Friday, 27 November 2009

The ups and downs of an auto-rickshaw journey

Maya and I have a love-hate relationship with rickshaws, though our reasons for this are very different. Let me explain:

I think we're quite unusual for ex-pats out here as we don't have a driver (not-for-profit company salaries don't stretch that far!) so when we climb into an auto-rickshaw, which we do at least a few times daily, the first thing that Maya is concerned with is the decor: Is is upholestered prettily? Are there pictures on the side? Can you see out the back? And bonus points, most definitely, are awarded for any sparkly or pink bits anyhwere or a Ganesh deity on the dashboard festooned with jasmine. If all this comes together, Maya more often that not will obligingly provide any information required when the driver stops at the traffic lights, peers over his shoulder and starts a conversation with the inevitable first line Your good name?

Maya's Mama on the other hand, as lovely as all this is, is far more concerned about not being ripped off. There's a funny thing about rickshaw drivers, that either they are the most wonderful, charming, polite men (and they're always men) imaginable who you'd love to pass the time of day with having a chat and a cup of chai, OR they are - and sorry to be so blunt - the most bloody rude, difficult, agressive con-artists in India. I dread to think how many pints of sweat I've lost in arguments with them. Where, I ask, are all the moderate in-between rickshaw drivers? They just don't exist, that's all.

Now, as you can imagine, sometimes Maya and her Mama's criteria don't conincide. She's all ready to scramble into a particularly lovely looking one when the driver, not even looking me in the eye, growls a fee about four times what we both know it ought to be. I gasp and start tutting and pull Maya back who's most put-0ut at this missed opportunity of travelling in this beautiful automobile with pink sequined peacocks adorning the side and thinks I am very, very mean.

Having said that however, Maya has over time definitely become wiser to the wily, unscrupulous ways of many of these men and if I'm being forgetful, often taps on the meter to get it turned on. If I'm all hot under the collar too, she's also been known to say to me 'Don't worry Mummy, he's a silly man.' Yes, and speaking of silly men, I've decided to come clean and tell you what happened in our early days here in Bangalore which resulted in the very sensible decision to only take rickshaws for short scoots around our area, nothing longer (Is our imminent departure making me more honest?? Perhaps more of these tales will surface in the coming days....) I'm going to give you the abridged version as I could go on and on but know you're all busy people.

We got in a rickshaw from an outerlying suburb. About ten minutes into the journey, he started swerving wildly, knocked a motorcylist off his bike (who thankfully was ok but very angry) who then came and yelled at the driver and, upon seeing us in the back, yelled at me even more, telling me I was a 'bloody idiot expat' for not getting a driver and going with these drunken fools. Drunk? Did he say drunk? At that stage, I'd like to have got out but we were on a busy dual carriageway. The motorcyclist drove off in a huff and then the rickshaw driver realised he'd brought us the wrong way so decided to turn round into the INCOMING traffic and drive the wrong way down the dual carriageway. At this point, I'd lost all decorum and was screaming at him to turn back. But he didn't. I remember Maya patting my arm reassuringly, telling me everything was ok and yes, we did finally get home in one piece. It's quite funny thinking about it now but at the time it was FAR from funny, it was darn terrifying!

So, the moral of the story is, appreciate the good rickshaw drivers when you get them....and check for alcohol on the breath and glazed eyes before getting into one.

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