An Ode to Share Auto Annas

Photo by Nischal Masand on Unsplash◎ Photo by Nischal Masand on Unsplash

If you have ever been to the buzzing city of Chennai, you wouldn’t have traveled correctly unless you’ve traveled in one of those three wheeled vehicles painted in yellow and draped in black. Like a bunch of bees on a mission, these Auto Rickshaws (or, as we lovingly call them — Autos) connect the nook and corners of the city swarming around the clock. These people have also pioneered the revolutionary service that has taken the world by storm — ride sharing. If you ever get on one of those “Share Autos” you are riding for a fare as cheap as a public bus without losing the versatility of your personal bike. You would hold on to whichever piece of exposed frames you can as he chases the traffic taking routes on and off the road! Ah! What a joy ride you are signing up for! But, this post isn’t just an ode. Its my day’s story and how these people shaped it up into a wonderful day. (Disclaimer: Not that wonderful but wonderful enough!)

When my Aunt asked me whether I’d accompany her to the bank, my brain was running at its full speed trying to adjust to the newly risen scenario. Brain running at 100% for a simple visit to bank might sound like “tiny brain alert!!” but, wait, there’s more to the story. Take a look at the following details.

  1. I was working on second shift on that week and that meant I need to be at my boarding point by 12:50pm at max. I could not afford to be late to office on that particular day(something important was happening).
  2. The time was already 8:50am.
  3. The bank was approximately 30 minutes away.
  4. I plan everything(almost). It is my only source of survival.

Adding in the time taken to get ready and the time speculated for the bank job, you are looking at a pretty tight schedule there! Anyway, after deciding that it is possible to succeed in this mission, I nodded acceptance and started my prep. Here is the plan:

  1. I’m going to the bank.
  2. Get the work done in 30 minutes.
  3. Get back here by 11:30 AM.
  4. Then, get ready for office as lazily as possible!

Thus the plan was set. There was this another possibility of boarding my company bus near the bank but I decided against that as it meant no mean of freshening up in between(you are looking at one of the hottest days of summer).

So, by 9:30am, myself and my aunt were walking down the street to catch an auto to the bus stand. And there it was, waiting for us at the end of the street, the yellow love called Auto Rickshaw. The Auto anna(means elder-brother, usually how the rickshaw drivers are called by) was looking at us trying to make an eye contact. Eye contact+nod= “Yes-we-are-availing-your-service-thank-you”. Thus the message was successfully passed through the aforementioned code and auto anna sidelined the vehicle allowing the traffic to flow. We two located ourselves into the vacant seats, filling up the auto like the final pieces of a human puzzle. Soon, the auto was whirring across the road, bending its will to the twists and turns of the Auto anna’s hand. You really won’t be able to believe that this tiny box on three wheels just happens to carry ten humans in it. But, yeah, this wonder ride does exist as a part of daily lives of a million souls here!

As the auto started climbing a bridge, we noticed something strange. There were vehicles filled up to the middle of the bridge and they showed no sign of moving forward. Traffic — the lovechild of exponential population growth and the enemy of the population that caused it. A tinge of despair got hold of me as the dark clouds of reality started damping up my solid plan. People do say that when darkness sets in, a hero always rises. And he was none other than the Auto anna! A twist and a turn! Our auto took a 360° turn and was soon dashing through lanes and not-lanes-but-used-as-ones. Within minutes we were ahead of the traffic and reached the bus stop without any delay.

I tried solving the problem at a nearby ATM (Something to do with newly obtained debit card — magnetic stripes are now officially vintage. Long live the EMV chip!). But that didn’t budge. So, we boarded the bus and reached the bank. I looked at the watch as I opened the door. The time was 10:35 AM. We were lagging by 5 minutes from the scheduled time. Maybe, the bank would solve the problem by 5 minutes and I would be on my way back soon! But, when I looked up, I realized that that wish might not happen in any near future. The bank was filled with people to the extent that I expected the local market to have lesser crowd. There were people queued up towards multiple counters and some of those queues were 30 people long!

After scanning across the hanging name-boards for a while, I found one that said “ATM Officer”. They have appointed an Officer for ATM?! There must have been so many cases! Anyway, to my joy, that particular queue was just 5 people long and we joined them. After few loooong minutes, it was our turn to complain. Later, it turned out to be a problem with mobile number linkage. He corrected it and asked us to try after thirty minutes. THIRTY minutes!! The time was already 10:45 by then. We sat down and waited. I spent the time wondering whether I should reschedule or somehow the universe would conspire to make sure things happen by my plan. They didn’t.

After twenty-five minutes, I decided that I had waited long enough and went to the ATM. There, as the fate would have it, another queue was waiting for me. Only one of the two ATMs was working and hence all the people were crowding onto that. There, standing in the queue, I contemplated my planning skills wondering how it can be so at odds with reality. I finally decided that its just the reality that needs a little tuning only to find it smack me right on my face. The ATM machine, after fifteen minutes long queue time, rejected the card with the same error. I returned back to the bank where reality landed another punch. The ATM Officer’s queue has gained some length in the mean time and he was nowhere to be found. I sat there, flat-faced, as the planning part of brain seemed to pull out a blue screen. My plan failure now sounded more like an existential crisis for me. The watch ticked away minutes after minutes as I sat there doing successfully nothing.

It was my Aunt who woke me out of stupefied state as she found the ATM Officer getting out of Manager’s cubicle. She went ahead and asked him about the persistent problem. He replied that he just fixed that and that it should be fine now. Then, once again with a rekindled spirit (burning low though), I went to join the always-replenished ATM queue. This time, it worked. I was so overwhelmed that I spent the next few minutes explaining “How to use ATM?” to the lady who was seeking some help for that! It was only when I joined my Aunt outside did I look at my watch again. And it showed 11:55am. Its gonna be one heck of a race!

We walked towards the share auto stand as the bus stop in this direction was too far from us. There, as we got into an auto, I requested the auto anna whether he could start quickly as I was running late. He had that look in the face which lied somewhere between angry denial and silent compliance. We two were the only passengers so far. He started the Auto and went a little ahead where we waited for further passengers. To my luck, the share auto filled up quite fast. But, there was a pregnant lady among the passenger too which meant that the ride won’t now include the off-road experience. I sat there, on the seat next to the auto driver (actually sharing his seat!), looking at the watch every five second. In the background, my brain was trying to extrapolate the available data of traffic and past experience to determine whether I’d reach my point on time. It all looked dank on the sun scorched road.But, this guy was really good! He wasn’t taking a rough ride but he was nowhere near slow. Once the pregnant woman got off, he didn’t even bother to slow down for passenger hunt. In the mean time, I called my cousin at home and pleaded her to press my dress. We reached the final stop way earlier than I expected thanks to his swiftness! Even with all those traffics, it took us just twenty-five minutes to get back. Just one more share auto ride left to get back in time!

A few steps ahead, another share auto was waiting for us with just one passenger in it. I tried to plead him into quick start too. But he replied that I need to put myself in his shoes and try to understand. A run with just three passengers? That is not gonna be profitable. So, we waited. But within a minute, with just one more passenger added, he started the auto!

When I reached home, it was 12:30pm. I still had fifteen minutes to spare. The plan to “get ready as lazily as possible” was not possible anymore. But, with a neatly pressed set of dress waiting for me there, it was not gonna be that much of a rush either! By 12:50, I was waiting at my boarding point — right on time. Sitting there at my boarding point, I had that immense feeling deep down in my heart. It was a feeling of inner peace that even the hot summer air blowing on my face couldn’t disturb. I sat there thinking about all these turbulence over a simple bank visit and how some random strangers help you to make it alright. The universe does conspire for you after all. You simply need to ask for it.

I looked out into the highway. So many vehicles — each on a journey to… wait, the bus that’s crossing me, isn’t it my company bus? Why is it NOT stopping for me???! I jumped out of the shade and ran towards the bus waving my hands frantically. The bus driver though, must have been so at inner peace, did not bother to take his eyes off the road. I immediately pulled out my phone and dialed the driver. At the same time, a few hundred meters ahead, the bus seemed to stop at a red signal. I took a sprint. But as I got near it, the signal turned green and the bus punched ahead. At the same time, the driver attended my call! I asked him if he would stop the bus. He said he would but he couldn’t because he’s not driving that day. In the mean time, he said, he’d forward the current driver’s number to me!

There I stood, dialing another number(which kept ringing with no one answering), with my “Freshened up, peaceful aura” now replaced with something berserk and sweaty. My brain started planning other ways of getting to office but none of them seemed to get me there on time. At that time, like a white horse carrying a golden knight, a white Tata Magic pulled up in front of me. Tata Magic, an MUV used as Share Auto, ruled the highways there as public transport. The driver asked me whether I want a ride. As the call didn’t get through, I decided that I might need a ride to the nearest bus stop. So, I got in. Looking at my frantic dialing, he asked what’s my issue. When I explained my situation, he said “Call panni kelu thala! Namma vegama poi pidichiralam! (Call and ask them where they are Boss! We will chase and catch up with them!)”. He punched deep into the accelerator and thus we began the chase — Catching a Bharat Benz bus with a Tata Magic! We were flying through the highway as the vehicle unpacked unforeseen performance. To my luck, the bus driver attended my call this time. He said that he’d wait for me near a popular park on the highway. Within few minutes, the Tata Magic pulled up in front of the Benz. I was successfully reunited. The auto driver, who didn’t even bother to stop in between for passenger hunt, asked for the usual fare only!

When I reached my office, I was filled with a feeling that’s much deeper than the inner peace that I was talking about. It is thankfulness this time. I felt thankful that I happened to meet some wonderful people that day. For any introvert like me, such experiences define the welcoming board for the world out there!

After all these plans and chases, I felt hungrier than ever. I entered the dining hall. There, the air was filled with something special. It carried an aroma that defined the Indian subcontinent for centuries — the aroma of spices that blended so well together that a special rice dish was born out of it. The food that the whole India loves. Biryani! Touché!

Load Comments?