By Anindita Mondal:
This post has been taken from the author’s Facebook notes.
This post is specially meant for the ladies. Share it with as many as you can. What do you do when you are living in the country’s most notorious city, and it’s getting dark, and your mum’s frantically calling your cellphone, and no matter how much you convince her that you are doing nothing but hurrying home, she just refuses to hear a single word while constantly yelling into the speaker? Do you simply head towards the nearest standing auto, bleakly try to bargain the price (which suddenly got miraculously increased to some 20% of the normal rate, thanks to the autowallah’s acknowledgement of your situation) and hop inside, desperate for the ordeal to end?
If yes then please read on for what just happened to me this evening…
As I headed home from my office, stuck in an exactly same scenario, I switched my cellphone off to ward off my Mum and approached an auto standing near the yellow poled Anand Vihar Traffic Signal. I glanced at my watch which for a split second seemed like it was frowning at me. It was 9pm and it was dark. In my hurry I took that auto and trust me I wouldn’t have, had I the slightest idea that for the next twenty minutes I would be cursing myself and praying to God.
The auto moved at such a great speed that had I jumped off and started running, I would have beaten it home by a mile. And the speed-breakers (I still don’t know if the auto had any speed to break) today, particularly made their presence felt. Every time the auto crossed one, I could practically hear every locomotive part go off in different frequencies.
As we approached a red light, my autowaale bhaiya (auto driver), picked up a conversation with another autowaale bhaiya who also had some worried looking passengers. “Kahan liye jaa rahe ho?”; “Yehi Indirapuram tak”. This other bhaiya gave me a sharp stare, and I could feel it hit my parietal lobes and then send ripples throughout my brain. He then turned and gave a swift nod to my autowaale bhaiya and drove ahead. If I can only describe to you my unfortunate creativity bloom at that moment. What if he was part of some gang? Was that a signal? Are they waiting for me there… somewhere? All I could do was swear under my breath and steady my nerves. The auto began to turn and I protested, “bhaiya baaye se lo..”; “dedh kilometer ghumna padega madam,” (Me: Take a left; Auto driver: The left is an extra 1.5 kms long roadway) and the auto moved on.
For the next seven minutes, I was rapidly swearing under my breath. In pure hindi this time. The auto had finally given up fighting the cruel world and dispersed. The auto wallah was struggling with a pair of spanners and home was still ten minutes away. I couldn’t have possibly walked. I was in the biggest fix I had ever been in.
After what seemed like ages, with God’s grace I finally felt that divine shiver of engines. I shut my ears to what all the auto-wallah was blabbing in excitement and tried hard to concentrate on the first song that came to my mind. Don’t remember which one it was. And I didn’t thaw from my position until I heard the familiar voice of my society guard. The autowallah was flashing a mouldy smile. As I handed him a 100 buck note, he got down from his auto and started rummaging from his pockets. Leaning heavily by his auto, smelling heavily of cheap liquor. Damn, he had been drunk all this time! As he handed me a twenty back, I tried my best to touch the note as little as possible, as if it was some dead worm and rushed through the gate, concious of the guard’s gaze that followed me till I was inside the lift.
Now, what did you learn from the story?
Choose your autowallah wisely. Especially if you are a female and especially if it’s dark. I am one and I have been there, done that. I completely understand the pressure situation. Here are a few pointers to help you when needed.
a) Always choose the autowallah who is standing outside his auto looking for passengers. Least chance that he would be drunk. Also my observation states, eager autowallahs most of the time are compassionate towards the passenger’s needs. Even if he asks for that extra tenner, give it to him. If that means he is not drunk.
b) Always choose the auto which has decorative lights. It’s one of the perks of living in this country, where people simply love glimmer. Choose the auto which has some kind of decorative LED inside it. If not, at least one that is most decorated. It is an indication that the autowallah loves his vehicle and maintains it. So less chances that it will betray midway.
c) Always pick that uncle out of the crowd of funky young guys. Okay I agree there are some horny uncles too. But in most cases elderly men are running the auto to support a family. It’s another way of avoiding being leched at through the rear view mirror or misbehaved with.
d) Try not to bargain much. If a customer pays what the autowallah asked for, the customer remains in command and it is likely the autowallah will not use much of his own wits with the road. Bargain, only when the stated price is outrageously high.
e) And finally, the mother of all advices.. Don’t do late nights. If at all you are bound by it, arrange for some alternative mode of transport. And never in your wildest dreams think of switching your cellphone off. I switched mine off and it has taken an offense. It is still refusing to show me the light.
The above tips are only based on my observation and experience. You may choose to differ. But I guess, in the end, we all believe in staying safe. It is really sad that I have had to write this article. Auto services in the capital suck (more so if one moves towards east), proudly adding on to the much deserved tag “This city is unsafe for women.” I only wish the government is listening and will do something soon. Till then.. stay safe, stay awesome!
Feel free to add more tips to the above list in the comments section below.
The writer is a columnist at Youth Ki Awaaz and a Correspondent with the Times Of India.