Sunday, March 24, 2013

Auto Raja

Office is on Bannerghatta Road. From there to the Canara Bank HO is a ride not too many auto guys turn down. But yesterday was a day when we had 3 auto guys turn us down, two of them because they didn't know the way!! For them not to know Hudson Circle/Town Hall/LIC HO, they must've been intern auto drivers. We were getting irritated waiting in the midday hot sun, when there turned up this auto guy...

He'd been waiting at an office 3 gates away, and had seen us being turned away by the 3 other guys and had driven forward. That being the case, we were sure that even if he agreed to go to Canara Bank, he was going to ask for the sun , the moon and the stars for the favour.  He stopped in front of us, and poked his head out.... A swarthy looking fellow, with long hair, and a very healthy handlebar moustache, the smell of beedi smoke that emanated from him ( he must've stopped  for a beedi break in between rides, when he saw us) was overpowering, but to our surprise, he agreed to take us to Canara Bank without any further ado. We got in. His auto had the Kannnada flag flying from a pole in front. The outside was festooned with marigold garlands, and pics of Rajkumar and Vishnuvardhan ( famous Kannada film stars) and several other Kannada film stars (I had no clue who they were) decorated the inside.  The portion above the windshield of the auto was embellished with all the gods of the Hindu pantheon. Some laminated sheets with Kannada writing was also hung up in front of the meter. The man had judiciously covered almost every inch of his auto with something or the other.

My colleague and I gave each other looks and settled down for the ride. But our man had other thoughts. He suddenly bent and delved behind his seat and with a flourish, held over a sheaf of some papers, startling both of us considerably. My younger colleague immediately said- nahin nahin which the man looked at us in hurt surprise. I looked at the papers and found that they too were laminated newspapers. He explained that they were newspaper cuttings, and that it was of him and his auto, and to please read.

Reluctantly, fearing that, as he hadn't asked extra money from us in the beginning, this was going to be a ruse to get money out of us another way, I took the sheets. The first one was an English newspaper cutting, and there were several others underneath. All of them were on this guy - Raja - and his auto, on how he had been ferrying people across Bangalore, at no extra charge, ever. At how, he never refused to take anyone anywhere, no matter what state they were from, and what  language they spoke.. At how he refused to take money from his customers if the lady was pregnant, or if the trip was to a hospital. At how, on festivals, he treated the passengers of his auto to sweets and savouries.  At how, he considered his auto as his home, and all passengers as guests. At how he respected and treated all his passengers with courtesy.
It stated that he'd won some 40 odd silver medals from various organisations, as a recognition of his ( and his auto's) exceptional services. It also stated that all these awards were hung at the back of the auto.  I sneaked a look behind only to find more pics of film stars and others, but no medals. The newspaper cuttings were of 2010.  At the time, he was 40, and it had pics of his family as well, with 2 kids, and a smiling wife.Those medals must now either be at his house, no doubt being safeguarded from over-zealous passengers of his who tried to get their  hands on said medals, or he must've sold them when hard pressed for money- for his kids' education perhaps.

Having read the English sheet through, I handed them back to him with a wide smile, and a "thumba channagithe".He smiled back broadly, feeling happy no doubt that his bona fide credentials had been established. The smile behind the handlebar moustache seemed less disreputable now. We were about halfway to our destination now. He pushed the sheets back into their place behind his seat, and we settled back in our seats. Not for long tho'.

At the next signal, he bent forward and took out something else and handed it over to us. It was a photo album. Not wanting to say no, I took that as well. It was all photos of him, receiving various awards and others. Now I love looking at photos of people I know only slightly, but I draw the line at totally unknown auto drivers with handlebar moustaches. Having kept the album with us for the time it should take to view all the pics, I handed them back. Less wide smile now from me. Broad smile from him again.

And then he took out a Kannada newspaper ( laminated)  and gave that.
 "Kannada gothilla", I said heaving a sigh of relief.
 "Ah...!" Disappointed, he kept it back, then looked back and smiled, and asked- "Kerala"?
"Hmm", I smiled back, apologetically.

He scrabbled a bit behind his seat, and came up with a beaming smile. And handed over yet another paper. A malayalam one this time!!! There was no getting away from the good Auto Raja and his accomplishments. I slumped back in my seat and sneaked  a look at my colleague, who raised her eyes heavenwards and shrugged her shoulders. This time, I held on to the newspaper till such time as we reached our destination. There was no saying what else might have been stored in that akshayapatra of an auto of his, and I for one had had my fill of reading about Auto Raja's accomplishments.

Thankfully, we reached Canara Bank in another 5 minutes. The meter fare came to 60 rupees. We gave him a 100/-, and true to the articles on him, he gave us back 40/-. We smiled back at him. Bangalore could certainly do with more auto wallahs like him. Even if it meant being bombarded with articles on them every minute of the way.