Ram Bahadur. He has become my messiah of sorts. On dark winter foggy nights, when I step out from the warm confines of my office into the uncertainties of Delhi's roads, there he is recognising my face and offering to drop me home minus all the extra charges.

"Netaji Nagar?" He asked me the first time. I was a bit startled by the question. Stalker? Rapist? Thief? Only the negative thoughts came to mind.
"Yes, but how do you know?" I asked.
"I dropped you a month back," he replied.
"Oh, so how much?"
"The same, Rs 55," he replied.

Truth is, I don't remember paying that little an amount. Most autowallahs charge anything over Rs 60 to get me home. Night is the time when they make a killing and inflate the charges. So much so, that you hop into any auto thinking this could be the last bargain of the night.

And Ram Bahadur is exceptional. Today was my fourth ride in his auto. I found him in his favourite haunt, the tea shop down the road. I have begun to recognise his vehicle, not that I remember the number (I hate numbers) but it's just a sense. He waved at me today and said, "I was going to wait for another 10 minutes and leave," adding "lots of passengers came." I heaved a sigh of relief and jumped on to the seat, thanking him profusely. The chance meeting saved me 10 mins walk down the main road lugging my two bags of books and lunch boxes and water bottle. I do carry a picnic look at times!

Yesterday was different. I bumped into this autowallah. Old and weary looking, he was looking for someone all over the place. Out of sheer curiosity, I asked what he had lost. Then, he narrated this whole incident about how a woman passenger had no money and got into the ATM but gave him Rs 100 short. He said she seemed to be in a hurry and must have forgotten. No malice of thought! When I asked if he would take me home, he readily agreed and asked me to pay my usual fare. I was surprised. I thought he wasnt keen on making up for his loss and inflating his price, as most autowallahs do even during the day.

In the course of my conversations with them, I learnt a lot. Autos are so expensive. They cost as much as any luxury car - more than four lakh rupees. I wasn't aware. No wonder most of these drivers run on rent and make a little over Rs 300 a day. Dig deeper, it's a tough life.

In a city like Delhi, you go through a lot of trouble picking the right auto guy. There is no fair game, as nobody wants to run the metre, so it's usually a stated amount that they stubbornly stick to. I am car-less these days and I realise why everybody loves to hate the autowallahs.

But I have seen a few good hearts...


Anonymous said...

oh what a joy to find an auto driver in Delhi, out of the hordes of drivers congesting your roads, that does not want to rip you off, by charging you far in excess of usual fare and then possibly giving you change from 100 rupees.

Anonymous said...

If you think India is bad, you ain't seen nothing yet. Try Athens Greece, and you are gauranteed to be blatantly overcharged for everything and all you'll get is hostility in return. Two more overrated cities is Prague and Moscow. In Prague all you'll get from the locals is anger and discourtesy and Moscow expect to pay $25 for latte at Starbucks.

Video Interviews