Rickshaw Idol Contest Changes Bangladeshi’s Life

For centuries the rickety wheels of the three-legged rickshaws that navigate Bangladesh’s sometimes narrow streets and alleys have been a way of life. Those that pilot the vehicles develop legs of steel to carry out this back-breaking work. However a recent development has given at least one of these rickshaw drivers a new chance at life.

Cycle-rickshaw driver Omar Ali has been given the opportunity to leave that hard way of life behind him after winning hearts across Bangladesh and taking home a massive money prize in ‘Magic Tin Chakar Taroka’. The American Idol-styled television singing contest saw a number of rickshaw drivers singing their hearts out as they competed for first prize. Magic Tin Chakar Taroka means ‘Three-wheeler Stars’, an appropriate name for the competition. The 45-year-old father of four has been singing to his passengers for years in the often gridlocked streets of Dhaka for two and a half decades. Now, it seems that his soothing, angelic voice has won over the entire nation. The panel of three judges has been left speechless, while SMS text message votes have been pouring in from viewers at home. The end result was that Ali has been able to beat thousands of other singing drivers to take home the grand prize.

According to the program’s presenter, television personality Asaduzzaman Noor, Ali’s voice simply stood out. Noor remarked: “Whenever he sings, he sings from deep inside. It’s soul-stirring. He was under so much physical and mental pressure as a rickshaw driver I think singing gave him mental peace, which has given him a different dimension as a performer.” Noor also remarked that as an added bonus, the show seemed to have created quite a bit of interest in the traditional folk songs that had been steadily dying out.

For Ali, all the fame and fortune is still quite new. He said: “In Bangladesh, rickshaw drivers don’t have any status. We are sometimes treated badly for clogging up the roads, so it’s amazing to have not only status but to be famous.” Ali taught himself to sing by listening to the radio as a teenager. He is now somewhat internationally famous after the show was broadcasted in the US, Britain, Africa and Australia. He earned 10,000 taka (145 dollars) for each appearance on the show – a far cry from the 150 to 200 taka he earned a day as a rickshaw driver. The financial boost has proved to be just what he needed, since he found that age was catching up on him making his work harder with each passing day. He hopes to start a small business with the 100,000 taka (1,450 dollars) that he won in the contest and will be releasing a solo album in January.