“Where there is a Wheel” is a short story by Mulk Raj Anand, a prominent Indian writer. This story vividly portrays the struggles of a rickshaw puller named Dhania and his relentless pursuit of a better life in the bustling streets of India. Set against a backdrop of poverty and exploitation, the narrative explores themes of social injustice and the indomitable human spirit. Read more 2nd PUC English Summaries.
Where there is a Wheel Summary
Where there is a Wheel Summary in English
This lesson is an article taken from a book titled ‘Everybody Loves a Good Drought’, by P. Sainath, a popular photo-journalist. Besides giving a brief history of ‘cycling’ as a social movement in Pudukkottai, he also reports how a group of women initiated the remaining women in the village to learn ‘cycling’ so as to use it as a symbol of independence, freedom and mobility. Finally, he also comments on the general impact of this on women’s lives in the Pudukkottai district of Tamil Nadu.
The author begins the article commenting that when people hear the caption, “Cycling as a social movement”, it may sound far-fetched to them, but it is true. Then the author remarks that “people find curious ways of hitting out at their backwardness, of expressing defiance, a hammering at the fetters that hold them”.
The author then quotes statistics to prove his point. He reports that over the past eighteen months, 100000 rural women have taken to bicycling as a symbol of independence, freedom and mobility, and their number constitutes over one-fourth of all rural Women in Pudukkottai. Among them over 70000 of them have taken part in public exhibition-cum-contests to proudly display their skills, yet the desire to learn ‘cycling’ and the ‘training camps’ continue.
The author then tells us how two of the participants Jameela Bibi, and Fatima, a secondary school teacher, feel about their achievement in cycling. The author quotes Jameela Bibi, who says, “It’s my right, we can go anywhere. Now I don’t have to wait for a bus”. Similarly, he quotes Fatima also. Fatima says, “There is freedom in cycling. We are not dependent on anyone now. I can never give this up!” Jameela, Fatima and their friend Avakanni, all in their early twenties, have trained scores of other young women in the art of cycling.
The author remarks that “Cycling has swept across this district; women agricultural workers, quarry labourers and village health nurses are among its fans. They are now being followed by balwadi and Anganwadi workers, gem cutters, school teachers, gramasevikas and mid-day meal workers. The vast majority are those who have just become literate”. The district’s vigorous literacy drive led by Arivoli Iyakkam (Light of Knowledge Movement) has been quick to tap this energy. The author has spoken to every one of these ‘neo-literate’, ‘neo-cyclist’ women and asserts that there is a direct link between cycling and the neo-cyclists’ personal independence.
Then he reports the opinion of the coordinator who says that the “cycling training has given confidence to women and it has reduced their dependence on men”.
The author says that he often sees a woman doing a four-kilometre stretch on her bicycle to collect water, sometimes with her children. He opines that women can cart provisions from other places on their own. Initially, these women had to put up with vicious attacks on their character. Even filthy remarks used to be made by men. He praises the ‘Arivoli’ organisation for volunteering to give social sanction to cycling.
Next, he mentions the ‘Cycle Training Camp’ that he had seen in Kilakuruchi village. He says that it was an unusual experience to see all the prospective learners who had turned out in their Sunday best. They appeared to be determined to learn cycling. The Arivoli activists produced songs for the neo-cyclists to encourage bicycling. The author quotes a line which says, “O sisters, come learn cycling, move with the wheel of time”.
Then, we learn that those who got trained in cycling came back in large numbers to help new learners. They worked free of charge for Arivoli as ‘master trainers’. Then, he comments that there is not only a desire to learn but a widespread perception among them that ‘all women ought to learn cycling’.
In the next part of the report, the writer gives a brief historical background to cycling as a social movement. He reports that in 1991 a former district collector by name Sheela Rani Chunkath hit on the idea of training female literacy activists so as to reach women in interior villages. She also included ‘mobility’ (for women) as a part of the literacy drive, because lack of mobility among women played a big role in weakening the confidence of women. It is reported that Chunkath paid personal attention to this idea and motivated the banks to give loans to women to buy cycles. Each block was assigned specific duties in promoting the drive. The district collector met with great success in her plan. Due to the initiative taken by her, the literacy activists learned cycling.
This encouraged the neo-literates, and their example was followed by every woman in the village to learn cycling. This led to a shortage of ‘ladies’ cycles. Then the women started using ‘gents’ cycles. In fact, some women even preferred ‘gents’ cycles because it has an additional bar from the seat to the handle. The author then says, even to this day thousands of women here ride ‘gents’ cycles.
On the International Women’s Day in 1992, over 1500 female cyclists with flags on the handlebars, bells ringing, took Pudukkottai by storm. The towns’ inhabitants were stunned by this all women’s cycle rally.
The writer describes the reactions of the men to this social movement. The author gives the opinion of S. Kanakarajan, owner of Ram Cycles. The cycle dealer says that he had seen a rise of over 350 per cent in the sales of ‘ladies’ cycles in one year. But the author believes that the percentage of increase mentioned by the cycle agent is incorrect because a lot of women have gone in for ‘gents’ cycles as they could not wait for ‘ladies’ cycles. Then the writer remarks that not all males were hostile and some men were even encouraging in their attitude. For instance, Muthu Bhaskaran, a male Arivoli activist, wrote the famous cycling song that has become their anthem.
The writer cites the example of Manormani to illustrate how learning to ride a bicycle can help stone quarry workers also. The twenty-two-year-old Manormani is a stone quarry worker and Arivoli volunteer. She works in Kudimianmalai’s stone quarries. According to her, it is vital for her co-workers to learn cycling because their working places are a little cut off from the main road. Those who learn cycling can be mobile (which means they can go home after work and come back the next day, otherwise, they will have to stay there alone in a new place facing a lot of problems or travel by bus every day). The writer says that in 1992, more than 70000 women displayed their cycling skills at the public ‘exhibition-cum-contests’ run by Arivoli. The UNICEF, who were impressed with the achievement of these activists, sanctioned fifty mopeds for Arivoli women activists.
The writer gives his views about cycling as a social movement. He says that cycling boosts income. Some of the women sell agricultural or other produce within a group of villages. For such people, cycling saves time. Secondly, cycling gives you more time to focus on selling your produce. Thirdly, it helps you to cover a larger area. Lastly, it can increase your leisure time too. Earlier, small producers had to carry their produce only by bus and had to depend on fathers, brothers, husbands, or sons even to reach the bus stop. They could cover only a limited number of villages to sell their produce as they had to do so on foot.
Moreover, these women had to rush back early to tend to the children and perform other chores like fetching water. Those who had bicycles now combined these difficult tasks without any anxiety or tension. Even now one can see along some remote road, a young mother, with a child on the cycle bar and, produce on the carrier. She could also be seen carrying two or even three pots of water hung across the back, and cycling towards work or home.
Finally, the author opines that for these neo-literate/neo-cyclist women, more than the economic aspect, the sense of self-respect it brings is vital. The author admits in a confessing tone that never before had he seen that humble vehicle (cycle) in that light – the bicycle as a metaphor for freedom. Before concluding, the writer quotes Kannammal who opines that for rural women it is a Himalayan achievement like flying an aeroplane.
In the last paragraph, the author adds a postscript. He says that in April 1995, when the author returned to Pudukkottai, the craze for learning cycling was still on (three years later). Then he adds that a large number of women were unable to afford bicycles which then cost around Rs. 1400 each. He concludes saying that Pudukkottai remains unique among Indian districts for the stunning proportion of women who have taken to cycling and the enthusiasm for gaining the skill among the rest.
In conclusion, “Where there is a Wheel” by Mulk Raj Anand sheds light on the harsh realities of poverty and exploitation faced by rickshaw pullers in India. Through the character of Dhania, the story serves as a poignant reminder of the resilience and dignity of individuals battling adversity. It underscores the urgent need for social change and empathy in a society where the wheels of exploitation continue to turn.