Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Auto Rani stories

I have been travelling in Bangalore for the last 6 years by auto. Everyday they ferry me to work and back. On weekends they sometimes even ferry me to my daughter's choir class and back, to church and back. Car rides are reserved for when my husband is around to drive it - must to his consternation!

Anyone who's lived in Bangalore has definitely heard of its 'aaatos'. The drivers are rude, they cheat you by tampering with the meter (and make it move faster than it should), they seemingly refuse to ply in any direction you want them to - be it to the center of the city or to some corner of it etc. And yet they are growing in this city by the hordes. Take an aerial view of the traffic-choked city and the autos will resemble large oddly colored beetles moving amongst the cars and two wheelers - hence the term horde aptly describes them.

I have met auto drivers of every shape and size over the years as you can imagine. Short, tall, fat, thin, rude, polite, zippy fast movers, slow as death crawlers, talkers, snarlers, smilers, lechers..... you get the picture.

I started using an auto to work and back when my daughter was born. Sleepless nights and work-filled days ended my days of using a two wheeler. I was just too tired to focus during my 26km ride to work and back. Autos thus offered me the delicious prospect of doing absolutely nothing during the ride to work and back - a much welcome relief as any mother of a young child will tell you; of being able to read a book in relative peace and quiet - Bangalore traffic is barely quiet but at least it didn't demand my attention like my baby would and most importantly it offered me a chance to snooze because those were the years my average sleep per night must have been 4 hours!

But with all these delightful advantages came several thorns - refusal to ply to my destination and cheating via "fixed up" meters! My blood boiled, I have screamed and shouted, cursed. but soon I simply tired of fighting with a new driver everyday. So I devised a ploy - as soon as I figured their meter was tampered, I'd stop where I knew other autos were likely to come by and get into another one.

As my daughter started school, we found a regular bunch of autos that waited outside our apartment. I struck a deal with some of them - take me via her school so that I can drop her off and then take me to office and I give them Rs. 15 extra over the standard rate. As my wise Mother explained, much cheaper than resorting to using a car & driver. My daughter now 7, uses the school bus, but I continue to use the regulars outside our apartment complex to this day. Some of them are my friends & I want you to meet a few of them.

There's a Rowdy Ranga: the first time I went in his auto, a biker hit (if you ask me, lightly tapped) his auto from behind. Rowdy Ranga got out of his auto in the middle of an absolutely choc-a-two-kilometer-long-bloc traffic jam and started an argument with the biker. The biker was a young man from North India who didn't think the "tap" was such a big deal and retorted. That was it. Our Rowdy Ranga hit the biker on his face (helmet and all) and spat into face - right where the biker had opened the helmet's vizer. I was shocked & embarrassed by Rowdy Ranga and swore never to get into his auto. Call it famous last words, but now I travel in his auto at least once a week. He's a lot more quiet and I haven't seen him spit since! He's terribly curious though - asks me many questions about my daughter, her school & what not. I usually busy myself by burying my nose into a book or pasting my phone onto my ear! It's worked well.

Then there's Seemingly Sweet Fella: his chocolate boy looks make you feel like he's heading Honesty Inc. I first met him when he owned a bright pink wind cheater and recognized him thereon because of it. Very unassuming in the beginning, he soon knew how to get extra money out of me, have erratic mood swings - sometimes kindly, sometimes sulky. But overall I have a pleasant ride in his auto.

Next there's Lazy Ladoo: tall, a bit overweight, shy but lazy. I have seen him play cards many a time with his auto colleagues - he seems to thrive at that. I've also seen him play tag with them (not a pretty sight I tell you, seeing these grown men running about trying to "catch" each other). But when he did deign to take me in his auto, he was quiet & polite. My daughter loved his auto cause the foot mats had square prints on it. On the days Lazy Ladoo said no to giving us a ride, my daughter would often be upset. How to explain to a 3-year old that autos are "like that only"?

My favorite however is the even tempered Neat Natesan (not his real name). He was the first one of this coterie whom I struck a deal with about paying a little extra. Middle aged, light eyed, wearing a white skull cap, white gleaming teeth, neatly trimmed beard, clean nails and a spankingly clean auto no matter what the weather. His face and his eyes are kind. This is an auto driver I trust and he really does head Honesty Inc. Once, thanks to the wonderfully unplanned manners of our BBMP a main road was shut for repair work thus forcing commuters to find alternate routes. Neat Natesan who was ferrying me that day thus had to take a circuitous route to my destination. I paid him a fair extra that day given the longer route. The next day too I took his auto. This time, aware of the "BBMP works", we used a shorter route. I half expected him to ask me the previous day's rate - but he said just give me 'Rs. X' which was way below the previous day's fare. I appreciate his innate honesty. He's truly someone I would quite invite to say, a wedding in my family - he's that nice.

I sometimes see my "regulars" in other parts of town - many times when I am with my family. I always wave a hello and grin at them. They in turn respond in kind - most of them very surprised that any customer (& that too a female one) would bother to greet them in a setting other than in their own auto. But I sort of think it cool - they are after all my acquaintances.

Then there are some memorable auto drivers. Not my regulars - but these are chance-encounter autos. The ones I have plyed in but once - the flagged down variety.

There's one that mid way refused to go any further because of traffic & rain. I don't know how he imagined that at the peak traffic hour of 7pm in the monsoon season, what else there could be but heavy traffic and rain! I said I wouldn't budge cause the deal was for the whole way home. In a fit of fury he made me get down and in response to my stating that I wouldn't give him a pie, he whizzed off! As per the meter I was to give him Rs. 85/-. No small sum that, to lose to anger.

Then there was another young chappie. As I got into the auto, I could see him experiment with a mobile. A little later he turned, showed me the mobile (it was a Samsung) and asked if it was a "good" one? A while later I heard him talk to his friend on the phone - apparently his earlier customer has left it behind in the auto. The idea that he could perhaps call the last dialed number on the mobile and make an attempt to return it didn't seem to strike him. I pushed my own mobile further into my handbag. Goodness knows if this fellow would want to swipe my even-better-than-Samsung-phone and then proceeded to view him suspiciously till the end of my journey! I laugh now at my reaction.

I know most Bangaloreans curse all autos and their drivers. That includes me. But I have the chance to observe a lot of them - not all are obnoxious - some are nice even. And I realize that in return for all the harassment they bring into my life, they also bring me easier-than-driving-myself rides home and more importantly, much amusement. Jai Auto!


Scarlett said...

What a comeback post, Sunila! It's really funny, especially your description of Rowdy Ranga & Lazy Laddoo. I've heard enough & more auto stories from Moonshine, so I can understand what you're talking about. And I'm glad you've found one nice autowallah.

besunni said...

Thanks Scarlett. I was quite sure no one would read my post let alone leave a comment ;).

Moonshine said...

Scarlett, thats quintessential Sunila for you!!!!

Sunila, please write more!!! My auto experiences too have been a mix of good and bad.. a kindly uncle who saw me waiting and asked me to hop in.. a microbiologist speaking phenomenal english.. and some rowdies who actually make a face when you tell them where you want to go!!!! Just today I paid 50bucks as per meter.. it usually costs 40!!! And if you take an auto in the night, they just blatantly ask you for 80-100 bucks!!!!

But yeah some are sweet.. I havent been able to find a regular one yet :(

shruti said...

Sunila! You are back! Yay! I second Moonshine - please please write more often!

I am sure your post connects with every one who travels by autos in Bangalore, but its good to know you have found atleast one good guy :)