn not more than 500 rupees (c. US$ 7.30), but this is rare and it is not uncommon to earn nothing despite a fifteen hour long shift. In order to save some money the rickshaw pullers sleep under the rickshaw, or for around 1,000 rupees per month, together with a dozen other men in a dera, a combination of garage, repair shop and dormitory, without water and toilets; Hindu and Muslim rickshaw pullers often share the same room. Most of them have no pilot licenses and are aged above 50.
Many rickshaw pullers supplement their meagre income by acting as touts, pimps and guides. They will show you almost all the wonders of Calcutta...
...during the day and at night,
... even throwing in a few interesting Hindu temples (e.g. Kalighat Temple, Dakshineshwar Temple),
... and less holy neigbourhood markets (e.g. New Market, Flower Market).
Street portrait photographs from Calcutta in Matt Hahnewald's