Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Highwaymen came riding, riding, riding…

So I’ve been dancing around this topic ever since I started the crib. I kept putting it off because, for one, until very recently I had to interact with these people twice a day and felt very strongly about them. (That’s an understatement.) Now that I have some distance I feel I can write more objectively.

For another, they have asked the Government to raise their basic fare and the fare per kilometer and that really got my blood boiling.

Auto Drivers, ladies and gentlemen, are scum. Scum from the lowest reaches of hell. Dante was wrong -- there are actually 10 rings of hell and one is reserved exclusively for auto drivers. (A glaring oversight on his part.)

A month after coming to Bangalore, I was walking down a slightly deserted road at night and couldn’t believe it when one of these worthy gentlemen leaned out of his trusty auto and snatched at my bag. Luckily he couldn’t get a good grip on it and sped off into the night. That was a very appropriate start to what would be a very long and interesting relationship with the members of this profession.

In these 3 years I have been asked to get out (nowhere near my stop) in the coarsest language (sundry times), grabbed (twice), threatened (the exact words were: “I know where you wait for autos, I’ll be there tomorrow.”). I have been cheated out of 100s of rupees, on top of being asked—almost without fail -- to pay more than the meter indicated.

I do not even count among these offences the constant ‘No’s I have had to face whenever soliciting their services. Sometimes it feels like in their frenzy to reject customers, they turn down perfectly lucrative opportunities. I understand that they believe they are striking a blow against the moneyed classes by thus rejecting us, ‘look at who is begging whom now’ is what they no doubt say to each other as they sit back in the auto stands and discuss philosophy. But then maybe they shouldn’t masquerade as auto drivers and take up something more constructive, like join a Maoist group (if it’s not too much hard work.).

The rare few who actually feel like putting in a few hours’ work and consent to take you (they pick and choose customers like the belle of the ball chooses suitors, and as carefully), will always ask for more, stating that where they’re taking you is so out of the way that they would NEVER get a customer to bring back to a more sensible location. So we are supposed to care about how much they earn (or don’t in this case) even after we have been dropped off. Even though they show no such consideration when you are standing in the pouring rain at 9 at night, begging one auto after another to take you home. On one such occasion after some 20 refusals, I remember asking the auto driver in desperation, “So where do you WANT to go? I’ll go wherever you want, as long as you take me…”

Of every 10 auto drivers that come your way nine will reject you (unless it’s a very desirable location like MG road or Commercial Street). But this is the fun bit of it: they declared a STRIKE to protest a night bus that the government wanted to introduce saying it would THREATEN their livelihood. The government actually gave in and it was bye-bye night bus service. They STRUCK work again (which frankly isn’t much different from a work day for them.) when the government decided to introduce the Metro to Bangalore, again because it would ‘deprive them of their livelihood’. It’s like highway robbers complaining of too many policemen on the road “We haven’t been able to surprise any victims! I haven’t cut a single throat in days!”.

Fortunately the government was sensible for a change and didn’t give in to their ridiculousness.

Now they’re asking to raise their fares, and apparently the government is considering it seriously. Hello? What about the fact that they always take more money anyway? Do you think they’ll change their ways just because you’ve raised the fare? How about ensuring they’re not all borderline gundas and thieves before allowing them more money?

And for those people who obviously have never taken an auto in Bangalore, and think this is all a much ado about nothing and that if we just reported them to the police everything will be just hunky dory -- lemme tell you something, you %$#@s. This one time, a friend of mine had walked up to a cop who had seen the whole thing and complained. “Say that again in Kannada and I might consider that a complaint” the good policemen had responded.

So there you are. People here have so taken this behaviour for granted that they simply advise you to buy a two-wheeler when you tell them of your auto woes. It doesn’t seem to matter to them that Bangalore gets an increasingly bad name simply because of auto drivers and refuse to look at the issue as a serious law and order problem. I came across an old college classmate who shifted to Bangalore recently from Bombay. She said she felt awful here and missed both Bombay and Calcutta miserably. On further probing it turned out she was shocked by how auto drivers lived by their own rules here and that she felt on the verge of tears every time she prepared to ask one of these thugs to take her somewhere. “Even normal human codes of conduct don’t apply to them it seems!”

Though I have SO much more to say, I won’t. If I were to give you details of some of the incidents I just touched upon, it would shock non-Bangaloreans to the core no doubt (people from here would just drawl “ I told you to get a two-wheeler”.) but it would take days and days to do.

I should mention that I have met one or two decent auto-drivers in my time here. I consider it a little bit akin to the “prostitute with a heart of gold” phenomenon.

Anyhow, now that I have that off my chest I feel much better, and even better still at the thought that my office cab-system allows me to avoid these rogues like the plague.

Wishing all my fellow-city dwellers similar good luck.


Nisho said...

Hey... you voiced the exact same thoughts I feel about these ruthless bastards...

There was a time I almost got into a fist fight because that F%#*ing bastard wouldn't take me all the way to Forum because HE wanted to take a turn to another road around 1km before.

Bastartds, bastards, bastards fucking auto drivers!!!!

Haimanti said...

it's really infuriating to have such people around. but who is this old college mate? rajrupa? okeo autowalla ney ni? ki shahosh mairi!

Ushasi said...

Yeah, Nisho, let it all out! %^&*ing thieves!

Yep, Rajrupa it was.:)

Diya said...

absolutely brilliant article, pussycat! sorry for this long-overdue response. i am only recently into the money-earning profession and find it difficult not to collapse when i get home from work everyday and go blink-blink-blink at the tv - duh duh duh - eat and gotobedbecauseohmygodihavetowakeupinthemorning!!!
sounds a bit like taxi drivers in cal, only much worse, i see. wonder if they do stand and dicuss philosophy at the autostands? i'm guessing not. :-)

db said...

a friend of mine, on complaining to the b'lore police after being cheated by an autorickshaw guy, was accused of portraying the local cabbies in a bad light and was threatened with prison time if he didn't sign a statement the cop penned. of course, the statement was in - you guessed it - kannada. of which my friend didn't know a word.

he signed it, anyway - better than a night behind bars, he reckoned.

the autorickshaw is a money-making industry in bengaluru - along with similarly less-obvious fields such as engineering colleges and car rental companies. these industries cater to much more of the food chain than one might assume.
your third reader's back. :)

Ushasi said...

Diya I totally get how you feel. I have had an encounter or two in Cal, but it hasnt been THIS bad. And I'm guessing they don't discuss philosophy as well.:)

Oh my gawd, db, that's worse than any of my stories! Glad you added that! And welcome back! You were sorely missed.