We, Delhiites, have certainly travelled in autos at least once in our life. This is almost as certain as the autowallah charging you “Meter se 10 Rupai extra.” As students, rather, as DU students who are late to the first class almost every time, travelling by an auto is day-to-day business.
So what are the basics that make up for a mundane auto ride from point A to B? First and foremost, whether the autowallah is ready to ferry you to your desired destination or not; on a good day you’ll find a compliant guy in about 3 attempts. Secondly, is your chosen autowallah ready to go by the meter; if you are really adamant about it and it is your lucky day, you’ll end up riding a DTC. Thirdly, and the focus of the article is the socio- political issue that the autowallah would shed light upon in his choicest words. The autowallah’s banter maybe the simplest of rants about the traffic with a garnish of his favourite cuss words or a complex sometimes right wing sometimes left wing talk about the state of our polity.
So I shall now narrate 2 stories of interesting rides around the city.
The first incident happened when my professor of Indian Politics took an auto to go someplace, he didn’t mention where. So being the last person to act as a social pariah he started chatting up the autowallah and the stories the autowallah had to share were rather interesting. The autowallah came from a better than middle class household from a state in the Hindi speaking belt. He claimed to have had acres of land and decent amount of cattle to his name. Yes, even to my professor it struck as a rather odd thing for such a guy to be driving an auto in Delhi and he enquired as to what went wrong. So, our autowallah in question lost most of his assets because he had decided to stand for the local elections. He lost all his money in campaigning, and buying off voters which means most of his expenditure was on “dhols, dhotis and daaru”. Indebted as he was, to raise his head above the debt and to make a living, he now drove an auto on Delhi roads. Though one can still wonder if the expenditure on dhotis and daaru had gone down for him or not.
The second case in point is something that happened when I took an auto to get to college the other day. Not only did the autowallah go by meter he also slowed down and pulled up at the curb when he had to answer his phone! Who in this dammed city does that?! When I appreciated him for that action he went on and explained about how he always went by meter and never acted as a “bhaokhaanewala driver”. He also added that two of his sons were studying in leading engineering colleges in the country and as proof of his honesty he did not merely keep the change when I paid him, he returned me the exact amount of change adhering to what his meter said. His auto was famous and revered in the city, he said as he had the unique number plate that read ‘0002’. That was a rather refreshing start to my day since it did not include a game of What Price is Right with an autowallah.
This city has presented all of us such quirky travel tales. To the extent that in 1971, the then TOI Editor took a taxi from his office to get home and what the taxiwallah said, he reported the next day as an example of how delusionalMrs. Gandhi had the common gentry with her ‘GaribiHatao’ slogan. When he settled in the back seat the taxiwallah remarked, “Sahab election kebaadaapaagebaithna hum peechebaithenge.” Needless to say, both of them stuck on in the same seats even after the elections.
So it has been rightly said that if you want to tap the pulse of our city take a ride or two in an auto and make sure that you don’t sit back reading a book or listening to music cause the autowallah bhaiya has a lot to tell.