The Bigger, The Better
On Mar 27, 2011
|We have all grown up with the ubiquitous auto rickshaws being an integral part of our lives. In fact, most of us remember seeing an auto since the time we remember seeing roads. However, nowadays, things seem to have taken a turn for the worse with an increasing number of passengers often finding themselves on the brink of a free style wrestling match with auto drivers over a number of issues.
It could be about running the meter, their demand for more than the meter reading or simply on the issue whether the meter actually exists or if it is just an illusion! Having locked horns with auto drivers ever so often, the writer has become such an expert in this field that she is now on the verge of starting a consultation on how to tackle such situations.
Auto journeys can cover the whole spectrum - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Among the several interesting specimens I have met, Thangarajan and his 'Ape Auto D35' stand out in my thoughts.
I got into the 'Ape' or ‘Appa’ as Thangarajan insists on pronouncing it, from near the Museum gate and the ‘Yathra’ begins. Thangarajan and his three-wheeled chariot are quite catchy in appearance. In size, he perfectly complements the ‘larger than your regular auto’ Ape as its charioteer. Actually the 'Ape' impresses you from step one – literally - as there is actually a step welcoming you into the auto, onto a higher platform. As you settle down, you feel a couple of inches ‘taller’ than others. Then the space! If you have had a tiring day then you would be actually tempted to simply stretch yourself out on that seat with enough and more space for your feet to rest.
Thangarajan is proud of his 'Appa' and claims that it can reach Kollam from Trivandrum Central Railway Station in just one and a half hours. I could almost see his chest swelling with pride as he declared, "It has great pulling power!” The pride reflects on me the passenger too. I felt goose bumps on my arms and was tempted to look down upon those 'ordinary' autos slipping past.
Actually the vehicle does attract attention, as the number of 'Apes’ on our roads aren’t many. And being diesel-powered, it loudly announces its presence. "People used to avoid travelling in this before," Thangarajan looks back. Yes, we all want to merge with the crowd. Standing apart or forging a new path is tough. "But now my ‘Appa’ is been appreciated for the ‘extras’ it offers.”
“There is space at the back too," he points out. As I turn around, surprise awaits me. Yes, there is actually a boot space back there, akin to the one in a Maruti 800. And what’s more, the area is not closed, just neatly covered by a plastic sheet. The first thought to cross my mind was to do a Waheeda Rahman, sitting in the trunk with the sheet open and travel with the wind playing with my hair, and singing, ‘Aaj phir jeene ki thamanna hai, aaj bhir marne ka irada hai...'.
"He takes care of my family," Thangarajan pulls me down to reality from my flight of fancy. When I ask him whether a morning eight to evening six running time gives him enough money to keep his family on track, he says it depends on the one who drives it. “I see many drivers who are more prone to siestas inside their autos after heavy meals and a 'pint' and those who get back home drunk to thrash their wives and thus mess the whole thing up. You can make it or break it. It's in your hands." I think I just got my dose of ‘thought for the day.’ Words of wisdom come from place, least expected.
Thangarajan has been driving automatic ‘Apes’ for eight years now. "But this one is only two years old and I got him for two lakhs." That more expensive than a Nano! "But a Nano won't serve my purpose," counters a determined Thangarajan. Moreover, this 'Ape' would not require much maintenance for 3 or 4 more years. After which he plans to sell it and get a new one. He seems to have everything planned down pat.
Thangarajan in his 'Ape'
The 'Ape' nears my gate and refreshingly, there are no swords drawn this time. Thangarajan happily goes along with the meter and I thank the 'Ape' and its master. You cannot help asking how the other [read regular] auto drivers react. "Some do jeer saying this is too costly for an auto but they have their opinion and people who travel in ‘Yathra’ have their own!" comes the confident reply from Thangarajan.
“Ask me, ask me,” I almost said it aloud. It’s worth the money Thangarajan spent to buy it and worth the money you give for a ride in it. For the lavish space, if for nothing else. Because eventually, an auto or a heart, the bigger, the better.