Sunday, November 6, 2011

Black Beauties

If you ever wanted to grasp the tenets of social science, human psychology and disaster management, without actually going to college, then all you need is a ride on Gurgaon’s blazing black beauties – the shared auto-rickshaw called ‘Vikram’. It is a gift from Italy; with love.
At the end of World War II when most Italians lacked a mode a transport, Enrico Piaggio came up with the idea of a three wheeler for commoners. In the twenty first century India, visionary Rahul Bajaj introduced the shared auto as economical means of transportation. Fret not; Gurgaon will have Pod Taxis soon. Till then it’s ‘Jai Vikram’ for the cattle class commuters.

Going by their reputation, I was repeatedly cautioned by the husband and son to stay away from a shared auto. No matter what.

Because the infernal agony of finding space in the perpetually overloaded smoke spewing monster, reminds you of the erstwhile ‘fevicol’ advertisement. “Thoda adjust karo,” slogan is an awesome metaphor the Black beauties. A student from the north-east, a laborer from the east, a techie from the south and a trader from the west; all coexist in harmony reveling in the marvel called Gurgaon.

The innards of the shared auto are a place to savor, an assortment of aromas with an eclectic conglomeration of Indian diversity on the topsy-turvy roads. Once you are settled, there is no reason to sniff disparagingly as the black beauty ferries flatulent jerks, tipsy travelers, decrepit dudes and stinking souls. All with equal felicity!

The undulating ride can be a molesters dream come true. The damned potholes provide the adrenalin surge. With the predator and the prey snugly sandwiched, the black beauty expedition is an inescapable nemesis for single working women.

Even though the antiquated black beauties are synonymous with agony, they are the preferred mode of transport as they drastically reduce commuting expenses. So what if the black beauties create a dent in the veneer of sophistication for the residents with deep pockets? They can keep their BMW’s. And their Mercs. And their chauffeurs too!

The auto drivers of ‘Vikram” are an equally condemned lot. It is said that they fleece, they cheat, they over-charge and they misbehave. In short they are alleged to be ‘Haryanavi ruffians’.

One drizzly evening, when the husband was not in town and son had vanished with the car, I had to fetch test reports from the nearby nursing home. The idea was to walk the short distance, but the drizzle came in earnest. The husbands caution, “I will get the reports on my way back, don’t venture out in the rain,” did nothing to stop me. You know what? Rain does strange things to people; it brought the teenager in me. I did exactly what I was told not to. Simply, for the heck of it! Or was the writer in me looking for some adventure? I am not sure.

To start with, flagging a shared auto on the road is an art in itself. One has to shed all inhibitions, disregard the traffic mavens, and stand in the middle of the road for effective signaling. Patience, perseverance and providence, all help.

I was fortunate enough to flag an auto. And within minutes too! After promptly seeking blessings from all the God’s in the pantheon, I jumped in. I was fortunate enough to be the lone passenger.
On that particular day however, I realized that stereotyping seriously warps our judgment. Because my auto driver refrained from ferrying any other male passenger in order to make me feel safe. On reaching destination when I realized that I was short of change, the guy sheepishly said, “koi baat nahi madam, next time,” and drove off.


  1. I guess Bangalore also needs this shared auto concept..commuting is so expensive here!

  2. Alka! Congratulations for braving out the Vikram ride! You are so lucky to have escaped the nudges and leers and enjoyed the cool spray of winter rain!!

  3. nothing dared nothing gained!! :)

  4. well lets jus say every1 has their version of story to tell, you are one lucky person ;)

  5. Try more of them Alka and I'm sure you will think of a corrigendum. You have described them well, though. They are ubiquitous. I've had a fare share of them at Lucknow and for a brief year, in Patiala and of which, latter are quite a match to Gurgaon's numbers. You may not appreciate the fact but you won a lottery that day.

  6. @Ana...With petrol prices skyrocketing, metro makes sense.


    @Magiceye..Well said.


  7. @Umashankar....Yes, it was akin to winning a lottery and that is why it remained etched in the memory. I wrote this piece for a local Gurgaon newspaper. Since it got rejected, my blog was gracious enough to accept it. And of course I am lucky enough to have readers like yourself, who read me. Not because they want comments on their blog but simply because they are friends who love to encourage me. Thanks.

  8. well Yes these autos do make us suffer, but they are cheapest mode of transportation as well.

    Good to know that the one driving yours was so benevolent.

  9. :)

    They are an adventure in itself. While living in South...there was no concept of shared autos...But..out is different. Most of the times...I prefer walking...for manageable distances....I rarely have to take shared autos. And with the metros now...I do not remember the last time I took a shared auto.


  10. I was preparing myself to launch into an alarmed- Have you lost it Alka, travelling in an auto in Gurgaon where most of the auto drivers look as if they are out on a bail from Jharsa Jail

    But then you wrote about this sweet driver who defied all stereotypes :)

  11. @Kushal..Thanks for reading Kushal...Yes, I was lucky.

    @Kunal...Commuting short distances still continues to be a problem, more so if the weather is not conducive.

    @Purba...Ha, ha...True, but since the ride was so different, it remained etched in my mind. But even so, I would never venture out again.

  12. heheh Purba nice1

    nicely penned Alka:)

  13. Nice one. It is sad that the poor rickshawwallahs are all termed as those evil guys when indeed they all aren't! I had just written a blog on this very same topic. Do check it out on my blog.

  14. The post carried me forward on an undulating ride much like the auto ride you took. Sometimes angels come dressed in coarse clothes, beedi stained teeth and an expired or forged driving license as you discovered! The paper's loss is your readers' gain. btw, you deserved the earful from your family :))

  15. Thank god its called Vikram and not Bikram :)

    seee all are not the same :) good man the rickhshaw driver .. did not distress the damsel in the rain and the one who had to go home and got the earful too :) he he hehe


  16. @Geeta..:)


    @Zephyr...Ha, ha...After the husband and and son, now I am geting it from you. I dont mind it one bit though.
    The paper wants more reporting and less of comments which is not my cup of tea. They want a story on a German couple living in Gurgaon or a child prodigy....

  17. @Neeraj...:)

    @Bikram..Ha..ha, I never thought what a nudge of syllables could do...Are u in Blore already...Blore autos are famous too.

  18. amazingly well spun web of words Alks-beech mein I had to remind myself that you are still talking about autos-so poetic and high class Literature it became:-)

    And I understand what you mean coz most of my college life I have travelled on tempos that charged Rs 5 to take us to the other end of the city-so you can imagine who all and what not got in for as meager as Rs. 1 ka fare...

    and good thing you met a good auto waala-i have commuted within Delhi though rarely alone, even in autos and thank god no one asked me to share! a scary thought-next time itna adventurous nahi hona re:-)

  19. I guess they are better than the buses in Delhi....:-)

  20. I was told Taxi drivers are cheats in Bombay but that is not correct. For three days in Bombay I never had any issue with any taxi. From airport to hotel, the driver charged exactly the amount due - no more no less.

    Though stereotyping has some logic, sometimes it is better to keep mind open.

  21. @Suruchi...I know, har bar luck saath nahin deta...No more next time.

    @Giri....Things have improved, the shared autos are bad cause they shove a dozen where only six can sit.

    @A...Even I have had great exp when it comes to Mumbai auto wallahs...

  22. Awwwww...the ending was just sweet;) No generalisations here. I wish i could travel in one too. South is also improving with its share of potholed roads and black beauties jampacked and bursting to seams;) Good post!

  23. You got lucky! Trust me when I tell you this!! I traveled to Ghaziabad for 5 long years using public transport. And, since there is no other way to travel to innards of ghaziabad, unless of course you could afford to pay Rs. 150 to the normal autos for travelling a couple of KM's shared auto were the only cheap mode of travel.

    And I have traveled with weirdos! From the auto drivers putting cheap sleazy music to what not.

    But I am glad that you had a good experience..!!

  24. The undulating ride can be a molesters dream come true. - Correction. It IS always a molester's dream come true. Always. And autos are the preferred mode of transport in Kolkata, if you wanna avoid a crowded bus or the subway. But if you ask me, I'd prefer the crowded bus over the nightmare of an autorick any day.

  25. Ah! I remember now. A shared auto ride. I wanted to forget it now. Also, I blame you for reminding it to me.
    Shared auto's is like India; overly crowded, zara adjust kar lo type of conductor, perturbing people with "cannot be explained" body odour and not appropriate language. Eeks!

  26. I agree with everything you have said. It is unsafe for women, it is uncomfortable.Right. But I love travelling in these shared autos just for the fun of it. My mother relishes it too- maybe it is the Allahabad thing that she has or it could be because we do not own a vehicle of our own.

    Even these days when I have to get to some metro station, I avail their services- the loud music and the friendly passengers who want to swoop in no matter how FULL the vehicle is - wow !

    With no safety clause for us, I guess its about the rawness of experience. The bargaining which people do with driver when they get down, the way driver stares carwallahs when they drive rash and the occasional joy of reply to the where-are-you-from from me coming as my hometown... the list is endless :)

  27. Any mode of transport is any day better than Delhi buses

  28. Sometimes "Haryanvi Jats" can be unreasonably foolish.

  29. some are good and some are bad
    nice read

  30. @Cloudnine....Am glad u liked it.

    @Sakshi...I know the ride is one helluva experience.

    @Sitatsat...There is no harm in a shared auto, only the fact that it is not safe or comfortable for women in Gurgaon, simply because it ferries construction workers.In Allahabad and Lucknow, its not so bad.

  31. @BKC...Really, I thought things had improved.

    @Kirti...Foolish is fine..they are rude and uncouth.

    @sm.....True. Most are bad though.

  32. what a coincidence!! Last week, due to heavy rains in Chennai, i had no choice but to ignore my bike and parent's car and reach work by bus! Same way while returning too! Except that i had to catch a shared auto for a distance of 3km from my home!

    Exact descriptions as u have given, except for the fact that i was made to sit next to the auto driver with my left leg hanging out and trying to hang onto dear life with my right hand and trying even harder to sit on the 5 cm of area allotted to me!

    Nice one!

  33. molestors dream come true -> was actually thinking about it as I started to read about share autos and couldn't agree more!

    Travelling in an auto is a lot safer in Pune though.

  34. Vote for Most Corrupt Politician for year 2012. please let these guys feel ashamed of their dids.