Ever since I saw them parked outside the Taj one evening, I’d been dying to take a ride around Colaba in a “Disco Cart”. Disco Cart isn’t the official name, actually – they’re horse drawn carts used for weddings, and festivals, and they’re called “Victorias”. When they’re not in use pulling a bridal party about, they park just in front of the Taj near the Gateway of India, and wait for tourists.
During the day, there’re really not much to look at. They’re a shiny silver, yes, and they have garlands and bling on them, but nighttime is when they really shine.
As the sun dips low behind the Gateway, the coaches light up in a cacophony of neon, shining stars, hearts, and waves illuminating the cart and rainbows of color bouncing off the shiny silver coach and making the artificial flowers seem even more bizarrely-colored. It’s cheesy, and 70’s, and tacky as Hell. It’s freaking awesome.
It’s also very “disco”, so because I have a strange kind of aphasia and forget words for things when they don’t make sense to my brain wiring, I call them “Disco Carts”.
I had many conversations with DiploDad about taking a ride in them. They always, always went like this:
Me: “Hey – after we go to the National Day Reception for Other Country on Wedensday
night, let’s go ride one of the disco carts!”
This conversation might not seem like a complete denial, but it really is. I’ve learned over the years that “we’ll see” means “yes” and “maybe” means “no” in Hidden DiploDad Speak. If you’re married, think about it – I bet there’s something like this in your daily interactions. If you’re not, you’ve been warned this might be in your future.
Every time things went this way, I got a little more panicked. You see, the Biharmumbai Municipal Corporation, in response to protests by animal rights activists, banned the carts from the Gateway area beginning in June 2016. http://www.dnaindia.com/mumbai/report-with-the-ban-of-mumbai-s-iconic-horse-drawn-victorias-an-era-comes-to-an-end-2099076
And since I’m writing about this, you know I have an opinion on that.
I’ve ridden in a horse-drawn sleigh over the snowy countryside of Garmish-Partenkirchen, Germany. I’ve been pulled through New York’s Central Park in the fall with the leaves crunching under the horse’s feet. I’ve circled around the city center in Vienna, Austria. I’ve taken a camel cart ride near the Rann of Kutch in Gujarat, and I’ve been for a covered wagon ride in Texas.
So I don’t think that banning the horses is a fantastic idea.
The folks who own and operate the horse carts and horses aren’t wealthy, and they probably won’t make bank on the number of weddings they book every year. A tourist might pay R1500 for a half-hour ride, and that’s pretty generous. Others might not be as good a negotiator and pay R2500. It doesn’t take a genius (and I never claimed to be one) to figure out that the income of the Disco Cart guys is going to drop if these are banned, and will drop significantly. I’m not sure how many of them are in regular rotation at the Taj, but let’s just say that there are 50. That’s 50 families, maybe 200 people, whose living is affected – significantly. There’s been a “phase out period”, but not much else, and let’s be frank – there’s no way to reinvest when you’ve got a lot tied up in a horse and cart, and how do you find something to supplement that loss of income when you aren’t adequately educated? You don’t. Unless you’re really, really special.
The activists point to mistreatment of the horses, and say it’s cruel. I admit – I’ve seen a horse or two down there that looked like Ally McBeal in the 1990s. I’ve also seen a few pudgeballs. But most of the horses there look relatively well-nourished, and it’s not an unusual sight to see them drinking from buckets or munching on a carrot of a bucket of horse chow. I can’t imagine widespread horse battering either – there are front-page stories here about vets doing surgery on turtles to save them, and the story of Shaktiman, the police horse that was injured at a political rally moved the city and nation. http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/police-horse-shaktiman-dies/article8499526.ece
It just wouldn’t be tolerated if some idiot started waling on his animal. Let’s also be honest – horses are domesticated working animals. They’ve been used to plow fields, pull goods, and transport people throughout history. And horses are expensive. If they aren’t earning, they’re a liability, and I seriously doubt they’ll be cared for the way they need to be if they are just a very, very large belly to fill in a family with less money coming in.
There’s a really – interesting – photo of an activist draped with signs and chains and pulling a disco cart. The activist in the photo looks like ME. So, ahem. Draw your own conclusions on that. I certainly did.
I’m not saying let this go unregulated, or don’t check on the horses – nope, I’m not. I’m saying maybe it would be better to find a way to license folks, do health checks, and regulate it. No, I’m not blind to the difficulties and to the possibility of things not going well or someone turning a blind eye after the exchange of a few rupees. But I think an outright ban is going to cause some problems that could be avoided with a little bit of thoughtfulness.
So the clock is running, and soon the Disco Carts are going to be gone forever, and I wasn’t any closer to getting a ride than I was when I first saw them. Then, one night, I asked DD if he’d like to go to dinner.
Me: “Hey – how does dinner at Ellipsis on Friday sound? We could go ride in a Disco
DD: “Sounds great”.
So after dinner, we went down to the Gateway and our driver parked nearby. As we walked over, I was cursing that we’d waited so long. Because it was HOT. And by hot, I mean not “Africa Hot”, I mean “India Hot”. By May in Mumbai it’s hovering around the high 30Cs, and any outdoor activity with your spouse is a “hot date”, but not exactly in the way you might intend.
Still, I was going to get a ride on a Disco Cart even if I melted, and DD knew it, so he held his hand out and helped me from the air-conditioned car.
We walked over and checked out all the carts, eventually deciding on one with hearts and stars on it. And a very nice, well-fed horse named Shah Rukh, who was nuzzling his owner.
We haggled for the 30-minute tour, and while I know we paid WAY more than we should have, I felt I was getting a pretty good deal. We set out at a good clip, and wound our way through Colaba. It was too hot to hold hands (wah!) and definitely too hot for DD to put his arm around me (double wah!), but we were moving fast enough for a light breeze that made it very pleasant.
Our tour guide spoke limited English, but he’d memorized his route and had some pertinent information for all the sites we passed. We learned a few things.
We passed some kids driving around in these cute little bobby cars that were all lit up. One of them raced us, laughing and waving all the way to the corner.
We went up by the Taj, passing all the idle Disco Carts. We saw skinny horses, fat horses, horses with their noses in buckets. We saw old men and young men, middle aged men, all hanging out waiting for the next tourist.
When we wound back around, we were finished, Shah Rukh cruised to a stop, and we hopped out shortly thereafter. His owner then gave him a carrot, and I walked over to say hello with a few strokes on his nose. He repaid me with a nudge and a snort.
We walked back to our car, and even though it was cooler, it definitely didn’t have the magic of neon or the sound of hoofbeats, clicking with every second the countdown to the loss of the Disco Carts.