I had been, quite often, the victim of defaulted and heated Auto Fare meters. For taking me from the Central Railway Station to Egmore Railway Station, the distance being less than 2 km, an auto-driver had once fleeced me for a hefty amount. I was then a novice to the metro. To justify the exorbitant rate, the driver went through remote streets and an alley, made several ‘U’ turns and detours before dropping me at my destination.
Impolite and rude behavior, demanding unreasonable fares from the gullible passengers even for short trips, badmouthing them in the metro slang during journeys and above all abject violation of traffic rules were always synonymous with some rogue auto-drivers. I don’t, however, imply that all auto-drivers are unscrupulous, since the majority do their job in a professional and honest way.
But that was a month ago. Well, a lot of water has flowed into the Cooum River [the urban river of Chennai is now one of the dirtiest water bodies in the metro] since then. The spectacle I witnessed yesterday while travelling in an auto left me agape with wonder and bewilderment. Amazingly, the vehicle went along swiftly, but smoothly as the driver, conscious of my comfort, drove his auto carefully, avoiding the speed bumps, potholes, and heaps of sand and gravel placed at the sides of the road.
I was surprised when I glanced around my seat. It was clean and tidy. I got a whiff of scent. The driver must have sprayed some perfume, I thought. Hal-a-dozen water bottles were stuffed in a makeshift rack behind the passenger seat. The FM radio was on, but it wasn’t blaring as it used to be in the majority of the other autos. It played softly; pleasing to the ear. Hanging from the door frame was a pouch full of complimentary tissue paper.
‘Feeling thirsty, sir? Like to have tender coconut or coffee? I’ll take you to a good kiosk on the way.’ The driver spoke good English. He smiled too. I didn’t answer him since I was in a trance unable to piece together the reasons behind the sudden change in the machine and the man.
‘Who brought such a perceptible metamorphosis in these ‘moving tyrannies? When did this phenomenon take place? Is it a reality or am I dreaming?’ Volley of thoughts swarmed me as I was sitting speechless. ‘Your destination, sir’, the driver stirred me out of my dream. I got down; he checked the meter and told me the fare. It was only twenty rupees. I stood dumb-stuck thinking how many times I had paid 80 rupees to drivers for the same distance.
After settling the fare, I still stood unmoved, staring at the driver and thinking how anacondas could suddenly become earth worms. Reading my mind, the driver pitched in again. ‘I know what’re you thinking, sir.’ He said with an ingratiating smile. ‘Yes, we’re now a changed lot as we had undergone a training programme. A Good Samaritan college took some of us to their campus recently and taught us spoken English and etiquette; we were also imparted how to interact pleasantly with the passengers. A week’s training there completely changed us from quarreling and fleecing fellows to persons of exemplary manners. Before long, you’ll see all the auto-wallahs a refined and reformed lot.’
I felt extremely happy and shook hands with the driver. ‘Your makeover is the 8th wonder of the world. My thanks to those persons who fine tuned you? Every auto driver needs to realize that he is part of a service industry and any form of misbehavior will reflect badly on the image of his tribe." I commented, moving away from the driver.
Dissipated was my enthusiasm when I learned, after a few days, that all the fine tuned auto-wallahs were compelled to become autocrats once again. The Vetal [Betaal] has since disentangled himself from the King Vikrama’s back and flew back to the tree. Campus training for a host of auto drivers was stopped abruptly due to the intervention of one or two Auto Unions. They scuttled such a praiseworthy project assuming that people who were used to ride those ‘civilized’ autos would avoid travelling in other autos which, by all means, would trigger a down-slide in their daily collections.
It’s a piquant situation and prompted me to think about what China commented about the functioning of Indian democracy: “Why does India’s democracy fail to bring more effective rule of law but instead allows the worst facets of traditions to flourish and thus severely restricts India’s modernization to this day. This is a question that deserves thought from the Indian elite.”
Image courtesy: Google.