One can probably get into a controversy when saying, “An item of luxury is always evil,” of course when giving a generalised opinion of that sort. But not when it comes to auto rickshaws of Chennai and their unbeatable auto drivers. I am sure I have at least a couple of heads, nodding in approval when I say that “rick” trips, most of the times, gives you the shakes.
Some of us call it the “yellow bus” and the “yellow bus” is omnipresent – anytime, anywhere. The most interesting aspect of an auto drive is the fare. Tell them the place, God knows what kind of a computational mechanism resides inside their head, that they spell out such bizarre “unfair” rates. Let’s say, you want to get in near Pothys at Panagal Park and get down at North Usman road. Ask the auto wala and he says, “Madam, 20 rupees,” when both he and you know that it is not even worth ten rupees of distance! Ask him, “ennanga?”(What sir?) and he says, “No madam, very high traffic. Lot of petrol will go if we move slow” – technical reasoning for a monetary point being made, I suppose? Some of them are smart enough to give time as a reason. “Sir, night time, I won’t get a return trip” or morning times, “peak hour sir. Traffic will be high.” Or it might be, “Petrol prices WILL go up!!”. You could probably release a book titled, “1000 reasons why auto fares are high!!”
Sometimes, the place from where you emerge to take an auto also matters. They see you come out of “Ispahani Centre” in Nungambakkam, (a posh shopping mall, for the benefit of those who don’t know), the price on you is definitely more, than what you would be asked for, if you had taken an auto a few yards down the road. And guess the weapon of terror, in the city? It is the auto driver offering to turn their meters on. The moment they say that, you can see panic stricken faces saying, “Vendam Pa!” (no!!). The heated up meters show devilish numbers that run faster than the fastest athlete in the world. They are a passenger’s nightmare! Once they see signs of you not having a complete grasp of the geographic layout of the city, you are done! You are surely taken for a ride!
One fine day, near the Marina, I see a foreigner in conversation with a “rick” fellow. She wants to go to Adyar and our sir triples the fare. I never realised they understood the dollar equation! How smartly unfair!
You get into an auto and you hold your life in your hand (more on his, rather!) and he traces all possible geometric figures through the road, with his driving skills. A twist, a turn, a bump and a jump and you are lucky to land back on your seat only to hear his fierce “madras lingo” outpour on an “ill traffic sensed” cyclist nearby. (Want an example? Here is a very common one, “Yeh, Savukrakki, vootla sollitu vandhuttaya?Otraan paaru!!”). By the end of it, all you are spared of is, a series of “sss” hisses, for the money that you pay and finally landing in the destination, thanks to your lucky stars!
Despite everything, autos are now an integral part of the daily routine of many. We have drivers who are so eco-conscious that the back of their autos read, “Please don’t pollute the air!” (Well, what are you doing, by the way ?) and there are drivers, who now have the tech edge apart from everything else. Ah! You wanna pick, just give them a ring on their mobile!