Sheer Melody

A mole's eye-view of the Cosmos


Auto-rickshaw

I have been mostly commuting on my bike for the last few months. In all the preparations leading up to my shows, I realized that I had missed out on one of the simpler pleasures in life. Isn’t it absolutely wonderful to just sit back in an auto and watch the world trundle its way to work, and all the while all you can think about is going home, finally. The auto happens to be one of the simpler pleasures in life, a pleasure which I got overplenty of in Mumbai, but have been bereft of here in Bangalore.

Auto-drivers are a varied lot, and it’s interesting to observe the change in demeanor, attitude and the general business sense in different parts of the country.

Let’s start with Mumbai. The Mumbai auto-drivers are a professional lot. They have fixed rates and they rarely stop running. Every auto-driver (other than the ones which wanted long-distance passengers at the exit gates of SEEPZ) never takes more than the prescribed fare unless it’s a rather complex and unprecedented situation. Some of the Mumbai auto-drivers are garrulous, a trait which frequently translates to the taxi-drivers too. Most of them prefer cigarettes to bidis, which was something which surprised me the first time I saw one of their lot smoking. Their taste in music is universally ubiquitous, sometimes outrageous. They are universally fans of Salmaan Khan and Nana Patekar. They know the entrances and exits of practically all the dance-bars in their area like the back of their hand, and frequently are closely associated with one bar or the other. They become overtly greedy when taking passengers to their homes from the airport, invariably demanding well over double the actual fare. However, in general, they are a helpful lot and normally never try to mislead or misguide you, which in fact, is the general trait in the whole of the city. Most of the rickshaw drivers at one point of time were Marathis, but with the gradual influx of people from the states of Bihar and UP, there is a pretty good chance you will run into one of the BIMARU gang in the auto-drivers.

Move north from Mumbai and you reach the town of Delhi. Delhi doesn’t have two many auto-rickshaws; most people usually have at least one personal four-wheeler for the family. However, autos do brisk business ferrying people over short distances, distances which are too small to actually justify bringing out the car, and too great to actually walk it. Delhi has both extreme summers and extreme winters, and the mood of the rickshaw-drivers changes with the season. Summer is a time when they charge exorbitantly because it’s hot, and in winters, the charge does not go down, the reason changes. They are universally rude, and sometimes the tone in which they refuse to take you takes a sufficiently loud and ridiculously rude angle, to actually make you wonder if you asked him for a ride or his wife. People of Delhi are much ruder than people of Mumbai, and somehow the arrogance of the common man (which mostly is completely unfounded) also shows in the attitude of the auto-drivers. Street-fights are a regular feature in Delhi and adjoining suburban areas, mostly instigated by auto-drivers and their gentry, most of the time against irate and rash bus-drivers. Delhi sometimes strikes me as a totally strange and rather unbecoming place. There are places which have struck me as strange and a little dark in the beginning (like Mumbai), but as time passed, things changed and I grew to love those cities. For Delhi, my first impressions were those of disgust and disturbed nonchalance; my views on the city unfortunately haven’t changed.
Kolkata auto-drivers are communists by nature and by deed. They love to go on strike at the drop of hat, sometimes even without someone dropping his/her hat. Every auto-driver in Kolkata is a member of some trade union or the other, which is usually affiliated to one of the major political parties in the region. Kolkata auto-drivers have shrewd business sense, and they never start their rickshaws until its well past holding capacity. Six people in an auto is the norm in most of the densely populated regions of the city. Fares are normally extremely nominal, sometimes laughable, and the people are happy. They can be extremely rude in times of bandh and moments of emotional strife, and they always drive like lunatics just out of a long-drawn stint at an asylum. They talk a lot, mostly with one of the passengers to whom he has taken a fancy. Lady travelers are usually treated with respect, and the snooty smart-ass kinds usually get the piercing sideward glance.

Bangalore auto-drivers have zero sense of business. They invariably want ONLY long-distance passengers. If they don’t get any, they sit put until they find one. They frequently wait expectantly for hours; sometimes I wonder why none of them have any sense at all. Most of the auto-drivers, though not rude, are extremely greedy, and the sense of their land being usurped by outsiders is extremely high in them. Frequently you will be refused by a rickshaw-driver just because you asked him in Hindi. The saving grace is most of the auto-drivers are able to use just a splattering of English, so it’s mercifully never very tough to get your point across. They become greedier as night falls, and the practice of one-and-a-half-times the actual fare starts at eight for some, nine for others. But you can rest assured that if you take an auto anytime later than nine, you will end up coughing up several rupees more than the actual fare. And if your destination is one of those places where not too many people go, woe betide you. As the disparity between the haves and the have-nots increases in the IT city, life becomes tougher, just a little tougher for the auto-drivers and sometimes, I find it tough to blame them for their rudeness. It is generally true and noticed that people from the northern regions of the country have a sense of inordinate pride, and instances of extremely rude behavior by a customer with an auto-driver are passé. Which sometimes makes me wonder – they are like this for a reason.

Chennai is probably the saddest place with regard to auto-drivers. They are mean, they don’t know any other language than Tamil (something which they proudly call Tamizh); and will try their level best to ensure that you are ripped off of a large amount of cash. Most of the rickshaw-drivers know much more than a splattering of English, but refuse to talk to you in any language other than Tamil. This trait is not just of the auto-drivers but mostly with a large section of the populace. The autos are often spotlessly clean, and it won’t be long before you find one with a life-size caricature of Rajnikant on the back-seat. Voluptuous south-Indian actresses, with bare midriffs showing are frequently present on the walls of the back-seat, illustrating the fact that most of them are avid film buffs. In fact there have been incidents in which the entire screen of the theatre was burnt down, just because one of the scenes in the movie starring Rajnikant did not go down too well with the audience, mostly consisting of the labor class. Shops and shopkeepers in Chennai share similar views as regards non-Tamil speaking people, and will try their best to be as rude and unhelpful as possible. It’s always better not to depend on directions given by people on the street, since most of the time, it turns out to be wrong, or just plain inaccurate. And of course, it’s always better to carry a map around, because if you are new to Chennai, and have a worthless specimen of the auto-driver-clan driving you to your destination, there’s a good chance that you will reach your place one hour late, and will get to see the same building twice on the way.

This is more or less about the major cities in the country. The other major cities I have been too have too few auto-drivers to actually help me or suggest a universal comment for them; hence I have left it for later…

I am going home tonight; so here’s a self-induced sabbatical from blogging and posting…

4 Responses to “Auto-rickshaw”

  1. # Blogger Arnab Pal

    we thought to top 5 answers for auto drivers when they charge excessively or refuse to go (in bangalore) ..

    [somehow they are in hindi]
    1. mujhe chaand pe nehi ........pe jana hai
    2. auto kharidna nehi hai bhai
    3. kyon ? .. waha pe bhut hai kya ?
    4. meter kis liye lagaye ho ?
    5. aapne bete ko bhi auto driver banaoge kya ?

    :))  

  2. # Anonymous Anonymous

    Autos in Mumbai? Ah, you have only spend in suburbs.. [Same question for Kolkata, but I am new to the city]

    Couldn't agree with you more on Chennai autos and less on Delhi. Anyhow, why the personal views on Delhi, as a city in between an article discussing autos??  

  3. # Anonymous Sheermelody

    I wish people would write their names when they post a comment... even though anonymous posting is allowed.

    Yes, autos are very much a part of Mumbai, since the majority of the working middle-class population does stay in the suburbs. And yes, autos are very much a part of Kolkata just in the way I described. They don't travel great distances; they just suffice.

    Well, I don't see why I should not have personal views about a city in a blog which I claim to be personal. It's not a newspaper article :-). If it were, I would pay more attention on being politically than emotionally correct. Of course, needless to say, the personal views emanate because, I felt in my multiple visits to the capital of the country, that it sucked admirably. Delhi may have all the infrastructure et al, but it never fails to piss me off :-)  

  4. # Blogger Yusuf

    Excellent Summary! I completely agree on Mumbai and Bangalore autodrivers.  

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