Once upon a time, haggling with the driver of a jutka (a horse drawn carriage) used to be the favorite macho pastime for the Bangalore males. This haggling would safely take place after the passengers reached their destination, thus putting the driver in a less advantageous position.
But as motorized vehicles particularly auto rickshaws, took over the roads of Bangalore, the participants in the business also changed. Now at least some of the women folk can be found questioning the auto driver, consulting the chart and generally thrashing out the issue of fare and route.
The Chennai auto drivers have a standard demand, “Meter mele randu rooba pottu kudu”
(Give two Rs extra over and above the meter fare).Though Bangalore auto rickshaws do not follow this, they have many other methods of harassing the passengers. Prepaid auto drivers not only have a way of conniving with the booth keepers, they also
claim that they have been cheated by the passengers by quoting a nearer drop point and thus forcing them to drive extra. If the passenger happens to be a stranger to Bangalore or if she is not a routine commuter, the driver takes her by a round about route and tries to charge extra. This is also facilitated by the fact that Bangalore roads have a way of switching over to ‘one way’ overnight.
Unless the passengers (mostly ladies) are aggressive, the driver really takes them for a ride and manages to get away with his subterfuges to make an extra buck.
But recently, we were very happy to hear that an auto driver met more than his match in one of his passengers.
The lady in her early ’70 s was, basically a Kannadiga and was educated in Andhra and had settled down in North India. So she was naturally fluent not only in all the South Indian languages (except Malayalam) but in Urdu/Hindi also. Single and fiercely independent, she had developed a tough, no nonsense attitude to survive in the man’s world. Moreover, having founded a school and heading it, she was used to getting lot of respect and implicit obedience from the people under her.
On one of her visits to Bangalore, she clad smartly in handloom Salwaar Kameez happened to take an auto from Jayanagar to High grounds. She was not aware that it was mandatory for auto drivers to display a framed certificate giving their names, number, auto number, address etc with a photograph and to hang it where it was visible to the passenger.
As they approached city market area, she found him taking a route to which she was not used to. So she asked him in Kannada, “ Yaake suttu daari thegondree. Nayraage hogbaudittu” (Why did you take the round about route? You could have taken the straight one ). The driver brought the auto to a dead stop, turned back towards her and said curtly, “Ileeri, kelage ileeri” (Get down, get down from the auto). From his face and accent she could make out that he was a urdu/Hindi person and so she said, “ Kyon, Maine tumhe gaali diya kya? Main nahin utroongi.” (Why, did I badmouth you? I won’t get down). The driver said, “suttu, suttu boltha hai. Gaali nahin to kya” (you say suttu, suttu. Isn’t it a gaali?). The lady continued in Hindi,” I am a bonafide passenger who has hired your vehicle to take me to my destination. It is your duty to reach me there. Otherwise, either take me to the police station or give me the police telephone number. I shall see that you are fined and put behind bars. (At this time she was not aware that the police tel no. is same all over India.) But I am not getting down.”
The auto driver nonchalantly got out and sat on a road side parapet. Five minutes passed, ten minutes and even fifteen minutes. Neither of them budged an inch, neither the passenger in the auto nor the driver sitting on the parapet.
A man who was watching all this from a distance approached the lady and asked her as to what the trouble was. She explained the whole thing to him and asked for the police tel. no. Another lady who was waiting nearby for the city bus also corroborated her story. The man walked over to the auto driver and asked him in Kannada, “Why are you so adamant? The lady is bent upon reporting you to the police. Once you are taken to the police station, they deal with you mercilessly since you are failing your commitment to a lady and it is a lady who is giving the complaint. You better yield and take her in your auto.” The driver said, “Ask her to take another auto and go.” The lady told the well meaning ‘middle’ gentleman, “Tell him I am willing to take another auto and go provided this fellow agrees to my conditions. First, he should flag down the new auto for me. Secondly he should carry my suitcase and put it into that new auto. Thirdly, he should forgo the amount displayed in his meter (Rs 24) for the distance he has brought me.” All this was conveyed to the auto driver. By now he seemed to have come from his high horse a step or two down probably due to all the talk about police, fine and ‘behind bars’.
He called an auto, (he must have given him a cock and bull story to the new driver about a break down), carried the lady’s suitcase and deposited it in. Then and then only the lady got down from the first auto and continued her journey by the second.
With the audacity displayed by the auto rickshaw drivers. it becomes imperative that all the ladies show gumption and hold their ground. Are they capable of doing it?