Hiring an Auto Rickshaw in Delhi

My first day ferrying to 9.9 School of Convergence was smooth. Arun dropped me. He is someone whom I have mentioned in last two blogs. He is a friend of my uncle, and they attended computer classes together back in early nineties. I think they became friends thereafter. He visited Bhutan later. He is from Manipur. He lives and works in Delhi. Well, he is not the subject of my blog today, and at the same time– I cannot ignore him, because he made my life easier in Delhi.

Classes were all right on the first day, and at the end of it all, I took an Auto back to Humayanpur Village. All good. Ready to start a fresh day. The next day, I decided to find my own way to the School. I got up early, took bath, and ate breakfast, dressed in casuals picked up my computer bag, and headed to get an Auto Rickshaw.

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“Bhaishaab, Aurobindo School malum hai?” I added, “Adchini mey hai.”

“Hain, pata hai,” an Autowala who was rushing to get first earnings of his day said. “Bhaitho.”

He asked for 60 Rupees. I bargained for 40.  We agreed on 50.

He started the engine. The Auto started to rattle through familiar roads and junctions. After the second traffic lights every thing started to look new. I decided not to protest. The price was fixed, so only possibility could be to reach me through shortest possible route.  I had a rough sketch of Delhi map in my head, and rough idea of the School’s location. He took another right, this time the direction was right. He jumbled up my head when he took left, and I started to protest relying on instinct rather than on knowledge. He appeared like he knew where he was going. In two minutes he stopped outside the gate of Aurobindo College. “Did I say College?”

Autowala said, “aapne tho college bhola.” He jumbled my memory more.

I urged him to ask for direction from people passing by. They started pointing towards the opposite direction. He turned his Auto and he was lost again. He asked another guy and he pointed towards Aurobindo College. He was trying to use the information as a basis to argue with me that he is right. “That is not my college,” I said. “Take me to Aurobindo Society.” I was beginning to loose my mind.

He was lost again.  Traffic was noisy, drivers honked for no reason at all. Sound of Auto started to beat my drum. The autowala was more ugly than I thought he was. He started to look like punching bag. I stopped to see any of his sense organs. He asked for direction for few more times and he doesn’t seem to get it.  Or was he pretending not to. I decided to call Arun. He asked our position and guided the Autowala. In the midst of it all, Autowala was blaming me for giving him the wrong address. When we arrived in the busy road again, he told me to find my own way to the other side.  I refused. Finally, he reached me.

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He demanded Rs 100.  I told him it was partly his fault as much as it was mine. I shoved him Rs 50 and walked away. I decided not ride his Auto again. Only if I remembered his face or the Auto, all of them looked the same.

Autowalas, most of them are cheats. This is not only true in India, I have found. In Thailand they call Tuk Tuk. Tuk Tuk Drivers are worst. They let the meter roll round and round to produce a fat bills for the tourists. I have noticed that they don’t do that to Asian. I suspect that they assume we are as poor as them.

Many a time I have thought about the struggle that Autowalas and Tuk Tuk drivers make for money.  It must be an everyday battle, to make  every-extra money, in the battlefields of Autos and Tuk Tuks.  The extra money must be for the medicine to treat ailing mother, for a brother who is aspiring to be a doctor, lawyer, and an engineer or may be for a daughter’s operation, or for an old parents back in village. I have heard endless stories and most of them were true, if not why would anyone want to work so hard under the sun that hit up everything up to 45-50 degree Celsius.

In a week of Auto rides, I had one bad experience or the other every day. When it was raining I had to pay extra.  When I hired on meter reading they would not give back my change and conveniently round it off to upward tens. I had to waste several minutes bargaining. I had to give them lessons on ethics, principles, honesty etc. etc.

Every day Delhi was asking me to be smarter and urging me to learn fast. I had to get the direction right, learn name of the places, familiarize with the bus numbers and stops, and study the possibilities of taking Metro trains. It was telling me to improve my Hindi, sound like local well versed with local knowledge. It was constantly telling not to let autowala outsmart me again and again.

I started to save the coins, which I usually tossed to begging children and deserving ones. I stood in the bus stops to memorise bus numbers. I started to eavesdrop conversations between passenger taking an Auto ride and an autowala. I found out that it needed a strong bargaining skill. The price sometime also depended on how well one can negotiate with them. I had to learn to build a basis for negotiation.  I had to sound and look like local. I also googled Auto Rickshaw.

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It is used in six continents: Asia, Africa, Europe, North and South America, and Australia. America produces fine looking electric Tuk Tuk. India and Thailand produces not so fine ones– anyway, The Netherlands imports them.  Italy’s use of Tuk Tuk dates back to 1940s. It is considered the cheapest mode of transport else where in the world. I guess not in Delhi. It is expensive, but, it comes with compliment–headache.

Government has worked-out rates for Rickshaw, but the autowala are in control of the rates. Some of them refuse to give a ride, if their conditions are not met. It can get into long waiting and late for an appointment. It is worse if it poured. There will no room for bargain.

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Delhi doesn’t tolerate weakness. There is no room for the one who are slacking and slow.  Everyone is trying to get ahead, without caring about where they step to get there. Every one is rushing. There are multiple lanes of cars, rickshaws, bikes, bullock carts, horse riders, bicycles, trucks, vans and the list can go on, on a two-lane road. All the drivers have their one hand on the horn like it was an accelerator to push the automobile ahead.  Car manufacturers might have to innovate horns for the drivers on the road of Delhi. First one to get them should be autowalas.

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