Saturday, March 25, 2006

Meter Down: Living as an Auto-Wallah.

(Norah or Ned?)
Couple of days back I watched a program on TV about the author of the book "Self-Made Man", Norah Vincent. The book chronicles the 18 months Norah spent posing as a man, Ned. In her own words, Norah wanted to know "what it means to be a man". With her buddies on the bowling league she enjoyed the rough and rewarding embrace of male camaraderie undetectable to an outsider. A stint in a high-octane sales job taught her the gut-wrenching pressures endured by men who would do anything to succeed. She frequented sex clubs, dated women hungry for love but bitter about men, and infiltrated all-male communities as hermetically sealed as a men's therapy group, and even a monastery. After living as Ned for 18 months, Vincent's overall finding was that being a man is no better or easier than being a woman. Men, she tells us, have problems, fears, and societal pressures, too. Vincent decrees that the only emotion that society allows men is anger.

Fascinating stuff, isn't it? While it's the first study of its kind introduced to me, quite a few such studies have resulted in similar books. For example, Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin - he spent some time as a black in New Orleans to study racial discrimination closely; Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich - a study about millions of Americans working for poverty-level wages, working as one. I haven't read any of these book, but would love to.

I don't know what they call this kind of journalism; its not a sting operation, its not a routine interview-story. Whatever it is, I would love to see something similar in India. I had a thought some days back about the auto-rickshaw wallahs & how their lives turn out to be. It would be very interesting to spend some time as an auto-wallah & then share those experiences. Auto-wallahs do live an interesting life. They work mostly at odd & tiring hours; they interact with tens of different people daily. Its interesting, but definitely not an easy life. I'm sure they have their share of anxieties & problems. And one have to literally be in their shoes to know them. So far, Bangalore's auto-wallahs haven't left a very good impression on me. Most of them would haggle endlessly for money (outside the metered charges), they drive like manics & their autos are perhaps the biggest contributors towards the pollution in the city. I hope they have some kind of explaination for such a coarse behaviour, otherwise after spending some time as a autowallah, all that would come out would be - "Oh! They just love to be jerks".

May be the driving seat of an auto isn't very comfortable, thus causing the maniacal driving. Or perhaps they all suffer from some kind of mental disorder, so they consider themselves the kings of the roads (Long Live the King, rest get insured). Perhaps its all just some kind of inferiority complex - "haha! Earn as much as you want, we'll still haggle with you for chutta paisa". They could have some sort of Auto Wallahs' Book of World Records - "Manjunath drove from MG Road to Airport in record 12.37 minutes, killing just two pedastrains in the process" Or "Anees Abbas bumped into record 212 cars in the first week of buying his Auto". They might have some kind of gangsters, who'd torture the good natured auto-wallahs, who behave nicely with passengers & take the exact amount. "Chutta chahiye to pehle us aadmi se chutta le ke aao, jis ne mere haath pe ye likh diya - Mera Baap Imaandar Auto Wallah Hai Tha" or "Shyamlal, bahut imaandar banta hai na, ye dekh - teri biwi aur teri beti ko humne juke box se latka diya hai. Ya to tu passenger ko chutta de de ya jukebox mein chutta daal ke inko bacha le".

Whatever it is, I want to know it. Perhaps, I will spend sometime as an auto-wallah some day :-)


Raj said...

I think a BMTC bus driver's life is far more interesting. He must feel so superior sitting so high above the others. He also must know how to run fast n hide in case he runs over people and a mob is looking for him :D

rachana said...

IITian autowala! Hope u will choose to be a good autowala and won't harrase ur costmer for chutta paisa..

Varun Singh said...

@Raj: Steward in some airlines was another idea I had. Bus Driver bhi mast idea hai ;-)

@Rachana ji: I'm not going to play the game by my rules :-D

Poxy said...

Just read a quote someplace today: "While the rest of India drives on the left of the road, Bangloreans drive on what is left of the road"..
Maybe the sheer frustation of driving in every little conceivable lane that ends being called a "Main" and endless waiting at every traffic junction with the BMTC buses blowing hot fumes into your face, day after day, may make these autowallahs vent their anger on people like you and me !

Vivek Kumar said...

Uh.. may be the auto-wallah is really poor.. and that small change is big money for him.

When I was a kid.. one rupee was big money for me.. when I started earning.. the threshold has risen.

May be we can have an index for people.. what is the maximum amount of money, the loss of which won't bother you much?

For me.. I think it is about Rs. 50/-

Varun Singh said...

@Vivek: Of course, but would you haggle with some one for that extra 50/-? While you know that doesn't belong to you, but if you pain them you might get it. I don't think so.