Nidhi Sinha, Strategy Partner, BBH pays homage to the ‘bone-rattling, dust-smearing’ experience of auto rides in Mumbai
BY NIDHI SINHA
Strategy Partner, BBH
Vehicles come and vehicles go, but none stick around like the auto rickshaw. Literally. Nosey by design and by nature, the ‘auto’ makes sure to poke at you when you least expect it – from around the corner or behind you or (shamelessly) right next to you. No space is too little for this mouse-like vehicle to scurry into and make an inch of progress. For negotiation runs in its – um – engine.
If negotiation was an art practiced behind closed doors (or under opaque tables), the auto rickshaw brought it to the masses and how. There probably isn’t a more fertile ground than the crowded streets of Mumbai to breed a penchant for the said art. Because these streets thrive on ceaseless negotiation – a bargain of price here, a bargain of time there, and not to forget - cliché alert – the eternal bargain of dreams. Wants and desires are always cutting corners, negotiating and renegotiating with fateful reality.
As is the case with most forms of art (that have not yet become formulaic), appreciation is scarce – especially if you’re NOT a passenger in a certain auto rickshaw ‘pacman-ing’ its way to glory through heavy traffic. Only a passenger can fully appreciate the agility of the vehicle, if they are capable of finding meaning in obvious discomfort. To everyone else, the auto is a nuisance, the annoying ant to the bulky elephants of the road.
The ant does have some remarkable moves to show for it. One moment is a screeching halt to bounce over a speed bump and the next, instantaneous acceleration to rocket ahead of the rest of the vehicles on the road. Such versatility can put the makers of ‘power steering’ and ‘power braking’ (not sure if that exists) a run for their money. And momentarily separate an ass or two from the seat.
This bolting tuk tuk is furiously chased after by cuss words or death stares from gentlemen in that hulk of a car that was wronged by unabashed, obtrusive nosiness. Before the two vehicles met, the little rascal had already sneaked its way through the leftover edge of the dense road, breathing in the heat from a long line of barely-moving-AC-blasting-cars to finally emerge in a small patch of fresh air; only to encounter the massive speed bump and the said hulk of a car. No fear - the auto takes the plunge and runs away with its exploit – a vacant portion of the soon-to-be congested road.
In the company of other autos, the moves are more compliant and less scheming. It’s as if there were an underground community privy to a skill set that is constantly evolving to keep up with the fitter species in the ecosystem.
This makes auto-wallahs generally tolerant and even accommodating of another’s blatant nose shoving in their space, while being fiercely competitive towards vehicles with an extra wheel or an obnoxious driver.
It takes an adventurous spirit or shallow pockets, or both, to prepare oneself for this bone-rattling, dustsmearing experience that is the auto ride. Unlike the suave four-wheeler cruising along city terrains while the wind blows and sun shines to the tune of ‘Born to be wild’, the auto passenger makes for an unassuming adventurer. The seamless balancing act between the nose wheel and the rear wheels makes the auto truly special. It assumes a unique shape, the semblance of a scooter stretched in another dimension to create more room. It’s only second nature, therefore, for the vehicle to make room for itself, however congested the space around it. Even an inch of road when spared must not be taken for granted. In an act of reverence to public property, the auto lurches forward to plant itself next to the suave four-wheeler, or God forbid, a giant vibrating bus. Its nose, however, remains ahead of them all.
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