Sunday, June 8, 2008

Auto!

"Auto!" Another one goes by, and already my carefully brushed hair is starting to wilt in the Kerala heat. Apparently, adapting the New York "Taxi!" call isn't going to be any more successful than waving my hand like a demented traffic policeman. One of these days, I promise myself, I'll get to buy a car, and put myself out of this misery. What seventy year ritual of penance is it going to take to flag one down that doesn't already have people in it? Or isn't driven by some inhuman zombie driver who doesn't even deign to look my way? Some act of providence, evidently. Resigned, I trudge along the road in the hopes that some passing kind-hearted auto driver will take pity on me and stop. Kind-hearted auto driver, bah! An oxymoron if I've ever heard one.

I suppose I shouldn't complain, really - I have it good here, in the charming little town of Thrissivaperur. Auto fares in Coimbatore and Chennai and Bangalore make me want to pass out. What is its mystery, this ubiquitous little yellow three wheeler that has come to be as permanent a fixture here as sinks in bathrooms? Or, more to the point, what makes their drivers tick? For it is there, dear friends, that our story lies. What deep force drives these men? What moral ethics govern the behaviour of our brethren in khaki? If they have any, that is. Grrrrr, I mutter to myself, as I stomp along in new shoes that are by now on intimate terms with the blisters on my feet. Another empty auto blithely drives past. Don't they NEED the fare, I ask myself, as I have countless times. It's their job, for heaven's sake!

I remember coming back home from college one night. The bus dropped me off at 9.00 PM, and at that time of the night, no matter what anyone tells you about women's lib, I still wish I had a couple of hefty men to take care of me. The driver of the auto I got into seemed nice enough(famous last words?), and I assumed all was well until I got off at my destination - and he charged me 25 rupees! I blinked, stared at him, and blinked again. "Ethre?" How much, I asked him, as incredulity spread across my face. "This is a distance of one kilometer we're talking about, and I'm not some city bred bimbo you can fleece!" Alright,so maybe I didn't say that to him, but he knew what I meant. Its the eternal human response to injustice.

And then there was the time after a particularly virulent monsoon came to visit. The roads to my home had potholes that made the Grand Canyon look like a mouse teacup. Let me give you a piece of advice - never get out at the railway station and ask an auto driver to take you to Poothole during the monsoon. I soon learnt that the resulting look of contempt from them as they drive away is enough to make me want to commit murder. I wondered if it would have any effect to jump in front of the auto and refuse to move until they took me home; then decided against it - ten to one they'd just run me over, the heartless monsters.
Of course, in Ottapalam its a different story - my house happens to have the misfortune of being situated close to the railway station - too far away to walk, and too close for the auto drivers to want to take me. There, never make the mistake of telling them your destination before you're safely ensconced in the auto. Some of the more devious men don't let you get in before you tell them where you want to go - and then of course, they shake their heads and turn away as if you were some pathetic sub-species of mosquito who's begging for a sip of their blood.
One time I got in, hauled my absurdly heavy and awkward suitcase in with me(without any help from them, to be sure), settled down, and had just told the driver to take me home - when he heard where it was, stopped the engine and asked me to get out - if I had my way that night, there'd be one less auto driver today.
So it is with all of these dark, brooding thoughts in my mind that I stand looking for an auto on Christmas eve, my hands full of heavy shopping bags that are threatening to snap at any moment. Just when I think I am going to have to throw away some of the bags to prevent irreversible damage to my shoulders, one stops in front of me. (For a minute, I think I am hallucinating). I hurriedly get in before the driver can change his mind, and tell him where to go. On the way I remember something my mother had told me not to come home without, and cringe inwardly. The trick with auto drivers is to pretend indifference. So I nonchalantly tell him I have to stop at a shop on the way, and mentally prepare my self for the grumbling. To my
surprise, there is none. And not only does he stop at the store, but waits a full ten minutes until I find what I am looking for, and then when I get back in, starts on again as if nothing had happened. I tell myself that this can't be happening. Wait, maybe it's because it's Christmas. Or maybe it's because he is slightly older, and feels a sympathy towards a young girl. Then it strikes me - of course, this was going to lead up to a hefty fare! I laugh at my sentimental silliness.
When I get home, he backs up to the door(almost - I live in a flat!), and actually HELPS me unload. I go back to pay him, dreading the amount already, and ask him how much it is. He looks at the meter, and tells me exactly how much - with not even a rupee more for all that waiting. In wonder I give him money, and as he fumbles for the change, I tell him to keep it. My friend Divya would have told me it was too much to pay, but the smile on his face is worth it. I feel an answering smile as I walk back to my door - and a sense of gladness inside. After all.....auto drivers are human too.

THE ever-lovin' END

1 comment:

firequill said...

Heh heh... Nice one.. Love 'em..Hate 'em...They still gonna be the same... :)