The Auto Rickshaw Diaries

Indians have a love-hate relationship with the auto rickshaw. The love comes from the incredible convenience afforded by the 3-legged black-and-yellow creature. In just about any city, one can very easily hail an ‘auto’ (as it is fondly referred by most Indians) and be on your merry way to whichever part of the city you wish to go.

So where does the hate come from? It’s complicated. In several cities, it has become routine for auto drivers to demand a fixed (marked up) fare even though the city regulations expressly forbid it. This is particularly annoying to visitors or residents who are new to the city. Due to the peculiar (or, as some detractors might say ‘insidious’) curvature of the auto’s front, a skilled auto driver (believe me, they all possess this skill!) can weave in and out of the narrowest gaps in traffic. The end result is that they are a major source of traffic problems. Years ago, I used to think they were the sole cause but I now believe that SUVs like Toyota Innova and Mahindra Scorpio are bigger culprits.

My personal tryst with autos began in 1983 when we had moved to Vizag from Bokaro. On some popular routes, the Vizag autos even had a per-passenger fare in order to maximize their fare. In the 80’s, I don’t believe these autos even had meters installed but it might have changed now.

I expect this to be a living breathing post so I will be adding more anecdotes and media pertaining to autos. For starters, check out this short video of a Good Samaritan auto driver helping out another auto whose engine’s potency has been adversely affected. Sunil (our driver) tells me that this towing (really “pushing”) technique is not uncommon.

My friend Soumya (who returned to India from America 8 years ago) sent me the following picture of Vicky Baba’s auto in Bombay. Some sixth sense seems to have alerted him to the fact that someone was taking a picture of his beloved dhanno (name of Basanti’s horse in the timeless Bollywood classic Sholay). Soumya writes an interesting and witty travel blog at http://soumya.org.

Baap Ka Baap (that's Father of Father in Hindi)

Vicky Baba – Baap Ka Baap

Apparently Soumya and I are not alone in our fascination with the Indian auto rickshaw. Priyanka Khot from Delhi waxes eloquent on “the first love of her adult life – my hero – the Auto-Rickshaw in her blog post I Miss Auto-Rickshaws.

Stay tuned since this is merely the beginning of The Auto Rickshaw Diaries.

The first week in Bangalore

“I want to go to Bangalore, Mommy”, declared Sanat three days after we reached Bangalore. He knew, of course,¬†that we had reached Bangalore but what he was trying to say is that while he really enjoyed the last month of traveling, he was ready to settle into our new place. “Soon, beta“, we reassured him. The Adobe guest house is a very well-furnished 4-bedroom flat – we were alloted 2 bedrooms which is making for comfortable living. The first (larger) room became the family bedroom and the second room doubled as our study and the kids’ playroom. Suraj, caretaker and awesome cook, has been churning out a steady stream of culinary goodness – bless him!

Among the first things we noticed about Bangalore was the traffic decibels. I scratched my head. Why did it seem like drivers were honking more than usual? It should sound just like any other Indian metro, right? I then recalled seeing the following road sign in Delhi – “Do not honk. Violators will be fined.” At that time, I thought it was one of millions of Indian laws & signs that were routinely ignored. Apparently, it has worked at least partially because I could tell the difference in traffic volumes between Delhi and Bangalore. A web search for delhi honking ban yielded the following top article (dated 2002):¬†Honking ban for Delhi drivers.

A funny thing happened on Monday morning (August 17). The folks at Adobe were expecting me to join that morning while I thought my join date was a week away (Aug 24). So I strolled in wearing my Birkenstocks to say HI to my HR contacts. Adobe was fine with me joining on Aug 24 but the HR manager suggested that if I joined on Aug 17 and worked reduced hours, I might get a lot of great leads and advice from my new colleagues. Totally made sense. I’m glad I listened to him because that’s exactly what happened the entire week. Between schools, apartments, and which cars to buy, I was getting a ton of leads from my colleagues – in the hallways, cafeteria, and in between business meetings.

The first four days whizzed away pretty quickly with a rhythm. I’d go to work for 2-3 hours in the morning, return home to lunch with the family. The kids would take their afternoon nap and my afternoon session was 3-4 hours. I’d return around 4:30pm and the family would clamber aboard an auto to zip over to that evening’s destination. One of the apartment communities we liked a lot is Raheja Residency in Koramangala. Turns out we know 4 different folks who live there. On Friday, I took the day off to hit the school pavements in the morning, and a whirlwind apartment community tour in the afternoon (organized by a broker whom we enlisted). What an eventful day that was. Stay tuned for the following posts:

(Oct 17: Updated with link to The curious case of the ‘traveling’ chairman)