“Meter se chalengi to aapko rasta batana padega ” ….. It was the high point of the day for me . It had been an awesome weekend at Delhi but the autorickshaw saga had gone too far now and I burst out
” Accha agar meter off kar doge to tumhari yadaasht wapas aa jaayegi …..” .
The autowaala mellowed ” Nahi madam ji … jo log meter se jaate hai unhe raasta pata hota hai” .My voice had gone haywire now and all three of us insisted that we would take another auto. It was 7:30 PM in the evening and we were outside a posh mall in VasantKunj . A place frequented by owners of chaffeur driven cars. I desperately wanted to get an auto and get out of that otherwise uninhabited area. We took a quick decision to take an auto to the nearest metro station ‘cos none of us knew the way back and it was getting dark. A city where a college girl gets shot in broad daylight on Women’s Day ; I sure wasn’t feeling good about being stuck at that place.
If you think that it was the end of several arguments with autorickshaw drivers , well the worst and perhaps the most provoking was still to come. We succeeded in intimidating the autowaala enough to find another auto for us and we headed to the metro station.Both my friends and I were visibly annoyed by the whole ‘auto’ inconvenience.
Let me recapitulate the events of that day before I come to what finally instigated me to blog this. I reached Delhi on Saturday to spend the weekend with my old college friend who now works in a prestigious Medical College in Delhi as a pathologist. The plan was to see the Mughal Gardens and catch up the movie Black Swan if possible. I lived in Delhi earlier for approximately two years but I hardly travelled in autos … metro rail was the saving grace and I never failed to carry the metro card. The most scary/amusing incident was when we hired an auto and the two tonne weighing sardar ji drove the auto like a meandering river. It was when a fellow autowalla yelled at the sardar ji at the traffice signal ..” Sardar ji tussi so rahe ho !!!!! ” that our hearts came to our mouths. The rest of the journey we looked for another auto to swap to but failing to find one we kept tapping that vast expanse of his back to keep him awake. But dearest sardar ji after reaching the destination, non- apologetically fought with us for an excessive payment.While we thanked for reaching alive we also pointed out that ” Hell, you almost killed us …. and you don’t even have a meter !! “. Yes the good old meter… either it’s missing or out of order.
Anyways I was to face the ego dimension and defiance potential of the meter on this saturday afternoon. We found an auto and the salt-pepper haired driver switched on the meter for our journey to the Mughal Gradens. On reaching there we discovered that we reached past the closing time. Though a bit dissapointed we decided we will visit next day and promptly searched for another auto to Cannaught Place so that we can perhaps catch the movie. Coincidentally we found the same autorickshaw- walla again. My friend made a good humored narration of the goof up and asked for CP. As we boarded again , the autowalla refused to start the meter this time and demanded 30 bucks. Both of us did not like this and further insisted. He refused to budge and thinking it to be a measure to make him change his mind I used the old bargain trick and said ” In that case we can find another auto”. Well it fizzled out. To our great surprise he didn’t argue and went away without a ‘sawari’.
The next twenty minutes were spent in searching for another auto on the road in front of Rashtrapati Bhawan. Either they did not have meters or they refused to use it. My friend was tempted to complain to the policemen standing on that road. I kind of refrained . I must confess I never feel trusting of the policemen somehow. She finally thought of going without the meter and bargain for the fare but in vain.
My friend by now had started regretting leaving the 30 buck fare rickshaw.Thankfully we weren’t shamed for our stand as we finally found a autowalla who was law abiding and non-argumentive . When we reached CP the meter said Rs. 32. I wondered why did the old man did not switch on the meter ? All I could gather was may be a demand of switching on the meter caused ego trauma. Besides the fact that the autorickshaw guys blatantly refused to abide by the rules right under the nose of the head of the republic was astounding. After the goof up and the meter arguments we were lucky to catch the movie and rest of the evening passed by discussing the psychodrama Black Swan and the intense potrayal by Natalie Portman.
Sunday morning arrived and we headed for Mughal gardens as planned. Another friend joined us that day.So all three of us walked out of the campus and found an autorickshaw making sure that we hired the one that used a meter. As we have this small conversation, I tell my new friend about the auto hassel of the other day. I had really not suspected that there was more in store. This autowalla took a wrong turn and we realised he had no clue how to reach India Gate. It was then he confessed he didn’t know the way. The meter was ticking and we were wandering about the roads , stopping by every now and then on the roadside for the way. Perhaps then I realised why the autowalla did not create a fuss over the meter . He knew we are going to wander more then required.The annoyance was doubled by cars stopping beside our auto to enquire the way. I wondered if it was an amnesic sunday or was it a day when all geographically challeged people decided to measure the streets.I was still amused at the whole thing while my friends, more adept with dealing with auto wallas, argued with him.
” Madamji pehele blue line bus driver tha… wahan se hata diya to auto chalane lage …..”
“Ouch !! Blue line bus driver!!!” yeah explains it .. I thought. By the time we finally reached the Gardens I lost count of the number of people who gave us directions and those who were conveyed that ”we are lost too.. sorry cant help”. The meter had risen to double the actual fare and we had another silly argument. The sea of people flooding the Mughal Gardens on that hot afternoon again forced us to change our plans and we landed at the Promenade mall at Vasantkunj to watch a movie.
Coming back to where I started.The metro ride from Vasantkunj was uneventful. We tried to dodge the final auto ride by looking for a rickshaw puller instead. Since we were three of us and none ‘zero’ sized we dropped the idea . The final autowalla as expected first demaned the fare at his discretion and then started the meter after an argument .As expected after switching on the meter he said “Rasta apako hi batana hoga”. By now my friends were in the area they frequently travelled and they confidently agreed. But the autowallas ego worked again and he took a longer route despite the directions given. This was the breaking point for me.I gave him a bashing and continued talking with my friends in an uninterrupted flow of english (mainly) and hindi directed to the driver. My voice truly revealed the sheer annoyance of two days of arguments over something that should be a rule.Truly flabberghasted by the level of defiance that didn’t even consider the President’s accomodation. My voice had aqcuired a tone and volume that rose above the din of the traffic and the mechanical cluttering of the auto. It had even quietened the argumentative and cheeky autowalla. Perhaps he was getting an idea that we weren’t bowing to his tyranny .
“what non-sense !!! Not a single autowalla goes withpout arguing about the meter..” I spitted out the concluding sentence with a dramatic intensity.
Then I heard a effortful sentence from the autowalla…
“In Delhi only 10% people want meter”…. ahh so I get the statistics and the balme is on the people.His attidtude was abrasive and that made me bleed more angry words.
I burst out with deliberate referal to the influential people I know and all sorts of ways I am going to highlight this anarchy.. about the probable authorities I could bring this in notice to. That these two days were like an education .. that I had no clue about the non-sense that commuters had to face day in day out. I did not allow the autowalla to speak again.
When I had adequately hushed the autowalla I gave my tongue a rest but I had already made up my mind to blog about this.As we entered the campus he had an insight….
“Aap log doctors hain kya ?”
So finally he realised and what came next seemed a counter argument he had been working on for what I had earlier said that corruption is not just the big scams … it has trickled down amazingly to the grass roots …He had started blaming doctors for prescribing unecessary tests and it showed he was trying hard to justify himself.But I could hear in his voice that he was feeling sorry for his behaviour. I was not intrested in anymore argument on corruption ‘cos I did not know where the buck stops … Hell I did not know where it all starts? That moment I was hit by a different train of thoughts “Were we trying to push it too hard to look for law abiding auto drivers… will we be as idealistic and vocal when it comes to dealing with higher levels of corruption? Or is it all arbitrary … sometimes we abide … sometimes we adjust… sometimes we profess… sometimes we overlook … but sometimes .. some silly times we perhaps may learn that life is more then rules and ego and arguments.
When we finally reached the hostel the autowalla almost seemed to have a change of heart. Though that made way for another round of argument over the fare .. the apologetic autowalla was now insisting on taking Rs 20 as he demanded instead of Rs22 as the meter said (We handed him 22 and walked away ).
Much ado for rupees two … I know purely trivial and purely tamasha!!