My office moved to a new location and since then my mode of commute has become auto. I miss my daily ride through Volvo bus which vrooms through the outer ring road of Bangalore. The regular drivers, conductors and passengers but the changing scenes always amused me. In fact Volvo buses helped me keep track of the latest Kannada songs. But now I had to take an auto. The very thought of taking an auto freaked me. Quite a few times I have landed up arguing with the auto men and the thought that this is going to be my everyday life freaked out a lot. I took the auto from a common place and I got down at a common place, making sure that nobody knew where I actually live. I carry pepper spray though it lies at the bottom of my bag and I have no clue how handy it will be. I carry a shawl ready to choke the neck if something happens. But in the name of covering my face with it, I land up choking myself more number of times. I don’t listen to music, I don’t talk on phone and let the auto man know my personal life, I don’t get lost with my mobile and I never reveal my identity to the auto man. I look for their id card, I look for an auto with digital meter, I look if the lights are glowing bright and I look if they have indicators! While I treated them like villains of my life things have been different.
The first surprise came when I got into an auto. This auto had a mini fan, one side closed with transparent plastic sheet which will protect from rain, there was a water bottle and the auto man had a Bluetooth device attached to his ear. As we were travelling, he kept attending calls and his conversations were like below,
“Yes madam, am on the way and I will be there at 11o’clock sharp to pick you up!”
“Yes sir, I am not available today sir but I will arrange another auto and will call you back!” And he indeed promptly did that! He was so fluent in English and he was talking with utmost respect. I probed him and he offered me his business card. They were a group of auto men who have collaborated with each other and they have pickups and drops with rental on monthly basis. “We charge from 4000 to 4500 rupees depending on the distance and route madam! What time do you prefer?” I was more curious to know how he was able to speak English so clearly! Though I was still analyzing the pros and cons of having a regular auto for myself, I said I need an auto around 10 in the morning. He thought for a moment and he said, “I do have one auto madam but I don’t recommend him. So sorry madam I will not be able to help you!” I looked amazed and kept the business card with me. He could have duped me if money was all he wanted but he didn’t.
I was leaving from office almost the same time every day and there were more surprises for me. Some of the guys were regular in the route and they would stop looking at me. With a gleaming face they would ask in Kannada, “Madam Do you remember me, I dropped you the other day? Get in I will drop you.” Without any denial their smiling face would have pushed me into the auto by then and I would have started watching the road for potholes and speed breakers. Then they would say as though they have read my mind, “You sit aaramse madam. I will drive carefully!” And now I know of an auto guy whose mother is an asthma patient, an auto guy who wants to do MBA, an auto guy who regularly drops a lady at my office campus in the evening, an auto guy who wants to own an auto and an auto guy who has to work extra hours to save for his sister’s wedding. Each one had different stories with them. Some of the auto guys were kind enough to advise me not to take regular routes. Though I always give false name, false company and all sorts of false identity (sometimes I have imaginary husband too!!), they never hesitate to tell their story. There was this auto guy who was getting regular, who would come and silently stop by me and I would get in without telling him where to go and he would drop me exactly at the same place, return my change and leave! All without a word! That can be the best conversation and communication to say.
I have also had freaky auto guys who get irked when somebody overtakes them, be it car or auto! They would then race and drive crazily to overtake the other guy! But then when I say, “If that guy has lost his mind why should you lose your cool?”, they would immediately slow down. May be we don’t tell them things and blame the auto guy for being crazy? Once two auto guys were so rashly racing each other and unfortunately I was inside one of them. I asked him to slow down and when he didn’t I started shouting about the other auto guy. I pretended as though I have noted the other auto’s number and I will file a complaint on him to teach a lesson and this fellow slowed down! He not only slowed down but till the end both of us were bashing the other auto guy together. Must have been some stress buster for him!
But of all the incidents I have had this one will always remain fresh in my mind. It was a pleasant breezy evening after a good amount of rain. I stopped an auto, agreed to pay twenty rupees extra and got into it. The guy was not familiar with the short cut route that I take and I was directing him. He started conversing in Kannada,
“I never knew such a route is there madam avare! Traffic is not there only.” Avare is respect.
He continued, “Do you take this route every day?” This was a tough question to answer. I neither wanted to say yes nor no. I was not sure how safe it is tell him. So I replied with, “sometimes” and kept quiet.
“Bangalore has changed so much. Some years back this could have been just graveyard.”
“Even now it is like that sir. You can see apartments and graveyards side by side”
“True madam avare. We don’t have place to live. We live on top of the dead!” That was actually a thoughtful thought!
“Hmm. Are you from Bangalore or have you come here for work?”
“No madam avare.. I ‘am from Bangalore. But looking at things here, I just want to go somewhere else.”
“You know madam avare, I did not have proper education. I went to a Kannada school and dropped out. And now at the age of 30 I learnt Hindi to survive in this Kannada bhoomi!”
“Now Bangalore has only outsiders. And if I don’t speak Hindi people shout at me that I cannot understand! Now I know numbers, idar, udar, kahaan and I manage with that.”
“That is ok. Good that you had the skill to learn Hindi!”
“Haan madam avare. Otherwise I will shout in my language they will shout in their language.. Without understanding what the other person is telling only I used to shout and defend myself.”
“Some ten years back this whole of area was nothing. Now rows and rows of apartments with outsiders! I being from Bangalore have no proper place to stay!”
I kept quiet, for what can I say to him? We passed through a dirty lake!
“See this madam avare. How people have spoilt this lake. This is supposed to be a famous lake. When we were young, we used to be scared to come here! It was so isolated. Nobody around. Now, it is full of sewage. Further down there is a water treatment plant. There they purify and use it for road maintenance, watering plants,etc! Why spoil the water and then treat it?”
“Yes that is true. Even tankers take water from here!”
“Haan madam avare. These tankers want to squeeze out even the last drop of water. See if these people had not come to Bangalore, the water would have been enough to us na! Now no ground water, no lake water, nothing. They give money they have water and we? No money and no water”
“But if these people are not there your income would have been less no?”
“That is ok madam avare. That income would have sufficed my needs.”
“But the city has developed!” I said that with some hesitation in my tone. For all I know it is apartments and flyovers that has developed.
“What is the use madam avare? It has swollen up like an infected wound. Dirty! Common man like me doesn’t get much. To see the place you grew up getting destroyed is worse! My stomach burns looking at the city burning. I want to go away somewhere. But I grew up here. I don’t know any place apart from this!”
I sat in silence! That was a heavy conversation. It is true; to watch something you love so much getting destroyed can be the most painful experience. I sat with wind gushing on my face and stench from the lake stinging my nose. I looked around and saw the tall apartments which reflected how the people have encroach the dear city of someone. Some people took ‘live for the moment’ too seriously and they forgot about preserving and conserving environment. When we visit a guest’s home don’t we put some effort to be courteous and well behaved? We put an effort to know how their house functions and act accordingly. Can you go to a guest’s place and say, “I will sit with legs on the dining table and spill food everywhere because that is how I was at home?” You will be shown the doors! We neither know to keep our home clean nor maintain cleanliness at our guest’s place.
I had to get down and I gave him the money.
“No madam avare. It is ok. I don’t want the money. You know after a long time I have had a decent conversation to vent out my frustration. Very little speak Kannada. And even if you know it people will hardly talk fearing that I will not know the language.”
I smiled. “Ha ha.. I don’t need any concession. Please take the money!”
“No madam avare. At least for the fact that you are a Kannadiga I will not take the money.”
I smiled even broader. “Then you have to take the money. I am not a Kannadiga!”
He got out of the auto amused! May be he was all set to assault the outsider. But the surprising look on his face reassured me that I was safe.
“I am a Tamilian!”
“But you speak Kannada so well!”
“I can speak Kannada that is all, to survive, like you learnt Hindi. Otherwise I couldn’t have talked to you today noo!”
He smiled even broader.
“You know madam avare! My heart is filled with joy! There are even outsiders learning my language!! I am so happy. I wish I see more people like you! May be I am wrong. Kannada will not die.”
I thrust the money in his hand and parted ways content with our day.
It is 11.30 in the night and I ‘am done with this piece of article. I ‘am sitting in a crowded bus station awaiting the arrival of my bus to go to my native place. Oh, I came by an auto at 10pm and he charged me twenty rupees extra. Not even one and half meter charge. And he managed to search through his shirt pockets to give me four rupees change.