Traveling by auto has always been an exhilarating experience for me. However, this has changed over the years. These auto-walas seem to have developed some kind of sixth sense. They stare at you for a few seconds, do some sort of mysterious calculation and then quote the price. After all these years of experience, I have concluded that the price quoted is a function of several interesting variables – what you are wearing, your complexion, presence/absence of company access cards around your necks, brand of mobile phones etc etc etc.
I couple of months ago, I had to travel from Indiranagar to Majestic. When I waved at a passing autorickshaw, little did I expect that this ride would be any different. I had to board a train to Vijaywada and had an hour get to the station before the train would depart. The driver was about 45 years old, a stout fellow. He initiated a chat with me – general, harmless stuff about the traffic and weather. I responded with the most teeny-weeny responses I could think of. But a few minutes down, I initial discomfort and ridicule diminished.
“Madam, aapko aissa lag raha hoga, ki main bahut baatein kar raha hoon. Magar madam, din bhar auto chalate chalate main bore ho jaata hoon. Isi liye, jo bhi mere auto mein baithta hai, main uss se baatein karne lagta hoon. Kuch log baat karte hain, aur kuch ko yeh lagta hai ki iss auto-waale se kyon muh lagna. Tab main chup ho jaata hoon.”
“Acchaa” I responded, trying to sound interested.
“Problem yeh hai, ki sab ko lagta hai ki hum auto-waale kharab log hain, paison ke bhookhe hain, par madam aissa nahi hai.”
Was mind reading a part of their skill set too? I felt guilty for a second.
“Main tees(30) saalon se auto chala raha hoon. Kuch saal pehle har koi auto-waale ki izzat karta tha. Saari galti in aaj kal ke ladkon ki hai jo auto chala rahe hain. Imaandaari aur mehnat ka matlab samjhte nahi hain, aur phir hum sab driver-on ko beizzati sehni padti hai.”
“Hum bure nahi hain madam. Jab road mein kisika accindent ho jaata hai, tab car ya motor waala aadmi kabhi bhi saath nahi deta hai. Chot khaye aadmi ko hum auto-waale hi hospital tak pahunchate hain. Raat mein late ho jaaye, toh ladies taxi se nahi, auto se ghar jaati hain. Par yeh sab log bhool jaaate hain madam. Aaj tak maine kisi bhi hospital jaane waale patient se paisa nahi liya hai madam.”
I had to say something now. He had struck the emotional chord after all. I felt sorry for him. Genuinely sorry.
“Sahi keh rahe ho. Saare auto-waale bure nahi hote, par problem yeh hai ki meter ka minimum fare badta hi jaa raha hai, phir bhi har koi 10-20 rupay extra maangte hi hain! Din ho ya raat, koi farq hi nahi padta hai. Government rules koi follow karta hi nahi hai!”
“Arre madam, kuch saal pehle hum ek din mein aaram se 1500 rupay kamate the. Par aaj kal, volvo buses aur baaki bus ke itne acche scheme nikale hain goverment ne, ki hum log 600 rupay bhi kama lein toh bahut hai.”
“PVR mein ek picture ke liye, log bina soche 500-600 rupay kharch kar dete hain. Doosri taraf, agar hum 10 rupay pooch lein toh humko gaali dete hain. Main yeh nahi keh raha hoon ki hum log sahi hain aur aap log galat ho, par humara business bahut kharab chal raha hai madam. Hum bhi kya karein…”
I asked him whether he does anything else and I figured that he did not have too much spare time.
He said that he goes to an old age home for women once a week or whenever he has some extra income, where he donates tooth brushes, toothpastes, soap, hair oil, and other items of daily use. He had two school-going children, and he drove from 8 in the morning till 10 at night.
No break unless he was unwell. “Madam, ghar mein baith ke T.V dekh kar kya faida? Do paisa income karega toh future mein kaam aayega.”
My journey came to an end. I disembarked, with more respect for auto-walas in my heart, and all I could do was to pay him a tip that would hardly cover a free ride to the hospital for someone ill.