Interview with an auto driver

These days I travel home by auto in the evenings (as I have a wound on my foot that’s still healing). The driver asked for 150 bucks. I said I’d pay only Rs. 120 and he said he’d come down only to Rs. 140. I was feeling very tired and didn’t want to wait for another auto. I got in. I was curious as to why auto drivers charged so much and asked him how much mileage the vehicle yielded. He said it gave 25 km per litre. And that was the start of a long conversation, an "interview" as I would like to call it – which brought out quite a lot from the auto driver and gave me some things to reflect about.

He told me that he had driven all kinds of vehicles in his life – cars, carts, even boats. Aeroplane-um train-um than ma naan ottaley. For many years he had been a car driver; he said he’d worked for many wealthy families. He recounted his experiences while working as a driver – mostly ranting about mean employers, spoilt rich kids who were difficult to manage, employers asking him to wipe cars they hardly used, women asking him to buy vegetables… then he said “There are difficulties in every profession.” Which is of course true.

The auto driver said he’d worked for and known famous people. He talked about Cho Ramaswamy (actor and editor of Tughlak magazine) and how he was a very good man who respected and interacted with people from all backgrounds and classes. He also said something really interesting: Apparently, comedy actor “Loose” Mohan’s son was his classmate; he had known the actor and claimed that he taught him Chennai slang dialogues.

I also asked him how much he made every month and he said that some days he would make a lot of money, some other days he would make very less (a reply I could’ve expected); I didn’t get to know how much the guy made on an average. He said driving in traffic all day made him very tired (which we should really think about – imagine, all auto drivers are bound to get very frustrated because of the traffic every single day).

He felt that I was down to earth and had interacted with him without looking down upon him because he was only an auto driver. He said that my attitude would bring me a good husband and good things in life. I was really touched by this.

I am sure God had a hand in this. He wanted me to interact with an auto driver and take a peek into his world instead of being cocooned in my world and cribbing about increasing rates (this is not to say I think Rs. 140 isn’t high. They can bring it down a little.) It was an interesting evening indeed!

Auto podum aattam

Do you know how much it costs to hire an auto for a month to travel from Velachery to Cenotaph Road (on weekdays only)? 5000-6000 bucks (I got this info from an auto hire service). From Cenotaph Road to Alwarpet Circle, drivers charge Rs.40-50! I can travel that distance by bike in 10 minutes.

When did the common man’s tuk tuk become a luxury transport option? I can pay 5 bucks for a ticket on a sad looking bus, but 50 bucks for an auto ride? This is the five star experience that Chennai autos offer – reckless driving and a jolty ride, an unkempt driver talking in pucca local Tamil, letting foul words fly at fellow commuters. Will travelling in an auto ever be a pleasant experience that offers me value for money?

I could continue to crib. But let me treat this article in a different way.

There is an upside to this - a bright opportunity for us. We can consider becoming auto drivers, seeing that it’s an extremely lucrative job.

Oru small karpanai (day dream) – what if I choose to become an auto driver?

I’ll wear a mafia style suit and sunglasses. I’ll paint my auto shiny black with Italian style design touches. It’ll have soft black Italian leather seats. There will be red satin curtains on the window and sides. Then commuters would willingly shell out 50 bucks, why, a lot more for a ten minute ride.

Or I’ll paint my auto in bright colours and give it kitschy interiors – totally in Manish Arora ishtyle. I’ll serve refreshing sherbet and bright pink cotton candy to customers (in keeping with the kitsch theme). I’ll play dabbankoothu and Bollywood songs & give customers the ride of their lives.

Ok… enough of that. Let me come back to reality, where I am stuck with the misfortune of having to travel home by auto for a few weeks, due to a wound on my foot, that’s still healing. I have to put up with autowallahs and shell out money for many days to come. Wish me all the best!

My 2010

This New Year, I am not making any resolutions but I am aiming to strengthen some traits – humour, optimism, tolerance, the ability to forgive, faith, Hanuman bhakti, peace…

Here’s what I aim to do this year.

- Crack more jokes. So what if it takes a zillion PJs to finally be able to crack a good joke? :-D

- Visit my favourite Anjaneya temple – the deity to whom I open up my heart. I have found the god I am truly devoted to and I want to strengthen my faith.

- I want to love my body more, for what it is

- Learn kickboxing :-D

- I want to start each day in a positive mood, that carries on throughout the day.

- Eat more street food and build my resistance (wink)

- Visit Tiruvanmiyur beach on a regular basis, stand in the water and eat sonpapdi from a push cart.

- Take a break from the hustle-bustle of Velachery by visiting quieter areas and breezy tree-lined avenues

- See more of sunny skies, tree canopies, gulmohar trees…

- Not miss the best movies of the year

These are small things that truly make me happy. I can achieve them better and plan to do more fruitful things. These are resolutions too - that help me make the most of life, while I take each day as it comes.
So what have you planned for your 2010?

Land of Indiscipline

My tour manager in Europe said that Europeans have discipline in their blood. (Went on a fantastic Europe trip - working on a loooong post)

We Indians seem to have indiscipline in our blood.

Just a few instances…

Cenotaph Road Flyover Inauguration

They built a flyover on Cenotaph Road… when the roads were finally laid after a year of construction work, people started walking on the flyover. It is a blissful experience in a city like Chennai and not many are so fortunate (obviously). I walked a day before the inauguration. It was beautiful, yellow lights were strung up on both sides; the road was clean and smooth. I was walking down it in a happy, peaceful mood, when a kid who was riding his bicycle there wheeled around and stopped in the centre of the road & spat on it.

I was taken aback. It is a beautiful tar road, which the corporation had taken pains to lay – something we should appreciate, not spit on with cringe-inducing nonchalance. Couldn’t he see the freshly laid road? Couldn’t he understand it was for his own good? The Chief Minister didn’t inaugurate the flyover. This boy did. In true indifferent-ungrateful-Chennai-idiot style. He seemed to say “This is how I welcome development. And how I take care of my city.” Clap clap clap. Keep it up. Namma ooru romba uruppudum.

Traffic Police set an example

How many times have people been unnecessarily (and for a real reason) caught by the traffic police, legitimately charged fines or escaped with a bribe? There was an instance when I almost got caught by a traffic policeman for crossing the stop line at a signal near my house (there were a few more vehicles there – all of them were caught, but I managed a wily escape through an alternate route while the cop wasn’t looking… it was really unfair! Do you know at how many places policemen encourage us to cross the stop line at signals where they have turnings, to let the traffic behind us move in peace?). I got caught by the police twice; once for parking in Pondy Bazaar at a place where there was no “no parking” sign – apparently parking zones would have “two-wheeler parking” boards. The zone is at one end of Pondy Bazaar. How was I supposed to know? (Read my article “Pondy Bejaar” to know how the traffic police took my petrol money to buy Vijayadasami gifts.)

I nearly forgot what I was going to say in my indignation. One of the newest examples our traffic police uncles have set for us – a traffic policeman was way ahead of the stop line at the Cenotaph Road-Turnbulls Road junction – as if telling the others, “Why fear, I am here! The traffic policeman guiding us (no signal yet, after the flyover construction) will not fine you.” He was almost in the middle of the junction, giving barely enough space for heavy vehicles to freely turn right. The other policeman didn’t even care about what a wonderful example his colleague was setting.

Our City Bumpkins

Stupid people drive normal people mad. There are thousands of dumb idiots on the roads who don’t know why we honk horns at them, don’t understand why we drive across pedestrian crossings when the signal turns green and why we shout at them while they walk in the middle of narrow roads.

Groups of people wait at the Tidel Park junction, for the moment the signal turns green. They wait till vehicles rush across the road and with a steely determined expression, cross the road, stepping back slightly only when we vroom up and go at an I-will-crash-into-you speed to show who is the boss. I don’t know why on earth they can’t figure out when to cross. There is even a walkover bridge close by and they don’t even have to wait at the signal if they use it. Why the hell are they not using the bridge?

There are also people who happily climb over the median and cross at different points on OMR. They don’t even think about what speeds the vehicles would be coming at. I’ve touched 80 on the road. It is that free. How dumb can pedestrians get?

The third group of people is those who think they own the narrow streets they live on. Some walk right in the middle of them, even though many leave at least 2 metres on the side of the road as they walk (we can’t expect these people to be smarter or more concerned than that). The other day, as I was entering a narrow lane, two women were walking in the middle with hardly enough space for my bike to enter. I honked my horn once. She didn’t respond. I went closer and honked my horn loudly and repeatedly. She turned around, shocked at how I was close enough to crash into her. I asked her indignantly why she was walking in the middle of the road. I don’t know if she heard me clearly through my helmet. But I wasn’t able to tolerate it.

How do we stop these acts? Chennai as a whole should develop a conscience. Rigid rules have been needed for long in our country and it is not an impossible task to enforce them. Why can’t our country be like Europe? We’re humans, and humans can change! Let us make 2010 and every year ahead, the year of discipline!