What is the one advantage/ disadvantage we suburbanites have over our townie counterparts? It is of having the pleasure/ irritation of having access to an added mode of transport called 'AUTO'(rickshaw). I give it mixed reactions because that's what it is.. A blessing in a curse.. because they are almost everywhere like a necessary evil as they are as much wanted as unwanted. They are fast, convenient, cheap and easily available. They are also the cause for traffic jams, rowdy behaviour and noise pollution. Yet, they are still the preferred choice between a bus and a cab.
Having travelled by autos all my life gives me (and almost everyone) the right to have an opinion on the drivers who man these vehicles. They fall in various categories...
1 The young, just initiated, over enthusiastic ones whose autos are 'dhinchak' (decorated trophies) with colourfull streamers and loud posters and always have ear numbing music blaring, announcing their arrival and exit in to every lane much to the annoyance of all present. You can only imagine the auto driver - a young lad, a caricature of his favourite action hero getting the whole look bang on including the tight trousers and scarf around the neck (which could also be used to strangle him in case he gets too much.)
2 Then comes the older generation – this type is usually sedate and quiet, but will perk up if you happen to mention politics, state of roads or economy etc, he will start a monologue without waiting for a response so you can get back to looking at your phone or whatever. This will continue till you pay him off at the end of the ride and if you happen to look back, maybe you will still find him talking to himself.
3 Everyone is united in their hatred for the unfortunately common type who will slow down when you flag them down, will be chewing tobacco, have a surly expression (as if they would much rather be anywhere but in that auto) will wait for you to mention your destination and when you are still speaking' will pause, spit out snake of red saliva which will miss you narrowly, shake their head and speed off. It's like they get a pleasure out of saying NO. You are left quite frustrated wondering what happened. I curse them for wasting my time and raising my hopes (which is quite often) without fail.
4 We also have Mumbai’s own Evil Kneivels - these type are my least favourite. They drive like their life is in an emergency mode and the devil is chasing them.
They have to get somewhere urgent (only don't know where).Or else they think they are replacements for M Schumacher (F1). You start praying as soon as you get in, they drive at breakneck speed, all your pleas to slow down are scoffed at and eyeballs are rolled, and the race begins. Zig zag, up and down, your insides are churned around, as you look wildly around to get him to slow down or jump to your death. He stops only once he reaches your destination and you have never been so happy or relieved and any lecture on safe, slow driving is snubbed as he goes looking for his next victim.
5 If you're really unlucky you will get one who is all the above rolled into one. Imagine to your horror you stop an auto with loud blaring music, which has a bratty over the top driver who has all intention of killing you or at least landing you in the closest hospital with his break neck speed. This is a rare specie and before you happen to encounter do please make your will and say a silent prayer (But sadly you will - at least once in your life time and if you are cursed then maybe a couple of times)
6 One of my favourites, however, are the drivers who have converted their autos into miniature school vans, like a mini jail all barred, they ferry children to and fro to school. It’s sometimes funny to see kids all piled up chattering nineteen to a dozen, and the auto fellow merrily enjoying the ride with loud music blaring. Sometimes they even chat up the kids and make them revise basic maths, colours and rhymes doubling up as a tuition teacher much to the moms delight.
In the era of Uber, Ola etc. – these autos are still firmly holding their ground. They regularly give older yellow and black taxis a run for their money, for who else can break every single traffic rule ever invented, swim through the immobile mass that is traffic in Mumbai, to help you make your appointments on time?
Love them, or hate them - there is simply no ignoring them!