An auto rickshaw is a three-wheeled cabin cycle for hire. It is a motorized version of the traditional pulled rickshaw or cycle rickshaw. Although you can see one of those from time to time, they are doomed to disappear, sooner than later.
Autos or auto rickshaws are a common means of public transport in India (mind you, I also found this one in the Dominican Republic).
As I was saying, they are an essential form of urban transportation. An auto ride is the easiest way to travel in a busy city; they slide through the traffic while cars can barely move.
They have the same unwritten rules as everything else in India. The minute you get off a bus at a station, you stumble upon a heady hotchpotch of risky traffic mongers. Before you realize, your luggage is in one of those autos, and you have to hurry if you don't want the auto to disappear with it!
You'd better bargain heavily with this infamously brazen community if you don't want to be ripped off! It's quite likely that you have your usual share of daylight looting. If not, that's not India. When you get an auto wallah who tells you (a whitey) the right fare, it's nothing short of an achievement. It deserves a celebration!
This is a picture of the first one I got in alone. It had to take me from Punganur to the school where I worked and lived. Well, so far so good! But two minutes after setting off, it stopped and the Muslim driver (most of them are Muslims) got off and disappeared, without saying a single word. And there I was, sitting in the back, wishing for him to come back, because I didn't have any fucking idea of where the hell I was! But, on the other hand, I was wondering whether he'd come back with a bunch of buddies to rape me or something! He returned like 15 minutes later with a bottle full of petrol; he had run out of it!
That time I was lucky. I had all the auto for me. But you usually have to share it with maaaany people. When you see an auto for the first time, you figure that it's made for 3, maybe 4 people. But nope! Up to 19 people (including the driver) can fit in them! I swear! And, to spice up the ride, it was raining!
But I didn't mean to talk about the autos themselves, but about the auto drivers. They are a breed unto themselves. I've made a list of the various kinds I could find:
1)The "I'm-on-a-sofá" wallah:
He sits comfortably with one leg tucked under his bum, while driving! No need to wonder how he would react in case of an emergency; he'd be the one causing it!
2)The "magic-meter" wallah:
When the journey starts, you look at the meter steadily, and it works. But, about 200 metres later, you realize that his meter has probably suffered a fit; it's convulsing; the numbers are dancing; the meter is on its own ride (and you are sure that you had not partaken of any banned substances).
3)The "sleeping" wallah:
He takes a nap wherever, whenever. I think he even does so while driving! Just kidding! He can be sleeping at a rickshaw stand (pun unintended!) and there you are, hoping an awakened-soul auto wallah comes along. Alackaday!
You usually find this one when you've had a tiring day and just want some peace and quiet. It's no point plugging in your music or pretending you're talking on the phone, he will talk over it. And he'll give you a guided tour of your route as well. Enjoy it! There's nothing else you can do!
5)The "Formula 1" wallah:
He is the one that zips past you leaving nothing but a streak of black smoke in his way! He must have taken an online course given by Fernando Alonso or something! Sleeping policemen are nothing but minor bumps on his quest for whatever time record he is seeking! I'm lucky I didn't get one of these guys, but I saw them!
6)The "turtle" wallah:
Mr Murphy surely strikes here. You get one of these when you are in a hurry. And no matter what you say, you won't be able to coax him into driving any faster. Just use your acquired Indian patience and make the most of the ride, turning it into a mini-holiday and watching the world (and pedestrians) go by!
I bet all the ladies have experienced this one. Easy to spot! Unnecessary twists and turns, sudden adjustments of the rear-view mirror,... I think it needs no further explanation. I even got an "indecent proposal" by a 26-year-old wallah. The guy even wanted to give me some money! In a way, it was flattering!
8)The "do-me-a-favour" wallah:
He kind of stalks you and tries to talk you into going with him on a free ride to a souvenirs' shop. It may seem dangerous, but it's just commonplace. He gets a meal voucher and you get to go shopping. In my case it was not a shop, but four! What can I say in my defence? I like shopping, I hadn't been shopping for 10 months, and I had nothing better to do in Delhi!
9)The "noisy" wallah:
He prefers to use the back of the auto to carry a huge loudspeaker than to take people. He loves music, especially loud music. Moreover, he loves everybody to listen to his music. One would say he's Dominican! Have you ever tried to listen to Bollywood music at a disco volume? Don't you dare!
10)The "normal" wallah:
He drives safely, at a normal speed, following the traffic rules, is honest, charges a fair fare, doesn't talk unnecessarily, is not a lech, and doesn't try to take you for a free ride. They do exist! Finding one is more difficult than finding a needle in a haystack, but I met some such!