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Taxi to the Light Side

Don’t take the bus. Do take the metro. Don’t agree to the initial fare demanded by the autowalla. Do haggle and bring it down.

When my friend ‘R’ came to visit me from Sydney last month, I gave her this list of dos and don’ts of travelling on Delhi’s public transport. I also coached her on the best ways to tackle every excuse in the ‘autowalla book of absurd reasons’.

Autos or a three-wheelers are a popular mode of transport in India, a lot like the tuk-tuks of Bangkok, both being notorious for overcharging passengers.

So imagine my shock when ‘R’ flapped a ‘trip receipt’ in my face, apparently given by an autowalla at the end of her journey. He had not over charged, not taken any roundabout routes to reach the destination, not made any excuses to refuse the ride and not demanded any ‘tips’.

R’s my best friend and I do believe her all the time, but when it comes to the autowalla such acts are unbelievable. The receipt, however, was hard-to-ignore evidence. It had the date, time of journey, distance travelled and the total fare. This wasn’t right, I almost snorted.

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A week later, ‘P’, my next door neighbor and occasional badminton partner at the local court, told me a heart wrenching story. The autowalla she had hired not only sought accurate directions for the destination (‘P’ as usual was clueless and google navigation-less), but also took less money than what the meter showed since he had missed a turn and had to double-back. I told her it was a figment of her imagination!

Do such things even exist? Ideally they shouldn’t, especially when one has spent hours, nay, years refining the ‘art’ of hassle free auto journeys in the capital of India.

So yesterday when I flagged an auto down and he didn’t even want to know the destination beforehand, my heart sank. He just signaled me to hop in, switched on the meter and then asked: “Where to, Madam?”

At that moment, my world came crumbling down. This was the beginning of the end!

When one has worked so hard perfecting unique ways of dealing with the myriad excuses autowallas come up with to refuse fares, is it any wonder that their desire to become ‘perfect public transporters’ would leave me heartbroken?

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Once this auto driver said: “Forty rupees madam, meter rate I swear.” I knew that was double the usual fare. When I refused, he said that no other autowalla would take me for less. I tricked the next one by offering to pay an extra tenner if he went by the meter. It worked! Although I paid higher than the meter, it wasn’t double.

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Another time, it was pretty late in the evening and when I was finally able to flag down an empty auto it plainly refused. The autowalla stated that it was late and he had to get home. Even when the traffic policeman threatened to take away his driving licence (oh, my hero!) the autowalla stood his ground. I had to call a cab that day!

On one occasion I spent fifteen minutes explaining to the autowalla how difficult it was to manage high auto fares while paying steep rentals in Delhi. He agreed to go by the meter and I spent the entire journey learning about his four kids, their education and how his wife makes the best aloo parathas (flat bread stuffed with potato filling and shallow fried)! Fun, right?

Such interesting days seem numbered, though. Going by what P and R have told me, my own recent experience and news flying in from friends and friends-of-friends on Facebook and WatsApp, autowallas seem to have turned ‘super-professional’, taking away all the fun out of riding autos.

Today when I stepped out, wondering if it was even worth flagging an auto down, one stopped near me. I half-heartedly told him where I wanted to go, expecting the boring professionalism. But when he thought about it for a whole minute and then shook his head saying he did not have enough gas to reach that place, my heart got a lift! The next one refused because he had to pick up some stuff from somewhere. My smile was back! The third said his meter was faulty, the fourth wanted to grab lunch first, the fifth just said ‘NO’! No excuses, no reasons, just the first right of refusal.

The universe was back to normal.

Jayati is a freelance writer who loves to explore books, eateries, nooks and crannies. While sipping endless cappuccinos, she brags about her discoveries at: ginovertonic.com

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