Saturday, February 05, 2011

Auto Rajas!

Amazing! Courtesy -

Visiting India on a holiday is a remarkable experience. Especially when one is not pressed for time to get to any place in general. Half the vacation goes in waiting in traffic jams. That’s when I realized that while in Bengalooru, I am always in the company of street-side movie stars. I started to love traffic jams. It was like a constant street- theatre in action. During my holiday, I had to entirely rely on autos to get around. Tiresome, wearisome autos. Yet, the entertainment was wholesome. Oh! You need to be familiar with Sandalwood industry to appreciate my experience.

My first encounter with ‘celebritydom’ was when I hired an auto to ferry me from Sarjapur ring road to Koramangala. I stood beside the auto and asked politely ‘Koramangala ಬರ್ತೀರ?’ I waited patiently for a response. The driver was busy with an SMS. I did not know if that neck-twitch meant ‘yes’ or ‘no’. SMS was done. He flicked his shoulder-length unruly hair and said ‘ಬನ್ನಿMadam!’ Aah! My first meeting with Upendra!

We started the journey. Upendra’s hand signals could have been MJ’s dance moves. With the wind blowing his hair, clearly, my driver was enjoying the drive! Perhaps being an auto driver is not a career-by-choice. I suppose he has no options. But to enjoy whatever you have at hand, given that you have no options, is indeed a formidable virtue.

My return journey was from Forum to HSR layout. And who should I meet but Tiger Prabhakar! Yes, there was the distinct nest of curly hair on the head, with a matching adornment below the nose. Tiger was smoking a beedi and chatting with other fellow-movie stars. I told my destination. ‘Madam one and a half’. I started walking away when he called out, ‘Madam thirty rupees over the metre.’ The Decemeber sun was cooking my scalp and I had heavy bags in both hands. Naturally, I was not in an amicable mood. All the while Tiger was negotiating in Hindi. My outburst in chaste Kannada surprised him. ‘Heh! Heh!’ he laughed. ‘At least one Kannada customer today!’ he informed his friends with a grin. His friends, especially Vishnuvardhan, recommended that he charge me only according to the metre. I was welcomed into the auto like a queen.

Tiger Prabhakar clearly did not consider his auto as a three-wheeler. Oh No! For him, it was a Lamborghini. And Tiger did not like anyone overtaking his Lamborghini. Bikes that overtook us were subjected to intense stares and mumbles when the Lamby finally caught up with them at traffic lights. At one point, I thought a fist fight would break out. A young chap on a bike (with a babe sitting behind him who seemed to be chewing off his shoulders) was a victim of The Tiger Stare. The bike chap quite naturally took offence and asked “ಏನು?” (What?) The response was more of Tiger Stare and more Growls. This agitated the bike chap. “ಐ ಥೂ! ಎನ್ನೋಡ್ತಾ ಇದೀಯ?” he shouted. (What are you staring at?) To which Tiger replied, “ನಿನ್ನನ್ನೇ! ಯಾವ್ ಹುಚ್ಚ್ ನನ್ ಮಗ ನಿಂಗೆ ಲೈಸೆನ್ಸ್ ಕೊಟ್ಟ?” (I am staring at you only! Which bloody fool gave you the license?)

Thankfully by then, the signal blinked orange before turning green and everyone on the road leaned on their horns. The stand-off was cut off as we sped away in different directions. Another signal. Luckily the Tiger had calmed down. The timer showed 87 seconds at this signal. Tiger got down from the auto and stretched. He whipped out a comb and styled his hair. He gave a couple of Tiger poses and tried to see who in the public was looking at him. I’d say everyone. During the last leg of journey, I was subjected to his whistling skills as he plugged in his cellphone in the radio mode.

I was off to Mysore. As I reached the KSRTC bus stand and dashed towards the non-stop Volvo, I was impressed. Mammootty would be driving me. I was greeted by a pleasant smile. I am a sucker for pleasant smiles, and I promptly returned one myself. I was one of the last passengers. The ticket counter was about to close when Mammootty’s booming voice pinned the guy behind the counter to the chair. I bought my ticket and found a place to sit somewhere towards the last row of the bus. Mammootty stood chatting with the ticket fellow while cleaning out his nose. Then, he got into the bus and boomed ‘Maidam!’ addressing me. He wanted to know if I’ve taken the complimentary bottled water and newspaper. No, I had’nt. I was handed over the said items with another brilliant smile.

Back in Bengalooru, I had the chance to meet up with Salman Khan. I suspect with the six-pack too. No, he was not shirtless. It was just that he had rolled up his sleeves to reveal bulging biceps. When I told him the destination, he was polite in naming the price. ‘Return time koi passenger nahin milega madam. Aap twenty rupees extra denge?’ Oh my! He had even mastered the original Sallu’s voice and tone. In fact, the tone of the last question was like Prem saying ‘Dosti mein no sorry, no thank you!’ It was 8:30pm, and I did not want to haggle ...tone or no tone. I was not surprised when I sat inside. Sallu beamed at me from either sides. To my left was Chulbul Pandey, to my right was Prem in a vest. It was only when we set off that I realized he drives also like real-life Sallu. Thank God no one sleeps on the pavement between Koramangala and Sarjapur. But my life flashed in front of my eyes, and I was cursing myself for not having made a will at the ripe old age of mid-thirties.

Now I am back in the land of lane discipline and traffic rules. All the taxi drivers are unremarkable dorks. They are polite and they don’t cuss or spit. Che! Useless fellows.

I leave you with a favourite song of my favourtesht...the only and only Auto Raja :)

©Sumana Khan - 2011 


  1. LOL... Hilarious. :)
    I liked Salman Khan the most. :D
    Auto drivers are very good poets and writers too, you know.
    Sample this: "Kiss is the key of love. Love is the lock of life."
    Another dhamki written on the back: "Meter idre baaro"
    And this is what I saw just an hour ago: "Hubballi Huli, Muttidre Bali."
    They are damn good entertainers really. :)

  2. :) far, the best AUTO TITLE I've seen is - 'Kunthre Rama, Yeddhre Bheema' LMFAO! I love this hubli chap!

  3. Wow, Mammootty too?? I fell of my chair 'Maidam'! :)))

  4. That was hilarious! Only because you were visiting, I see no humor when I do it daily. I suggest you travel by Mumbai trains and observe and do a caricature :D

  5. Hee, hee hilarious Sumana! Auto drivers in Bengalooru are huge entertainers, i also love the slogans behind autos; some funny, soe thought-provoking.

  6. That was fun to read!

    My own experiences with Bangalore Auto Drivers over the past 38 years that I have been here, would be enough to have a blog dedicated exclusively to this subject.
    This auto driver community has one ability I must appreciate.
    They are true linguists. Even if the knowledge is patchy, they can manage to speak and understand English, Telugu, Tamil and Hindi/Urdu in addition to their native Kannada.
    Their English is often hilarious.
    Once when I asked him to take me to the Station, he wanted to know if he should head for "City Tation" or "Cantroment".
    On another occasion, when he finally reached my destination, he announced "Nimma Upperment Bantu, Saami". He was referring to "Apartment"

    Have you seen how they help each other when one of them runs out of fuel?
    Have you noticed how they line up nearly abreast of each other but with one of them slightly ahead and the other pushes the auto forward with his outstretched feet?
    I have not seen this anywhere outside Bangalore.

    I once saw an auto with "WON USE" written boldly on the front windshield.
    He wouldn't stop for anyone.
    I was later told he had deployed the auto for his "Own" Use and so was not available for hire.
    I have had my share of unpleasant experiences too with these Autowallas.

    Incidentally, that video link did not work.

  7. I was looking for images of rickshaws and found this blog :D hilarious read. I've written extensively on this and with reference to Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai. Maybe you'd like it :)


    1. Thanks Madan :) where would we be without autos! I'll definitely take a look at your website.