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.

The auto autosave[Left click for a larger size]

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
. use the indicator?
. show by indication of hand sticking out of the auto?
. show by sticking his leg out in all glory with a blue strapped hawaii chappal dangling off his toes?
. 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.


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33 Responses to “An autorickshaw accolade”
  1. rads says:

    Oh yea who can forget autowallas and the bargains…lemme tell you about Hyderabad…the meter runs 2 times faster than the auto normally and if you are a non-local who does’nt speak hindi it will run 5 times faster. Also, you will be charged 15 rupees extra compared to locals. In Bangalore, the autowallas prefer not to use meter at all and they have a mind of their own, they will never come down even after intense bargaining in kannada; we have to go by their rules. One thing common in both the places is if they find out your a stranger, they will take the longest route available and dupe you for more money. They also try and add more ppl on the way if someone needs to travel in the same route. During my school and college days I’ve been in autos carrying 13 to 15 kids, depending on their sizes. As you said, ricks are an invention one-of-a-kind, and rick drivers too 🙂

    rads´s latest blog post – Fractal Art

  2. Kadambari says:

    What the! It rolls on to its upright position eh! Scary! But yea.. brilliantly summarized. Life will never get boring as long as there are autowallahs!

    A handy tip for you.. while in Chennai. Whatever price the fellow quotes.. you start bargaining at it’s half the amount! Even if you have no clue how far you have to go! Hehe.. Then gradually add Rs 10 as increments till he ‘allegedly’ agrees.. half heartedly! 😀

    Kadambari´s latest blog post – Up, Up and UPA

  3. Dreamcatcher says:

    I am clearly biased but in Cal auto rides cost 5 bucks and 3 bucks…just saying…

  4. Indyeah says:

    All I can say about Delhi autowallahs is this

    these guys say it pretty well 😀

    and you have said it damn well about the other cities so will keep that in mind when I go there 🙂

    and yeah I clearly have not visited Baroda 😀

    btw in Bhopal and Indore they call them phatphatiyas


    I swear they do!

    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 LOL!!

    clearly autos are quite exciting something that I have to re-discover :D.

    Indyeah´s latest blog post – I love Rahul Gandhi – Because nepotism rules

  5. Archana says:

    Very well written Kokonad! 🙂 I loved reading this post. You are SO spot on about the “blue strapped hawaii chappal dangling off his toes?”, haha, I’ ve seen one too many.

    Since i moved outta India when I was really young, I don’t really recall any experiences of going in an auto. The one time I did, I thought was I was so bad-ass with my cousins, haha. My parents are strictly against letting my sister and I venture in one, and the truth is, I’m a little scared. I’d be labelled flat out foreigner and the auto-driver would slap on the 400rupee fare for me, lol. Somehow locals always spot the NRIs in a second, even if we are dressed to merge in with the crowd, or speak our mother-tongue relatively well.

    Infact, do you speak Tamil? Or do you just know it conversational since you seem to have written out your convo with the Chennai auto-driver really well. : )

    Archana´s latest blog post – Vectorized Fingers…toughie!

  6. Roshmi says:

    Hahaha! A good read!

    Thats called an ‘auto’cratic rule…:P

    The mantra is: If the front wheel of the auto can go in = the whole auto can get in too… !!!

    Roshmi´s latest blog post – IPL Mantra: "Bill u bar bar"… !!!

  7. Roshmi says:

    And… riding an ‘auto’ is ‘good’ for sharpening one’s ‘auto’ reflexes… 🙂

    What say… ???

    Roshmi´s latest blog post – IPL Mantra: "Bill u bar bar"… !!!

  8. adisha says:

    Man you so totally Rock !! LMAO …

    Thankyou so much for the auto info. And you are right on the money about Chennai and Baroda. Kolkatta I’ve never been to. Bombay and Bhopal are no worse. There they try to fleece you of Every cent they can. Bhopal they take one look and say 35 rupees for a 2,3 mile distance and we are left with our mouth gaping. And the union they have with all those standing there, you are left no choice but to give in or walk !!!

    Mumbai, is easier as you can pretty much make out the honest form the dishonest wire tampering ones after a while. The advantage being, if you’re there for mroe than a month, you cannot be tricked into payign more than the exact amount. Thus, even if you have relatives who can give you an estimate, that’s good enough !!!! 😀 hehehe

    But no matter what, it’s true … Autos are just so much FUN !!!!! Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr . grrrrrrrrrrrrrr, sound they make is reminds me of when I used to go to school in them .. heehehehe

    Cheers, keep writing !!

    adisha´s latest blog post – Night at Tobacco …

  9. iswarya says:

    You complaining about Chennai autowallahs charging double for an extra person???? Sample this.
    Me : Central station.
    Autowallah : 50 Rs, Madam
    Me think : Phew that was not bad, and I keep my teen- tiny travellers bag inside.
    Autowallah : Luggage ah?? 100 Rs Madam.(???!!)
    Beats me why I would go to Central without luggage. .

    iswarya´s latest blog post – Kasturi

  10. Anubhav says:

    I normally read your posts through reader and hence normally you are saved from my comments.But this time around i made the extra effort of visiting the blog after reading.Nice post,another wonderful thing about these autos is there amazing turning radius . Anyways a small update for you, those 10+ school autos have almost vanished from around our school and have been replaced by Omni vans with schumi drivers!.

  11. Varun says:

    ‘indelible impressions of the vibrant contours that form Indian road surfaces’, now thats what I call a Line! U’ve nailed the description! and I totally agree with you on the Madras Autokaaran argument when on a date.
    very neat man! I wonder how I missed ur blog all this while even though we seem to have mutual blogger friends. Count me a regular from here on. Cheers!

  12. A friend of mine here in the Mktg department, a white Canadian guy, spent a few months in Delhi and loved the auto’s there. On my last trip to India, I bought him a small toy auto from one of those 49-99 rupee stores (kinda like dollar stores here). He loved the gift. It is proudly displayed in his living room.

    Gaurav Sabnis´s latest blog post – The 2009 Indian General Elections Post

  13. PS says:

    Here is my Bombay autorickshaw video 😀

  14. Archana says:

    Hey Kokonad, this is off-topic, but I was visiting your photo blog and I was trying to post a comment, but it doesn’t allow me too and states that I need to answer the security question…which used to be there before, but now under your comment form there is no security/verification question? Not sure what’s going on with that, but thought I’d let you know so that you can fix it. 🙂

    Archana´s latest blog post – Vectorized Fingers…toughie!

  15. Priyanka says:

    Hey Koke!! bang on… a very well written piece and totally hilarious… I absolutely loved the part where you talked about the meter being rigged to check how many times you breath… it actually feels so.

    As you know my bias for Chennai and all things Chennai I’d just like to tell you that Chennai autos are still better than the namma Bengaluru ones… at least they bargain…[:)]

    I think you should visit Lucknow once… an auto (rickshaw) ride there would be a highly enhancing experience [:D]
    We have two kindda autos there… one the six seater called ‘Vikram’ and the other apna regular auto and the ride as well as the bargaining experience is far removed from what you’ve mentioned here…

    Really Koke… I keep reading your blogs but for this time I couldn’t leave without leaving a comment.. Bravo!!!

  16. Kokonad says:

    Sorry everyone, for the ridiculous delay in replying to your comments! My workload has been weighing down upon me! This year is going to pretty bad in this aspect 🙁

    Actually I lived the first 13 years of my life in Hyderabad (I was a Bhavan’s student) – I do know they are notorious, but then I didn’t use much of them while staying in Hyd – but I guess no matter where you are, autos and autodrivers form a niche of their own! 🙂

    Heh heh, it does roll on to its upright position! 😀 Living in Chennai for 5 years has hardened me – I am street-somewhat-smart 😛 I will remember that tip!

    You have every right to be biased! Arguments in Kolkata are typically for 6 bucks vs 5 bucks and the argument unfailingly contains the sentence “Arre kaalkei toh paanch taaka diye aaslam! Aamake ki boka banachcho?”
    (For non-bongs’ benefit: Arre it cost me 5 bucks only yesterday! Are you making a fool out of me?
    Luckily it’s only a buck, compared to the rest of India…

    Thank you so much for commenting, Indyeah! I am honored! That link was awesome.
    Heh heh, phatphatiyas! We used to call our friend’s moped by that name! And yes, autos are not discovered to their full potential. Next time you are in an auto, let out a monotonic voice and hear it modulate with the road surface – it’s hilarious especially when you are nearing the out-of-breath phase!

    Thank you Archana! I am glad you liked the post! I don’t actually know Tamil (or Tamizh) but I can sure nod my head like one. But yeah, having lived in Chennai for 5 years, all their mannerisms grew on me. I used to have conversations with autowaalahs and our hostel mess cooks (I didn’t like onions in my omelet) and that’s pretty much all the Tamizh I know. 🙂
    About your second comment: I am sorry that happened! 🙁 I was not aware of it at all, so thank you SO MUCH for pointing it out. I have reverted to a working version – I really need to finalize my template – I don’t like any of the ones Pixelpost provides. 🙁

    Aah, there are so many puns one could play with autos 😀

    Thank you thank you thank you thank you! 🙂 Oh, I was under the impression that Mumbai autos are the most trustworthy of the lot. I actually happened to live in Noida for a while too – and there, it was more like
    “Bhaiyaji, sector 51 chalna hai?”
    “Nahin… lekin sector 22 chhod doon?”
    But I wanted to go to sector 51! It was after a while I realized that sector 22 has good connections… but till then and for all visitors, we are left wondering as to why would we want to take us to a place HE wants to go?

    Oh yeah, been there! That extra for luggage. Damn 😛 Heh heh…
    And for some reason, your email address found way into WordPress spam comments. It was lying there for a day or two before I realized! So much for reading spam!

    Thanks Anubhav! Thank you for the comment too! Oh yeah, how could I forget their turning radius – that freakin’ thing totally amazes me! How I would love cars to do that kind of thing! Well, you can play better Tetris in the omnivans, but those things are as unsafe of as the autos themselves… 🙁

    Thanks, Dada! 🙂

    Heh heh, yeah I noticed, we DO have lots of common blogger friends! I am glad you liked my blog, Varun – and I loved yours too! Subscribed and blogrolled! 😀

    #Gaurav Sabnis:
    Sabnis ji, welcome to my blog! And thank you for commenting on it ji! I happen to love them too! They are small and bright and there is no equivalent made my Hotwheels or whatever! 😀 Now let’s get back to that ridiculous IPSU grads debate! Sigh, when will it end!

    Heh heh, I loved the part where he sticks his head out to spit! LOL

    Ankaaaaa! 🙂 Thank you so much for your comment! I saw your IM messages much later in the day – tu offline ho gayi thi! Will call you sometime soon! And this Vikram sounds awesome! 😀

  17. Debleena says:

    lol i love the pic…good job koke
    hmmm i was just thinking maybe u can come up with a graph for this, the auto charges that is 🙂

    btw just wanted to add…bangalore autos rock. they actually take torn notes 🙂 my mom saves all her torn notes for the blore trips.

    @Gaurav : 🙂 autos are like the national vehicle of India , except in Kolkata where its the rickshaw . Its one of the things to do for visitors.

  18. Ashwathy says:

    sorry i took too long to respond.

    and ROTFL this is howlarious!!! 😀
    “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” – I actually envisioned this LOL
    hmm chennai auto drivers seem to know when to embarass the guy into paying double 😀 smart alecs! the chennai-english accent is spot on tho! heh

    never been to baroda so cant comment. but the feet with blue chappal hanging on?? thats more than familiar. but i like what u implied tho… one foot has blue chappal and the other has yellow??? 😀 man, auto drivers are a funny lot alrite! lol

  19. Archana says:

    No onions in your omelet? Aiyiyo, haha, what’s wrong with youuu? Hehe, only jk. : ) Honestly though conversational skills in any language is so key. I love that feeling of knowing I can at least connect with the locals at a basic level.

    And regarding your photoblog, I figured I’d tell you because there might have been others that went through the same thing, but didn’t know how to contact you. So you’re welcome! 🙂 I’m off to go leave that comment I originally was planning on leaving, lol.

    Archana´s latest blog post – Vectorized Fingers…toughie!

  20. @Debleena Yes, they are the thing to do for tourists. What makes my friend Simon different is he was in Delhi for about 3-4 months. He was taking GMAT coaching classes there (because he figured they would be cheaper and better taught in India). So every day, he would travel in the autos. It was his daily commute for that whole time. And that made the gift even more special for him. 🙂

    Gaurav Sabnis´s latest blog post – Cyclone Aila Relief Fund

  21. Kokonad says:

    Thank you, thank you! That 2D idea is brilliant! :)) And it’s good that B’lore auto drivers do that – it’s almost a social service! 😛

    Thank you! 🙂 I am glad you liked it! I strongly believe everyone has an auto-story to tell! I feel it binds the society together – people find solace in each other when they find others going through the same misery they do! Heh heh…

    Nope, no onions in my omelet. I am not a big fan of it. 😀 (Yeah everyone finds it weird – the most common flabbergasted reply is – No onions aaa?) And thanks once again for that tip on the photoblog – cannot thank you enough… I think I have finally fixed it. Though right now I am thinking of moving away from Pixelpost and host it on something else – just don’t know where to host it! 🙁

  22. Kokonad says:

    Coming to think of it, I have not met any firang who has been to India and has not told me that they have been completely mesmerized by the lifestyle of the country! 🙂

  23. Gaurav says:

    Oyi, my favorite auto moment…..this time while coming back from India, i see this Iranian tourist group at Delhi airport, and this one lady in the group gets all excited and tells her fellow travelers, “Oh! i bought a souvenir” and then pulls out a ‘scale model of auto rickshaw’…. seriously, i never expected that somebody would make a scale model of auto rickshaw and sell it in Indian Souvenir shop!!!

    Gaurav´s latest blog post – Penguin Poop!

  24. Kokonad says:

    That’s exactly what the other Gaurav pointed out! Heh heh… If Kolkata sells the hand rickshaw as a souvenir, why can’t the autorickshaw become one too! 😛 Also, I think the autorickshaw should become the national vehicle of India. It’s closest contender might be the bullock cart.

  25. Shreyasee says:

    Ribhu da, what about our good old Hyderabad….:( I want Hyderabad included in auto story !!!! I am sure you have some story related to auto travel in the city 😀

    Shreyasee´s latest blog post – Death…

  26. Kokonad says:

    I didn’t do much auto traveling in Hyderabad though I lived there for 13 years! Sorry! 😛

  27. Dazediva says:

    ROFL toooo funny !!!

    I moved to Bombay almost 2 years ago and the rickshaws are infamous !!! I like to lovingly call them the ‘black & yellow cockroaches’ !!

    I hardly ever travel in a cockroach but every now and then when in Bandra without a car – I have luckily managed to find a cool cockroach that has loud music blasting out if it – and one with mini disco ball too !!! And yes these guys can spot an NRI a mile away .. the meter doesn’t apply at all .. so the dude was pretty surprised that I told him I know how the meter works etc hahah it was quite funny – ‘cos his next question to me was ‘toh madam aap ko mera music aatcha laga ? sirf pho-ren client uthata hoo’

    Sorry my hing-lish is a bit sucky
    Dazediva´s latest post – Loss of a Legend

  28. Kokonad says:

    Thank you, thank you! First of all, your Hinglish rocks! That disco light cracked me up! I love seeing faded pictures of Zeenat Aman or a goggle adorned Amitabh Bachchan stuck to the rear view mirror to pretty much render the rear view mirror useless…
    Heh heh, nice incident quoted! Thanks for commenting, and welcome to my blog!
    I am sorry for the ridiculous delay in replying to your comment… I was away for a while to a place with no cellphone/WiFi reception. 🙂

  29. Dharini says:

    Auto rides anywhere in India! much fun! But Chennai and its autokaarans, I yam wery biased, I say! 😀
    They totally rock, and completely rule!
    Dharini´s latest post – And …

  30. Kokonad says:

    Chennai autowaalas rock, is it? And they rule too? Wow, you must be one really cheerful person! 😉

  31. camini says:

    autos…are definitely have extrapolated use in places like baroda…nice one about the good old fellas


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  1. […] 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. See below: (full article here) […]

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