Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Autorickshawvalla Salaam

On a particularly humid Tuesday morning I was standing on the side of a busy road, trying to flag down an auto for the train station. After eleven months in Chandigarh, I can do this task fairly quickly and within 50 rupees. But today, today was different. Today the dear auto-bhaiyas were being difficult -- 80 rupees, 90 rupees. Somebody even dared to suggest 100.

Why was this happening? I mulled over it as I reluctantly settled on a 70 rupees fare. And then, I realized with a start that this inflation must be because of a single, world-famous garment: MY JEANS.

Since I was going to a meeting in Delhi that day I had dressed up. This means I replaced my threadbare, holey clothes with the last untarnished, not faded article of clothing I had. And to make it worse, I had a leather bag with a zipper instead of my khadi sack.

A huge sense of disappointment mixed with the muggy, stagnant air, because of the simple fact that I love autorickshawvallas. I have strangely high expectations from them. They have been my saviors, friends, comedians, teachers and guides this year. They have taught me to navigate Chandigarh, to understand different perspectives, to adjust when the eighth person is about climb into your seat.

So instead of fixating on the couple of guys who tried to hike up fare, I've decided to highlight the guys who made this trust possible.

1) Disco-valla - On a nice summer night my friends and I were coming home in high spirits and decided to sing Hindi songs to pass the time, and so that they could make fun of my Westernized tuning of "Woh Lamhe". Being my super conscious self, I checked the mirror to see if we were bothering the driver, who probably had enough of noise at this time of night. As he pulled in front of our house and took money, I empathized for the guy, thinking how relieved he must feel now that were gone.

And then, then the magic happened. Discovalla turned on a flashing blue light, loud trance music and revved up his engine. We all looked back in shock as he tore away, cackling.

2) Bartender-valla - After fighting over 10 rupees with my auto driver, I decided to sit in the auto anyway as we were settled the price. Assuming I was just teeming with cash, he asked me my salary. He quickly found out that my stipend was less than his earnings, and inquired more about why I would take on such a job. Our conversation developed; we talked about where he ate, how auto drivers communicated and learning computer skills. He asked me about working with kids and in a colony area. Other passengers stared at us since we were chatting like old friends. By the time I got dropped off in Sector 35 I felt happier and lighter, like in movies when someone tells all their problems to a bartender. He refused to take the 10 rupees.

3)Respect-valla - This is a simple story. I was taking a 10 rupee shared auto down a long road. A drunk guy got into the auto. He smelled like house-made liquor and spoke like he had gumballs in his mouth. A few minutes down the road he asked the auto driver if he could give him money some other time, he didn't have any. The auto driver looked back in the mirror critically and suddenly realized the man's state. He immediately stopped the auto, threw the guy out and turned to me, palms together. Apologizing repeatedly he said, "I'm sorry I disrespected you by letting this man into the auto," and tried not to take my money. Of course I paid, said thanks and left with more trust.

4)Entrepreneur-valla- Last week I was waiting for an auto, drenched in rain and starting to worry that I would be late to a workshop that I was leading. Finally, after the rain had reached from my frizzy hair to the soles of my sandals, an auto pulled up. I got in and was suddenly jolted by my surroundings. A small chandelier adorned the roof, bangles hung on a bar in front of the wheel, and dozens of toys and decorations hung on strings. Then the driver flicked on a panel of switches and three mini fans started to blow, helping my clothes dry out. During the fifteen minute ride I noticed the intricate work put into this auto -- from the water bottle holder to the stationary cup to hand painted walls. When I reluctantly stepped out I gave the driver a thumbs up on his auto. He casually said, "I'm getting an AC and LCD player soon. Here, take my card." For no more money and no style left behind, Rajan Autos made a customer out of me.


Nikhil Dochania said...

I have become an ardent fan of your bargaining skills, you would make any banya and sindhi proud. What I fail to understand is how you find good in even the worst of things and do it so convincingly.

Nice read!

Davinder said...

nice read !!