I just couldn't get this picture from today's edition of Deccan Herald out of my head. The article was about a new "Breathe Fresh" campaign led by homemakers in Bangalore. Read more about it here
What captured me about the accompanying photo was not just the fact that they cropped the lady they were talking about. That part was funny! Notice the posse of auto-rickshaw drivers she is addressing? The way they stand, their doped eyes, the aggressive hand-postures, the leery expression... why, the Great Wall of Incomprehension that seems to separates them from her! No?
To experience one such look, when one is desperately seeking a ride home, is excrutiating. This frame full of those faces felt no less than gang-rape.
Anyone that has faced the misfortune of being at the mercy of auto-rickshaws in Bangalore will recognize that "i'm only here for a joyride" look. Whether at a lazy 3PM or anxious post-movie midnight, no logic drives the Bangalore auto-guy's refusal to ply. Whether one is pregnant, disabled, elderly or soaked, neither money nor pleading can move that inert soul slumped over a rickety handle-bar. In many cases, they grimace as if you just revealed your address as "39, Hell Street", before put-putting away... 300 metres to the next sideways nod. Sometimes it looks like they roam the streets only to score the highest Nos.
When one does agree to go, the meter is rigged (often, by just a rupee per KM). That translates into about Rs.50 extra for a cross-city return-trip. If caught, the robin-hood excuse is: "What saar, you are IT. So much you are earning. What is one rupee extra faar you?"
After my five year battle in the city, the auto unions have won. I pay them whatever they want, I go wherever they wish and simply walk the rest of the way. For I have seen, even the police is shit scared of their unions. They fail to enforce something as basic as the mandatory PUC check, while cutting down trees in Lalbag to ostensibly reduce pollution! Trucks, buses and autos spewing thick black smoke can pass under the running nose of traffic constables with not a whistle of alarm or protest.
To see a bevy of
sweet brave hearts do something about the menace, instead of arm-chair blogging, is indeed news of the day. Extremely heartening! This huge population of commercial vehicle drivers and owners will steer us into or away from the gas chambers that they continue to create. If we can reach out to them, whether through education or torture, the time to do it is now before Bangalore turns into Bombay.
For all our sakes, I wish the "Breathe Fresh" ladies good luck.
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