A few days back when I was driving through the city I had this uneasy feeling that something was missing from the scene. The shops were open, traffic was plying and there was the usual rush of people on the roads. Apparently it was a picture-perfect 'normal day' and yet even as I was busy with my thoughts and my errands, there was this vague feeling at the back of my mind that something was amiss. It was late in the evening, when I finally got around to opening the newspaper that I found out what had been missing. The Autorickshaws were off the roads because of a strike by the Autorickshaw drivers and now that I found them in the newspaper I realized what it was that I had been missing on the roads! Indeed Autorickshaws are such a ubiquitous entity on our roads that in spite of their rather nondescript appearance you just cannot ignore them. A cross between a car and a scooter, the inventor in their case has probably been inspired by that another ubiquitous creature – the rat! Not only is there an unmistakable physical resemblance but the way an Autorickshaw weaves its way through the thick and thin of traffic too is reminiscent of the ways of this spry rodent.
Mostly an urban phenomenon the Autorickshaw – or the 'Auto' as it is commonly called – is the only automobile that has been built keeping in view the state and size of most of our roads. Not only can it pass through the narrowest of lanes where even the most adventurous car won't dare to venture but its maneuverability also enables it to deftly dodge the numerous potholes that are a permanent feature of our roads. What is more their size makes them a shopper's delight because not only can they take you right up to the shop front, which is a big deal in our congested markets, but in fact if the shop and the shopkeeper both are accommodating enough you can drive right in!
The Autorickshaw is a tribute to the fast paced urban life – easy to hop in and hop out and a possible foil to traffic jams. It is the common man's equivalent of a cruise (a cruise through the ocean of traffic!), it is a poor man's chartered flight and the only 24X7 ambulance available to him and it is a messiah-on-the-wheels for the overburdened shopper. The 'Auto' is a mobile private space prized by young lovers and thus plays an important social role, for it is conceivable that at least some of the dalliances it facilitates actually end up in legal alliances. Talking of matrimonial hook-ups it is not mere coincidence that 'Auto' drivers feature in a lead role in most of the elopements that one gets to hear about. The mere possession of a handy get-away vehicle is probably enough to tip the scales of passion in favour of these modern day Lochinvars and inspire the damsel in question to take the decisive leap. The camouflage provided by the uniform black and yellow colour is an added advantage as once the guardians of the damsel wake up to the fact of her flight the getaway vehicle is lost in a sea of similar contraptions, making identification and capture well nigh impossible.
With attributes as listed above one can understand how significant a role the 'Autos' play in our lives and consequently how much power and influence they wield. It is this realization that must have inspired the 'Auto' drivers to go on a strike when the administration decreed that they wouldn't be allowed to ply without meters. History is witness to the fact that since times immemorial the 'Autos' have been 'autonomous'. The 'Auto' drivers have their own constitution wherein it is laid out in clear cut terms that they reserve the right to demand their fare as per their own discretion depending upon opportunity and prevailing circumstances and of course the potential of the passenger. The 'autonomy' of the 'Autos' is pretty much evident in their reluctance to follow traffic rules; an 'Auto' driver valiantly arguing with traffic cops is a picture of resistance and a familiar scene on our roads. Given these facts it is understandable that the 'Auto' drivers would put up a stiff fight against any infringement of their 'autonomy' and that's exactly what happened. It is equally understandable, given the peculiar nature of politics in this part of the world, that the resisting 'Auto' drivers would soon undergo a vertical split. Again that's what happened and so now we have two parties which, for purposes of brevity, can be called Auto (M) and Auto (G). The former group is (of course!) the moderate group which is ready to stretch 'autonomy' to the extent that meters become acceptable (hence the 'M' suffix!) albeit with certain conditions and considerations whereas those belonging to the Graduate Auto-drivers association, i.e., the Auto (G) party, are (of course!) hardliners. They totally reject the meters which they consider an unacceptable violation of their 'autonomy'. The resistance continues and only time will tell how things shape out but if past history is any indicator this particular 'autonomy' is pretty difficult to erode. Meanwhile 'Autos' have returned on the roads so you can enjoy your ride. Without a meter of course!