Copyright ©2012 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

In India, it's not just cars and trucks crowding city streets. Motorized rickshaws also scoot in and out of traffic picking up and dropping off passengers. In New Delhi alone, there are some 50,000 of these three-wheeled buggies. That number is expected to double now that the city has lifted a cap on the number allowed on the road. Competition for passengers is expected to be fierce, so some drivers are glamming up their rides, trying to make their vehicles stand out in a crowd.

Elliot Hannon reports from New Delhi.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOTOR)

ELLIOT HANNON, BYLINE: Riding in the back of a rickshaw isn't a glamorous way to travel. In fact, it feels like being in a bumper car with a lawn mower engine.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAFFIC)

HANNON: But, in New Delhi, these shared taxis are the cheapest and most convenient way to get around. The small, three-wheeled buggies don't have any windows - or doors, for that matter - and the motor snarls inches beneath the backseat. Most of the rickshaws are falling apart with rusting exteriors and torn bench seats.

But here, at one of Delhi's rickshaw repair markets, some 200 specialty shops are working to change that. Every kind of rickshaw bling is for sale here, from hubcaps painted like soccer balls to dashboard statues of Hindu gods that glow in the dark. In a small corner stall, Mohammed Arif cuts out fabric and sits down at his electric sewing machine.

(SOUNDBITE OF SEWING MACHINE)

HANNON: Arif specializes in custom made interiors. The shiny red bench seat he's working on looks like it's out of a 1950s diner, but his most popular seat covers are blown up glamour shots of Bollywood movie stars that cover the entire backseat.

MOHAMMED ARIF: (Through translator) Most of the work I get is through word of mouth because a rickshaw goes all over the city, so people ask customers, where did you get this seat? And people come to me.

HANNON: For a driver who wants more, across from Arif's shop, there's a lighting specialist who will cover his rickshaw in color track-lighting until it lights up like a Christmas tree.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HANNON: And the next, a stereo specialist delicately repairs a broken radio he's turned inside out. Behind him are stacks of speakers and stereos that he tailors for rickshaws.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HANNON: For rickshaw drivers, this market is a one-stop shop and driver Mohammed Sahil likes to come here and look for the latest gadgets.

MOHAMMED SAHIL: (Through translator) Decorating my rickshaw isn't just a business investment. It's also my passion. I work 10 hours a day, six days a week in my rickshaw, so it's worth me spending the money.

HANNON: And it can be an expensive business. Some drivers spend hundreds of dollars glamorizing their humble vehicles. Sahil beams with pride as he leans over to click on his favorite purchase: a gleaming new stereo with a remote control.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HANNON: For NPR News, I'm Elliot Hannon in New Delhi.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.