Wednesday, July 25, 2012


I have always held the belief that by and large, auto-rickshaw walas across India are goons, thugs, louts, bullies and a few other unmentionable things which I can't bring myself to utter in public. But every time I make a trip to Bangalore or thereabouts, this conviction  of mine takes a really strong beating..

My friends in Bangalore constantly warn me about the auto-walas there... about their tendency to overcharge newbies in town, refusing to go by the meter, or taking a circuitous route. But my experiences so far have been 100% good. I was in Madanapalle and Bangalore recently, and I think it is time I spoke up for the undaunted and the chivalrous amongst this much-maligned species - the 'pigeons among the cats', so to speak!

The Good...

My first good-samaritan auto-wala story is set in Madanapalle. I had just landed up at the Madanapalle bus stop, travelling alone. It was my first visit there. As I walked along towards the stand where autos were lined up, struggling slightly with my heavy bags, an old auto-rickshaw wala suddenly rushed towards me out of the line of autos, saying, "Where Akka? Rishi valley? Come come, I take you." I was slightly on my guard at this sudden charge, but he looked too old and meek for me to feel threatened in any way. So  I climbed in. On the long winding road to Rishi Valley, he lamented about how the younger lot of autowallas were always out make a fast buck by cheating newcomers...  thereby explaining his jack-in-the-box kind of reaction to my arrival. 

The old man's chivalry did not end there. I had to leave my bags at the RV guest house and then go to the office. And I did not know the way. So he offered to wait while I put my bags in the room, and then drop me at the office. So far so good, but there was one complication. The person with the keys to the guest house was msssing and no one had the faintest notion where he was. Someone went off to look for him. Not wanting to hold back the sweet old auto-wala, I thanked him, paid him and told him to go. But he would not budge. He had made a committment to see me off at the RV office, and he was not leaving without doing so! So we waited. 5 min went by... 10 min... 20 min... finally, after 40 minutes the caretaker came with the keys. The old man helped me deposit my bags, and then depositted me at the office before going on his way, with the air of one who has just seen his granddaughter off safely!

And oh yes, he simply refused to take any extra money for the extra bit or the long wait.

Since then, I have come across other auto-walas around the RV campus who take you to your destination free of cost if the distance is short, and they happen to be going your way... hard to believe for us city folk, but true!

The Bad and the Ugly...

Contrast this with the hoods one has to deal with in Navi Mumbai, on a day-in day-out basis. In Mumbai they have the 'hafta'-collecting bhais, and in Navi Mumbai we have the auto-rickshaw walas... both of these are highly evolved species of extortionists. The Navi-Mumbai auto-bhais overcharge as a matter of right. You should just see the indignant look they give you if you question the inflated fare they quote! And they are super quick to sense the exact degree of desperation while picking up a fare. Sometimes I feel they have a secret 'Overcharge Rate Chart'!

Honestly, the way the auto-bhais here wield absolute power, I think it is high time Navi Mumbai was declared an autocracy!

And I do not even want to start upon the antics of the Delhi auto-wala... that supremely regal being, who continues his search for treasure - deep inside his nose with his index finger, oblivious of your presence - even as you try to coax him to take you to your destination! And you are not sure which is worse, him refusing to ply you, or agreeing to do so and handing you your change with his treasure-laden fingers...

And the Good, Again...

Meanwhile, my ode to the Bangalore auto-walas is not over yet! The old man in Madanapalle was the second good samaritan auto-wala who came to my rescue that day. The story started at the Bangalore bus stop. Someone had booked me an online ticket from Bangalore to Madanapalle on an APSRTC bus. So, there I was at an unfamiliar bus stop, running helter skelter, trying to find which terminal I was to get the bus from. The fact that I could read neither Telugu nor Kannada, didn't help. I had just walked 2 or 3 times from one end of the vast station to the other, misguided by various people, including (as I found out later) those at the info booth. I was standing at a platform at one end of the station, where the person at the info booth had asked me to wait for the Tirupathi bus. On inquiring from the other people waiting there, I gathered  that the Tirupathi bus would not go to Madanapalle.

At this time, seeing me all hot and flustered, one of the auto-walas from the nearby auto stand came up to me and said, "You go Madanapalle, madam? Bus not here." I have been brought up in Delhi - where if a lone woman traveller responds  to a strange man who comes up to her, it is equivalent to inviting him politely to molest her. So, my initial reaction was to give him a wide berth. But the man's tone had some conviction which made me believe him. "Then where", I asked. "I not know. You ask in counter." It was now 7.10 a.m, and my bus was supposed to leave at 7.15. Mentally preparing myself to scuttle my trip, I started picking up my bags and bracing for the run to the info booth once again. And then the auto-wala said, "You wait madam, I ask." And before I could say anything - up went the veshti to knee-level with a snap, and out sprinted the man to the info booth at top speed. In a minute, he was back, saying, "You go Kadapa bus. It is in opposite side." I ran and caught the bus just as it was pulling out of the station.

The man did not ask for any money. And there was no time for me to even thank him properly. But this piece of writing is a thank-you note to all those auto-walas who help us keep the faith, through such acts that defy the ignominy that follows their lot...


  1. wanna learn to look helpless and lost? contact Suchi? and then wanna be attacked with the blog - well no need to contact Suchi - she will do this anyway!
    I remember the auto driver/s at Anand, how could you forget them - I think perhaps the most wonderful auto drivers ever. Forget about over charging or wrong routes, if any of them found your kids wandering around - would not think a minute before bringing them back home on their own.

    On a more serious note - your writings really releav a different dimension of you not generally obvious even the most ardent of your friends I am sure. The ability to pick a context, bring out different perspectives, and balacing between humour and jokes on self and eventually also bringing us alive to things we would normally just forget or move on from - well I think you should do it more often and more professionally.
    Ye dil mange MORE

    1. you just left me speechless with that comment!