Saturday, March 17, 2012

Lord Ganesha and Auto Drivers

With another hefty increase in auto fares last week, it is time to remember some auto incidents. One good thing with the current increase is that it solves the problem of finding change to pay auto bills. Minimum fare at twenty rupees is much better than the earlier seventeen rupees. Three rupees were never returned and now we can be satisfied that it has been paid legally. A hundred rupee note is the minimum requirement to get into an auto and fare is always rounded off to the nearest ten rupees. This solves the problem of searching the purse for small change. Beggars who were beneficiaries of the refunded coins also do not mind now. Their minimum acceptance level is also revised upwards and anything less than ten rupees is likely to be returned with some bad words.

Autos are in great demand on festival days. Those are the days when people moving in groups, usually their own families, stand in street corners and hoping that a vacant auto would come their way. Auto drivers also have their own families and they also have their own Lord Ganesha to worship. They are fortunate not to be bound by the list of holidays issued by the Government or an employer. Their family also needs to move around on festival days and hence they work on that day without being paid. The net result of all these is an excessive demand against a poorer supply.

Sometime back I was waiting in a street corner with a friend, who had come from another city, looking for an auto. Many vacant autos ran past us but none responded to our hailing.  He was wondering what was happening. I told him that auto licenses in Bangalore were mostly given to Physically Handicapped persons as a source providing employment to them. As the license cannot be given away to blind persons, most of them were issued to deaf persons. He appreciated the idea and said it was a very good policy and should be emulated by other cities as well. But he also wondered whether it was not a hazard as the drivers would not be able to hear the honking of the other vehicles. I told him it was not so because even those with normal hearing capacity would end up as deaf in a few years due to the abnormal level of honking in the chaotic traffic. Why not start being deaf rather than ending as deaf?  The illogical logic also appealed to him and he appreciated the idea even more. He was to be in our city for a week and got used to the system of hailing autos including shouting with outstretched hands and twisting the whole body. On the last day of the trip I offered to walk him to the street corner for finding an auto to go to railway station. He smiled and replied, "Now I know how to catch an auto. I always shout two words before announcing my destination. Like 'Double meter Jayanagar' or Double meter Malleswaram'. All auto drivers can hear such hailing even if they are otherwise deaf or pretend to be deaf. Do not worry, I will find an auto easily!".

The day veteran Kannada Cinema actor Raj Kumar died was a a nightmare for people in Bangalore, especially for those who were caught in the traffic jam. The auto in which I was sitting was near Kantheerava stadium when government decided to move the actor's body there to enable the people to pay their last respects. We were surrounded by a sea of vehicles with nowhere to go. One had to move in any direction one could find some space to move unmindful of what his destination was. Hundreds of working people, including women and aged, had to walk for miles. My auto driver procured a xerox photo of Raj Kumar by paying ten rupees from a hawker and pinned it on the wind shield. He asked me whether I was a Raj Kumar fan and I said I certainly was since the age of six. We exchanged the names of films we had seen and both of us had seen nearly all his movies. He managed to drive on footpath and anywhere there was some space to go. After three hours of moving in every possible direction he brought me to our house. He politely refused my offer of a higher fare and said it was unfair for him to accept it on a day when his beloved actor died. "I would have refused even the normal fare as a tribute to him and gone home with the pleasure of having taken one of his fans home safely. But the extra driving has consumed all the petrol in the auto. I need money for tomorrow's plying. Hence I have to accept the normal fare much against my will", he said.

Back to Ganesha festival. Some twenty five years  ago I met two auto drivers who had totally opposite view points about the festival. Early morning we set out with our two small children to reach a house where the extended family was to meet to celebrate the festival together. Autos were already in demand by that time and we managed to get one after sometime. I asked the auto driver whether he would perform Ganesha pooja. He said his wife and children demanded that he should stay back that day at home for the festival. But he wanted to be on the road to enable people to move around for their pooja rather than stay at home. As a compromise his entire family got up as early as 3 AM and finished their pooja by 6 AM so that both their wishes were fulfilled. Once pooja done, family members wanted him to join them for lunch in the afternoon. He was ready but with a rider that he will be back again on the road after lunch. His real goal was to serve as many devotees as possible to move around and celebrate the festival.

On the way back in the evening it was nearing 9 PM. We managed to hail another auto and I put the same question to this auto driver too. This man had a different outlook. He said his Ganesha was with the devotees whom he was carrying that day since 5 AM in the morning. You are the last passenger today. After dropping you I am going home. At home every one will be ready for pooja. I join them for pooja and we celebrate the festival now.  My family members have agreed for this arrangement".

Both auto drivers succeeded in satisfying the demands of their family members and yet managed to move a large number of devotees for their festival. It was nice to know that Lord Ganesha also got up very early to accept the pooja from one of them and also stayed awake late in the night to receive offerings from the other!


  1. Your real stories of Lord Ganesha's Pooja day
    viewed by two auto drivers is an illusration of how they managed to achieve serving both the
    family and the public. In my opinion they
    are truely blessed to have this attitude.
    Also having to hear this from them on the same
    day is quite an exceptional experience.

  2. My fav part was the last paragraph- indeed Lord Ganesha had a long day that day!

  3. The best auto guys i have come across are in Thane city. First thing they never say NO to come anywhere. They do not demand extra money.However they will be too happy if you say
    'keep the change. But they have one bad habit most of them.chewing paan and spitting while driving.This is irritating

  4. given a choice i prefer to walk than sit in an auto in bangalore any time due to my experience.Either you be ready to whatever he demands or otherwise

  5. Very nicely written. I would like to share my experience with an auto driver, who brought me home safely. It was one of those rainydays in Bangalore and I got into an auto and thankfully,the driver was good. We saw many trees fell on the road and nature's fury brought fear into my little heart. He did not stop anywhere, but safely brought me home. I readily paid him extra fare. I always wonder, whether the auto was God sent? But, my heart saluted him and I am ever grateful to him.

  6. Very true... I loved the part of double meter to any destination. It is almost an everyday scenario when I commute to work and the only way to avoid endless arguments. I really wonder if any of the 'virtuous auto driver cult' you came across still exist in Bangalore. Now they seem to be a near extinct race.

  7. Today, I shall play some Dr.Raj's songs on YouTube in his memory. Btw, in my experience, auto drivers from South Bangalore are definitely relatively better than the ones who are not - your second son-in-law will attest to this too.