An autorickshaw accolade
Aaah, the autorickshaw. Lovingly called ‘auto’ across the whole of India. You will not meet even a single Indian who does not know what it is. The one solution that is cheaper than a taxi and classier than the bus. The lone vehicle that can shake your very bones – which leave indelible impressions of the vibrant contours that form Indian road surfaces. Just look at it… I mean just look at it. The unique design of Indian autorickshaws: The pinnacle of “auto-save” – if it ever overturns… it has just the right “curves” to get itself back on its wheels. Whoever designed this thing obviously had in mind that if it ever turns around on it’s side, it will roll on to the upright position. Here’s a demonstration.
Moving on to my experiences with autos and autowaalas around the country.
Chennai remains on the top of the list because auto-related experiences are an excellent conversation opener. Weather does not work as much for a conversation opener, because in Chennai the weather is pretty much the same all round the year: hot and very hot. So, for conversing with autowaalas in Chennai, you need to know a new kind of English – a broken one. You cannot use conjuctions, conditional clauses etc. Simple sentences, for example:
“120 rupees aaa? Adyar to Besantnagar I go every week. 35 rupees I will give.”
In this regard, I have had hilarious experiences with Chennai autowaalas. Firstly, if you are a non-Tamizh speaking person, you will be asked double just for being there. Then a random number is generated between Rs 80 and Rs 400 depending on the location of the pickup and the way you are dressed. It does not matter where you want to be dropped off. You do not want to commit to using the meter because that might be rigged to check how many times you breathe. Finally when you settle on a price e.g. Rs 40, your friend and you get off and proceed to give him Rs 40 and he stares at you as if you stole the tyre of his auto.
“Yenna saar?“, waving the two 20 rupee notes at you.
“What?“, you ask, genuinely out of curiosity.
“Single person, 40 rupees saar… two people, 80 rupees kudunga saar”
Now dodge that. If you are a male and have taken a girl out on a date, you cannot afford to lose a heckling argument with an autowaala. There will be no brownie points for you.
Next stop, Kolkata.
Now there are no long distance autos in Kolkata – they have a short distance shared auto system, operating between points. The catch? You share it big time. In the back seat, you share it with two people clutching on to their handbags and cigarettes/beedis like there is no tomorrow. I wonder what will upset them more – losing the handbag or the beedi. I never tested that. In the front you have two full grown men sharing the driver’s seat. Along with the driver. They are clutching on to whatever will prevent them from falling off the auto. Every time the auto turns, I look to see if anyone has fallen off. If one of them does fall off, he gets into the next auto coming up. And when the “front loaders” need to get off, the driver, out of goodwill slows down so they can get off without getting hurt.
Come all the way to Baroda.
Autos are primarily used for taking children from school and back. Students of all sizes and ages are skilfully put into the auto – and the drivers are really good at it. It’s Tetris in a whole new dimension.
“Uncle, peechhe aur jagah nahin hai!”
“Arre su baat karechhe? Chhe ne! Tu apna taang uske kandhe pe rakh… haan, tu apna haath uske pair ke neeche rakh… le, ban gayi jagah!”
(What are you saying? There is the space! You keep your leg on his shoulder… yes, you stick your hand under his foot… there, I made your space!)
I have myself been in one of these for a couple of months and I shared it with 10 others. Excluding the driver.
Now if you are trailing an auto and the driver needs to take a turn, what would he do? Will he
[a]. use the indicator?
[b]. show by indication of hand sticking out of the auto?
[c]. show by sticking his leg out in all glory with a blue strapped hawaii chappal dangling off his toes?
[d]. show by sticking his leg out in all glory with a yellow strapped hawaii chappal dangling off his toes?
If you answered [a] or [b], you clearly have not visited Baroda. The answer is [c] or [d], everyone, [c] or [d]. Depending on your luck that day, you may or may not be able to see some skin.