The Slippery Slope of a Tonga Back Seat

Posted on January 9, 2010
Filed Under >Owais Mughal, Humor
18 Comments
Total Views: 21397

Owais Mughal

Discussing Pakistan’s unique transport has remained a favourite topic at ATP (see Rickshaw, Truck, Tram, Bus and all modes of transport together in a post).

Today I want to pose a question to our readership. What do you think is the most challenging transport ride you’ve taken in Pakistan? If you ask me then there is only one possible answer and that is the challenge of sitting and not slipping at the back seat of a tonga.

You see the tonga owners all across Pakistan, for some reason, put a vinyl/plastic back seat cover. The urdu word for this material is mome-jaama. Now most of the tongas in Pakistan travel at a tilted angle anywhere between 30 degrees and 60 degrees. This tilt angle is directly proportional to the weight of back seat passengers and inversely proportional to the weight of coachman. To get a better picture, see this forward slash that I am going to type ( / ). Now imagine sitting on the back seat of a tonga at such a tilt, with a plastic seat cover underneath and not slipping. pretty tricky – huh.

The situation is even more challenging for children whose feet do not reach the foot board. I’ve had first hand experience of facing this serious challenge many times during my tonga rides from Lahore station to Misri Shah or do-moria-pul or on the inclines of old city Lahore.

One has to grab on to anything on a tonga’s frame for one’s dear life but if you are sitting in the center of the seat then there is no other option but to grab on to other people’s clothes to avoid slipping.

rau meiN hai rakhsh-e-umr, kahaaN dekhiye thamay
na hath baag par hai na paa hai rakaab meiN


As if this problem was not enough, imagine ladies holding small children in their laps and sitting on the back seat of a tonga.

I will refer our readers to the title photo of this post to appreciate this problem.

This situation is a 3-variable problem of dynamic motion. While the tonga moves forwards, the ladies keep slipping backwards and the babies in their laps also tend to slip backward but with a different acceleration. This is all because Newton once said that a=F/m where m is hugely different for mothers and babies. Therefore to over come Newtonian law and a Draconian seat, mothers have to be extra skilfull on a tonga.

If you think this is the end of a tonga’s back-seat dilemma then I will say three times in English: no, no and no and 3 more times in Urdu: na, na aur na. There is one more test reserved only for tonga’s back seat passengers. This happens when at a traffic light the tonga behind yours cannot stop in time (ghora bhi aakhir ko insaan hai – khataa ka putla hai – or atleast he is controlled by a human). In such cases the saliva foaming and smiling with green teeth face of a horse comes dangerously close to back seat passengers of front tonga. Imagine this situation in the graphics that I will type. It shows 3 tilting tongas and their horizontal horses. ( /horse3/horse2/horse1 ). Note how dangerously close horse 2 is to the back seat of tonga 1 and so on.

I’ve heard of real life situations where people in the back seat of a tonga ran away or screamed when the face of horse from the tonga behind them came too close.

This post is not an exaggeration. May be the tilt angle of a tonga ( / ) is a bit exaggerated but slipping on back seat of a tonga is very real and quite unique to this part of the world.

kis cheez ki kami hai khwaja teri gali meiN
GhoRa teri gali maiN, nathia teri gali meiN


I’ve even read this problem in Urdu literature. I believe I read it in late Ashfaq Ahmed’s one of zaavia series books.

Do you have any experience to share from a tonga’s slippery slope?

Photo Credits:

(1) Title photo is courtesy of Nida Shams
(2) n Bazmi
(2) Sir Cam

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18 responses to “The Slippery Slope of a Tonga Back Seat”

  1. Haider says:

    You guys are on a roll … reminding us of time long gone with great memories. For me the last 3 in a row have brought back brilliant memories of my childhood, Nihari, F B Area, and now the Tonga.

    I grew up in Khairpur, and the tonga was a common form of school transportation. I vaguely remember getting helped on board the tonga by my older sister’s friends, and me hating the help from “girls”. Back seat was always difficult, especially when the horses decided to jump on their hind legs.

    No one has yet mentioned the perils of sitting in the front seat, the most important ones being when the horses decided to do “the natural thing” all of a sudden :-) Oh the smell ….

  2. Watan Aziz says:

    Neither.

    The real skill was riding a bike behind a tanga, loaded with giggling girls going to school, ***and** not getting beaten up!

    Ohhh those coy smiles and exchange of looks that only was meant for the memory banks because that was ever the extent of it.

    You dared no more.

    A conversation was simply out of question, it would meant a certain wipe out.

    Pristine and so adolescent.

    Ahhhh, the joys of youth.

  3. HarOON says:

    Riding in a tanga was certainly a major skill. But so was riding in the Pakistani minibus. We need a post on how to “pack” a minibus!

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