Tyeb Mehta's canvases serve as a metaphorical stage for the dramatization of twentieth century man's sociological and psychological concerns. The rickshaw puller serves as an icon through which the artist poignantly highlights the terror and sadness of the isolated man. The social detachment and suffering of the rickshaw puller is suggested through the prominent presence of the rickshaw itself, which has come to exist as a natural extension of the man's body, harnessing him against the outside world. "The rickshaw is not a simple means of transport but a sign of bondage, and the slave sitting near it is naked Man, staring into meaningless space, enduring his existence." (N. Ezekiel, Tyeb Mehta, Kunika-Chemould Art Centre Exhibition Catalogue, New Delhi, March 1970.)
The figure, more specifically, the solitary figure, has haunted Mehta's canvases from the very beginning as seen in this work from 1961. However, the artist's handling of the human form, changes dramatically over the course of his career. Unlike his figures from the later diagonal series with their fragmented and fractured bodies, figures from this period are still very much intact. The function of the figure in Mehta's works is not to initiate a narrative but to present the viewer with a symbol through which one might contemplate man's existence. "These are paintings that pose unanswered and unanswerable questions about the human condition (no other phrase will do.) That is their moral authority." (N. Ezekiel, ibid.)
In this work, the artist abandons the bright and highly textured surfaces of his expressionistic years in favor of a more subdued and monochromatic palette.