This one for you, Abdul Bhai

Where I stay, around the corner there is a fleet of autos. Each one have taken turns to drop me to work. They all have their own stories and an unspoken acknowledgement that they are all there for all my errands. I call them Bhai but they treat me like their lil’ girl and fondly call me “Madam” like my students in college.

I had so gotten used to Abdul Bhai dropping me to work. He knew which pothole to avoid and could read every crease of panic on my forehead that I was running late. There are days when he light-heartedly told me - “Madam, aap late ho aaj.” Of course, there is no fixed monthly payment arrangement. There are days when I take the bus or a loved one drops me to work. So, the meter never runs for these guys, I pay them the normal rate incurred once upon a time on the meter! And when Abdul Bhai is present, no other Bhai comes forward unless he has another set of school children to drop.

So there are days when Abdul Bhai has no change and very conveniently, I ask him to keep the change for the next day’s fare. So days went by and one morning, I don’t find him there and I don’t see  him for days on end. I was curious to ask the brethren but refrained. One or the other took turns to drop me to work. I decided to keep the advance payment system a lil’ to my advantage. Abdul Bhai owed me 60 rupees before he did the disappearing act.

One Saturday afternoon I saw him catching a nap in his tuk-tuk. I was relieved he was back and so glad that my fears were proved wrong. But again, he never showed up in the mornings. I was like OK, he must be serving guard at some other place to avoid paying my money. I feel extremely horrible to admit this.

But on Wednesday he showed up and wished me, “Namaste Madam, bahut din ke baad..” I was like ahem ahem, managed to break ice, inquired about his missing-abouts. He told me his tuk-tuk gave him enough trouble to not turn up in the mornings. And you know what, when I got down near college, he told me with gallant honesty that he still owed me 60 rupees.

You might be tempted to say it’s only 60 rupees, big deal! I know as much - it is not that 60 rupees but someone’s trust and another’s credibility. He restored my faith and affirmation. Smiles.

This afternoon, I had a nasty auto-guy to deal with on my way home. He wanted to intimidate me with his auto-meter theory and that I was being difficult and all. It was pretty apparent I was fighting for justice with a buffalo in front of my home. There was an unnecessary ruckus. And guess what, Abdul Bhai and another Bhai came to my rescue. There is a certain chutzpah in the manner he conducted himself. He told me clearly, “Madam you pay just as much as you should. We will take care of the rest.” I took a peek back and see what the deal was. Very professionally, the nasty fellow was shooed away.

I was definitely not crying for help. But in a public situation with onlookers, we also have proactive people and one of them is Abdul Bhai. I just prayed for him, thanked god for people like him. I felt good to be in Hyderabad.

Thank  you, Abdul Bhai. You are my new hero.

Smiles :O)

Auto Encounters

The classic ones include tampered meters and boy, they fight and haggle like you are stripping their wives. I don’t know who takes panga - me or them, but I have always gotten away with my classic, “ bheekh mangna hai toh manglo." I will pay the extra fare only when you go down on your knees and beg, like beggars begging. There also this mixed breed who don’t travel by meter but by a fixed rate of understanding. Suddenly, they see a huge palatial mansion that you are standing in front of and the fare just goes up by 5-10 rupees or there is no change to return. 

Encounter 1
I know this friend of mine from Delhi who is an entertaining holds-a-conversation kinda person. Whenever we have gone out(always more than 4 people)he volunteers to share bum space with the driver and they have such animated discussions from familiarity to empathy and by the end of the journey the fare has come down by a smiling but small margin.

Encounter 2
I also have this amazing ex-roomie and good friend who is a diva in my reckoning. She cares two hoots when travelling in an auto. After our momo-eating jaunts, we flag a shared auto and she charmingly tells me to take the back seat, while she props herself next to the driver. I know what’s running in all your heads, no the driver is too scared to be distracted!

Encounter 3 and minor ones
I have seen very few Telugu auto-wallahs, most are old city dwellers or migrants from everywhere. There have been interesting conversations with some. There was this young guy from Jamshedpur, who had come here to save enough for his wedding. It turns out he lived a few lanes away from mine. There was another chap from Kurnool who had 3 daughters whom he sent to school and his wife ‘ran’ a kirana store. I remember giving him a packet of murukkus for Diwali from my shopping bag. It was like until we meet again. There was also this guy who thinks KCR is utter rubbish and that YSR's tragic accident just is not right.

Encounter 4
Then, there were those days when my colleague and I ran into lousy auto-guys whose meters were always bullying. We began interrogating each auto which stopped by if his meter is tamper-free. Then we met this gruff old man, who gave us an earful for doubting his dignity and self-respect. Very comfortingly, he told us, yes there are enough and more people who have tainted the profession and brought bad name by fleecing poor passengers for a meagre buck. But he sternly asked us to keep faith and that there are enough good Samaritans also. Yes, I agree.

Encounter 5
Once I had gone to Osmania University on a Sunday for an examination. In the morning, an old man dropped me. When I was collecting the change from him, he asked me if I had come for an examination. I said yes, he wished me best of luck and told me he’d keep me in his prayers. I was touched. That very evening, when I wanted to take an auto to the bus station, I met an impudent chap who coolly asked me to fish out 100 rupees. I know the station is barely 5-6 kms from there and it was less than 50 rupees. I asked him to pray tell me why the special treatment of asking double the rate. He shot back, “Sunday” and the blah. He refused to go by the meter and confidently told me that his meter would clock 60 rupees and he wanted me to pay 10 rupees more. Then, I lost it. I charged the poor fellow who only wanted to earn a quick buck. I asked him what drove him to even say that - was it because I don’t look south Indian enough and too foreigner? And you call yourself a hospitable Hyderabadi, wow! I blamed it all on him. He readily agreed to ferry me by meter, I told him I’d pay him ‘that’ 10 rupees extra if his meter told the 60 rupees truth. His meter touched only 42 rupees, he said sorry and promised to be meter-nice to anyone. Well!

Whew! Take a break :O)

How I met the Tuk-Tuk in Hyderabad

I am so bored of autos but then they are my lifeline. In my first stint in Hyderabad, this was a life-saver literally. Of course I am not disclosing the princely amount I paid as fares. A lil’ familiarity with types and kinds and areas, saves you a paltry fortune. Company cabs saved much of the groping in the dark. Then, there was a sincere share for the auto guy for the weekend programmes. And Hyderabad does not have a pre-paid system, so the transgressions are expected.

The other long term solution was to stay close to well-connected places. The bus numbers and destinations often don’t match, there is a hell of a difference when one letter is not matched with the desired number - there is a 127K,J,N,P and I don’t remember the others. The city planning and roads beat me, they have a wired pattern, Road no. 1 runs next to 10 and 12. So autos are the safest option to reach where you want without getting scalded.

Some auto-guys are amazing, I tell you! No one ever spoke so politely, with “achchi baat hai” and “ok, madam”. There are also others who won't think twice that their balls could get crushed when they vomit “kahan se aya re”.

My first auto-ride in Hyderabad happened in Ameerpet while house-hunting four winters ago. The guy took us round and round like David’s sling till he forgot how much he had to fleece from us. In fact he was planning to take some of us on  a Hyderabad darshan, like we paid attention.

How I met the Tuk-Tuk

This tuk-tuk is a funny 3-wheeler with that grunting snout. It looked like a hooded scooter for specially abled people. In my part of the world, an auto rickshaw was unheard of until recently when they decided to introduce as a novelty item. Hilly terrain, meandering roads, lovely dales - we’d rather walk and feel the breeze. The first time I saw one such 3-wheeler ‘auto’ other than my made-in-Japan Daito tricycle was in Guwahati.  I just don’t agree with buses and more so, the drivers. They just toss you around like omelettes and the omelettes also throw up sometimes.

I adored autos because I dint have to take the buses and it was faster than the more eco-friendly but slower cycle-rickshaw. It comes at a premium - meters are always tampered, they are the ‘raj’. We all know about the flexi dimensional squeezes, lap one on top of the other, never mind. Every active male gave bum company to the driver in front, even though half in mid-air suspension with annoying pins and needles sensations if the road is delightfully bumpy.

There were those days when auto rides were nightmarish, if you got stuck in a local flood, and a neighbouring vehicle carelessly spluttered mud on your clothes. Also, it is never worthwhile to travel in an auto during the monsoon, you pay to get drenched. I have also seen autos involved in messy accidents because someone was rash, in most cases the auto-drivers themselves. They can and have turned turtle, you can imagine the rest.

Auto Chronicles

I always wanted to chronicle all my bitter-sweet amazing  auto experiences, however mundane they may seem to anyone. I have always enjoyed my auto rides in this city. It's the next best thing that can happen to a single woman (no, but I am engaged  to be engaged) in a big city who does not how to drive, has not made much effort to learn how to drive and does not have  that 24/7 kinda boyfriend or fiance who would double up as a willing driver, thanks to so many XYZ factors. 

Ok, so learning how to manoeuvre a 2-3-4 wheeler was/is never in my agenda. I come from the city of the princely pines - Shillong, where walking forever is a dream. I was forced to take the bus and the Maruti 800-cabs only during exams, not because I had to but because Papa wanted to accompany and travel in peace. Yes, the grand Ambassador taxis were phased out due to "old age" and they were stylishly replaced by the Maruti 800 cabs - 5-7 rupees is still the standard fare. Autos were introduced for plain-er areas, but I have seen them struggle gallantly up the winding hills. Oh, how adorable they looked from behind! You know, my sister refused to travel home in the quintessential auto-rickshaw during a Dussera outing, saying it would not do justice to her formal clothes. I guffawed!

My folks don't think it is a good idea for me to start driving in Hyderabad, they are paranoid about rash and reckless driving. They think there is enough short-temper heritage and legacy I carry that won't be a comfortable proposition. So, one more reason why I have not learned driving.

Overheard a conversation at work why one particular lady never learnt driving, her loving husband vowed that it would be a dream to see his wife dropped to work in a chauffeur-driven car. He fulfilled his vow and lives his dream. His wife is happy. So, she has her reasons not to learn driving. Cute.

It was and used to be very romantic to have a loved one come to pick you up for a romantic and quiet evening far from the madd(en)ing crowd. As both parties involved grow into it, there is the greater need for practicality, like avoiding traffic snarls and saving time and hassles. It does take away a chunk of the charm but unconditional love, affection and acceptance  and I say - "Remember the auto-guys?"

So here's to a series dedicated to my ever dependable autowallahs.