By Swarnabha Saha:
The red power ignition button fires up the beast like the red cape of a torero maddens the bull in a bullfighting arena. The rumbling pistons are the scratching legs of the beast before it leaps on to tarmac. It hovers its way maneuvering left and right, screeching and halting until he finds the matador – the destination. Yes, an auto rickshaw driver thinks nothing less. In his senses, he is nothing less than a bull who is paid to charge an invisible matador, no matter whatever comes in his way, whoever stops him.
Daily commuters like us, who after having a shower with a deodorant soap, snap at their counterpart with a bowl of cereal in his breakfast table when it reminds him of the deadly auto ride, that he needs to sustain, to reach office safely. Though most of the auto rickshaws are well maintained, the unchartered rules of the auto-rickshaw driver forum make the rides terrible. Moreover, the demeanor and behaviour of most of the drivers worsen the jaunt.
The 5 unspoken rules of an auto ride in Kolkata are:
1. Carry enough coins in your wallet until the pouch tears off from the edge: Before you even start a ride the driver thinks it is his imperative duty to inform you that it is your liability to have enough change with you, otherwise you don’t have the right to have a ride, even if the driver has enough coins to take ten trips to Mars. It doesn’t matter whether you have a video conference to attend or a patient to reach, coins are the tickets for you to have a ride.
2. The route is superficially divided in several sub-routes: The route is divided to earn maximum profit. For example, the Garia to Golpark auto route in southern Kolkata is divided in three equal sub-routes, Garia to Baghajatin, Baghajatin to 8B Bus-stop, and 8B to Golpark. So, if you are to travel from Baghajatin to Jadavpur Police Station you have to change two rickshaws, Baghajatin to 8B and then from 8B to Jadavpur Police Station.
3. Carry 5 or more passengers if the traffic police in the next signal is busy vacating his bladder: Though not more than 4 passengers are allowed to travel (3 at the back and 1 in front), the drivers are always looking for the extra penny. It’s your liability to clinch to whatever you find convenient to stop you from falling.
4. If you are an auto driver, then you are no less than a Rafale pilot: Armoured with a cotton shirt, sunglasses and a handkerchief, tied around the neck, the auto pilots like to take the live action in their hands, maneuvering through the streets, in between cars and dodging the buses, with ease.
To be frank, the relationship between a daily commuter and an auto rickshaw driver is more of a symbiotic relationship rather than just a means of transportation. None can survive without the other. It is just my humble request for the authority to be a bit more attentive to the prevailing situation and chalk out a way so that we can have a safe ride.