I do not drive and my life depends on the phrase “Bhaiya Meter Se Chalo.” Of course I add “please” after that dreaded phrase and keep my fingers crossed, hoping that ‘Bhaiya’ will relent .
Once I actually said this phrase to a radio taxi driver and he looked at me with such sympathy that I almost felt the ride was going to be free. My notoriety on this meter fascination has gotten me into huge debates. I have taken this meter issue to a different level. If I could, I would make all airlines have a meter running and charge passengers based on distance covered by the meter, comfort tax aside.
In my mind you should spend the same amount of money if you are travelling to Honolulu in economy class, regardless of which airline or which airport it lands. I was once offered 350 euros to swap to a flight that landed in Lintas instead of my original one which landed in Malpensa. I took the money then but on a pragmatic note –“Bhaiyya Meter se Chalo!” It was the same city more or less, after all!
But for now let me stick to my favorite metered vehicle – the mighty auto and its driver, the autowala.
Every time I sit in an auto, I look for an innovative reason to my suggestion of a fare charged as per the meter. Every time I get different answers.
“Madam, your route is out of the way, so no meter.”
“There is a traffic jam from 6 – 7 on this road, so no meter.”
“You work in an IT firm (my bag brands me here), how does it matter if you pay more.”
When I was inexperienced, I used to fret and fume and deliver huge unsolicited lecture on how they are dishonest, on how I do not get a penny extra at work by just asking and how that applied to them. My final straw always being the threat of the cops.
Today, after being in autos in Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and now Bangalore, I am some kind of a connoisseur. I know a good auto guy from a bad one. I know the ones who itch to talk and share their insights on politics, corruption, weather and children. I know the ones who love Rajnikant and the ones who like to read newspapers. So far I have been privileged since I have rarely seen a horrible side of an auto driver.
An auto driver once asked me if I could buy him an Orange Candy while I had stopped him to buy myself a Chocobar, yet another had warned me about the dangers of women travelling at night .
One profound auto driver once told me that he forgives rash drivers since he knows that he is a good driver and his cautious driving actually saves 2 – 3 people a day on the streets, every day.
The most intriguing auto anecdote is when as a hosteller I hitched from point A to point B one day. I stood on the streets, under the hot sun with a raised thumb for my last leg of travel, to reach my friends’ house for a group study. Cars did not stop, an auto stopped by.
I told the driver that I was hitching and did not want to pay him. He insisted that I sit in his auto. I did and he drove towards my destination. I gloated that finally I had managed to get a free ride off the moochers. It seemed like a revenge for mankind.
Suddenly he stopped and turned towards me and handed me 7 rupees. I was shocked and did not quite understand what was going on. He looked at me with a stern face, handed me the coins and told me that I should take a bus from the bus stop he had parked at.
I did not know whether I should feel humiliated and huff out of the auto or whether to sacrifice my movie money and hand it to him as fare, just so he knows that I was not short of cash.
But he sat me down and gave me his thoughts on how hitching should be avoided, how people could be monsters and so on. I was getting late and besides he looked earnest and elderly so to respect his wishes and make time, I took the 7 bucks and took the bus while he waited to watch me board.
Now millions of years later while I look at an auto driver and tell him, “Bhaiyya Meter Se Chalo,” and he says “no” or “ 20 rupees extra” I do not grudge him that and board thinking of the 7 rupees and perhaps a trauma free life I owe to one of them .Whether on a meter or on 20 bucks extra, on a good day, I hope he shares his thoughts on Global Warming, World Hunger, Peace and who knows perhaps Analytics.