Sunday, June 11, 2006


"Once you get to Chennai, buy your own auto", sagely advice from an American friend who clearly didn't enjoy his tryst with the auto-man empire of Chennai. A five kilometere journey in the city could cost you around 50 rupees. A 4 rupee price hike in petrol could make autocratic drivers demand 70 rupees without batting an eyelid. Hmmm, you might ask, "What ever happened to the meter?" The auto meter is a decorative piece of instrument made by a company called PRICOL and is universally detested by the auto-seekers of Chennai. Primarily because every manufactured piece is carefully redesigned by our enterprising auto-men which makes the meter run faster than Superman.

So to sum it all up, an auto ride is one harrowing experience. To make it a little less harrowing you should probably get yourself a business law degree with a specialization in negotiation.

However, the entire exercise leads to some lighter moments. At a recent get together with some of my college buddies we were recollecting a couple of such exchanges:

SK (friend of mine in Adyar):Sir, can you come to Ashok Nagar?
Auto guy: Yes Sir.
SK: How much?
Auto guy: 150 rupees sir.
SK: Hmmm..I know Adyar is in Chennai, isn't Ashok Nagar in Chennai too?
Auto guy:!!!!
The distance between Adyar and Kilpauk is 11 kms. 8 rupees per km is considered extremely reasonable

Vivek (in Kilpauk): Can you come to Adyar?
Auto guy: 120 rupees sir
Vivek: 40 rupees
Auto guy (stops the vehicle and pulls the key out of the ignition): I have driven this auto for 8 years, and I swear on this key you will never get an auto.
Vivek: Ok, 45 rupees, last and final!
Auto guys (shakes his head): Saaaar!!!
Vivek (magnanimously): Okay 60 and no more.
Auto guy (looks skywards): Fine lets go

a couple of hours later...
Vivek: Kumar, the auto guy fleeced me man
Kumar (smiling inwardly, welcome to Chennai! bangalore boy): So how much did you pay?
Vivek: I paid 60 da
Kumar (slightly flustered): from where to where?
Vivek(in the same breath as going from the living room to the bath room): from Kilpauk to Adyar
Kumar(incredulously): What 60 rupees from Kilpauukkk to Adyaarrr?
Vivek: Is that a lot? I knew it. Didn't like the sight of the guy.
Kumar (a long journey at 12 in the night, trying to make it a little interactive):So,how long are you driving this auto?
Auto guy: 10 months sir. I am getting married next month sir. I live in Adyar kuppam sir.
Kumar(ask one question, get three answers not bad, only if my clients were that easy): brill..
Auto guy (starts off before Kumar completes): Not exactly Adyar kuppam.Actually sir, I belong to Madurai sir. You know Madurai sir, captain's hometown sir. I am voting for captain sir. Are you voting sir?
Kumar: Uh..I
Auto guy: Captain is a nice guy sir. I am not exactly from Madurai sir, I am from a place called Usilampatti sir, famous for rowdies sir.
Kumar (gulp): Oh I see.
Auto Guy: Even I was a rowdy till last year sir. We usually start off when we are 16 sir and we are in the gang till 22 sir and then they let us go our own way sir.
Kumar(fidgety, 3 more kms to home): Oh cool
Auto guy: I didn't like it sir. My brother is also in the gang I am asking him to come out of it sir. But they pay him well and he even was a part of that high profile murder a year back sir. He got 1500 rupees for it sir. You would have seen it on paper too sir.
Kumar(shitting bricks): Uhh..what..
Auto guy: I hope you dont get me wrong sir, we don't kill sir. We just make up the numbers sir. You know like in the movies. We are in the background. All murders we do are for real-estate and politics sir. We don't kill common men like you sir.
Kumar( stretching head out to see how far the apartment is): Very nice, you are considerate.
Auto guy (flashing a smile into the rear view mirror): Yes sir, that we are.

I don't know if that even sounded remotely funny. Situational humour is best when translated on screen.

Not many people get a chance to develop a personal relationship with the auto-driver to know the difficulties they face. Now, don't get me wrong here, I whole heartedly agree that 70 rupees for 5 kms is daylight robbery. But they have their own problems, paying off the RTO, paying off the cop, paying off the owner if its a rented auto, supporting their family etc.

There have been many poignant experiences with a slight undercurrent of humour. I would like to narrate one such experience. (I really know this auto guy well and so we kinduv pull each others legs very often)

Auto guy: All you officer people, you earn so much. Whats there in giving us 10 rupees more with a smile on your face.

Kumar: Let them increase my pay and I will be happy to give you the extra 10 rupees. In fact I always tell my manager about you.

Auto guy: Yeah right! I believe you. Tell me, Whats my name?

Kumar: Chinniah

Auo guy: Ah you are educated so you remember names.Ok tell me how much you make every month..10,000?

Kumar(slightly uncomfortable): Uh..a little more

Auto guy: Ok lets say 15,000. Hmmm thats a lot of money. Thats how much I make in 2 months.

Kumar(I didn't want him to make me feel guilty): I have to pay off loans you know. 6 years of fees to be precise.

Auto guy: You studied for 6 years!! Are you an engineer?

Kumar (phone starts ringing): Yes, uh... Hello...fine that would be great, I will come and pick it at 6. Thanks I appreciate it.

Auto guy (listening to me on the phone talking English): Sir, its all got to do with English no sir?

Kumar: What?

Auto guy: Everything no sir. Only if my son speaks in English, he will get a job no sir?

Kumar: Well our CM can speak only Tamil, he is doing good.

Auto guy: But his nephews, whats his name... Maran, I saw on TV sir. He was wearing suit boot and talking in English and that too with white men sir.

Kumar: Yes Chinniah, you got to make your sons study English.

Auto guy: You should thank your father sir, he made you study. You speak excellent English.In fact, better than the guy in house number 6 sir.That guy thinks he is some lord labaku or something sir.

Kumar (smiling): Yes but will you make your son study?

Auto guy: I have two sons sir, I am sending one to the corporation school and the other to the convent. I can't afford to send both to the convent. The fees is 4000 rupees a year. Atleast in corporation school they give him meals.

Kumar: Yeah, can't you take a loan?

Auto guy: How many loans can I take sir? I couldn't pay the EMI for my auto so the bank guys seized it. I am driving my brothers auto. Every day I have to hear my brother's wife berating him for letting me ride it for free when they can make 150 rupees in rent every day.My wife berates me for being spineless. Women sir...they are impossible...never marry sir!

Kumar: I am sorry Chinniah.

Auto guy: Don't be sir. Even my mother made me study sir. I didn't, I started smoking when I was 14, drinking when I was 16. I smoked grass and mixed with all the wrong people. My brother on the other hand was not as smart as me sir.But he had good friends sir, he is hardworking. He owns 5 autos sir. Even if I didnt study and talk English like you sir, I could have atleast been like him sir.

Kumar: Don't worry man, your son is going to do good.You work hard too, I always see you in the auto stand day or night.

Auto guy: I hope so sir. He is the sole reason for my existence sir, I have really mended my ways sir.I have stopped drinking sir. Every paise goes for their education.

Kumar: Thats really nice to hear. In 10 years you will own 10 autos. Your son will buy them for you.

Auto guy (laughing): I am not greedy sir, really. I know I am over charging you, its only because I really need to make that much money support my family sir, make my kids study sir.I don't want to build a bungalow sir. I even dont want 1 auto sir. I just want my family to be healthy and educate my kids sir. My mother provided me an opportunity, I want to provide them an opportunity.


Blogger Vetti Guy said...

All things said, our autos are one of the things that define Madras as a city.....we would lose our identity if these guys started being honest and stuff.And its so much fun trying to bargain with a auto driver and on most occasions, its funny that both the customer and the auto driver feel they have put one over the other :)

Here's another good take on auto drivers in Chennai

12:32 AM  
Blogger Vetti Guy said...

12:33 AM  
Blogger pagala'k' said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:32 AM  
Blogger pagala'k' said...

@Vetti guy: Yeah, but the auto guy always ALWAYS wins. That link was super funny. Bought my own vandi so no more auto for me, the business law degree specializing in negotiation can wait :).

4:33 AM  
Blogger Kumari said...

Aah, I have so much fun haggling with autos. But after I started earning, I stopped haggling for five rupees, tho if i am really in a wild mood I might. My best moment was when I went back to India last year and every auto-guy in my stand(even the ones i never took as they fleece shamelessly) remembered me as the girl who used to wear saree and run to catch her office bus and even in that rush hour bargain like mad for a few rupees.

And they all asked me if i was happy in America and when i will come back home. Infact, one auto-fellah made sure my he dropped my mom safely at our doorstep when he realised who was her daughter :p
Aah! the power of a smile :) Sigh, trust me, even my friends don't remember so much:)

11:33 AM  
Blogger karthik durvasula said...

" faster than Superman"

didn't know Superman ran fast (except maybe in Smallville).

guess, eagles must be fast runners too!

12:58 AM  
Blogger pagala'k' said...

@ Kumari: Maybe you should haggle with the NH taxi fellas :)

@Karthik: I don't talk with people who loot poor Vellore auto drivers, I hope you remember the day when you didn't pay the auto guy and walked in to the college campus :)

2:12 AM  
Blogger BadhriNath said...

Cycle gapla auto driver pathi you wrote a blog..iru iru, wait till I tell this to our auto driver Manickam a.k.a Maanick Baasha ;)

Tanglish u c..

6:50 AM  
Blogger vetty said...

Instantly brought back memories of chennai, and that scene from singarvelan.

What i dont agree with is your referring to yourself as 'sir' through the mouth of the auto driver. I can bet that didnt happen. Edukku self build-up?

11:40 AM  
Blogger pagala'k' said...

@ Ram: Machaan seriousaa, try wearing a tie in the auto you will know. Every auto guy calls me sir- no build up. I I karuvaadu* :)

*karuvaadu** is dried fish

**bear with me, for people who dont know tamil

12:29 PM  
Blogger karthik durvasula said...

I remember very clearly - he said 'ennaki venda', and I said OK, and walked in. The way I saw it, he was gracious, and I accepted.

btw, I appreciate
'bear with me, for people who dont know tamil'
- good to see at least some are sensitive to such issues.

5:05 AM  
Blogger pagala'k' said...

@badri: long back i got a hilarious forward that literally transalated the auto-kaaran song from baasha to english word for word...

10:13 AM  
Blogger optical dillusion said...

finish your story dude. think of it as an MU exam. Make up the story as you go :P. I'm all for free form writing after 4 years of practice.

12:56 PM  
Blogger Akshay said...

hey kaka

Can you get details of that chinnaiah auto guy. Two Cents of Hope can arrange money for the kids if we think that it is genuine. BTW I am coming back to Bangalore for Good :).

4:32 AM  
Blogger Hifzur said...

Pretty nice post, or rather, should I say, your post, showed a humane side to the 'auto' demon in Madras.

3:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you don't know me and i don't know you...pretty sad i know, but for somebody's sake proceed with the appan story.
everytime i visit your blog , its making me lose hope.
please i beg.

is this you want?

12:56 PM  

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