Every man, woman and child of Chennai has an on-going affair with the auto walas of this noble city. They are the guys we absolutely love to hate. If we are in a temper then what better way to vent it than by arguing with them… and Oh! They love arguing with us too… so no regrets please. If they are unable to get you to argue then they’ll grumble and grumble until you just wanna scream and jump out of the running auto or better still push him off.
So what do they argue about? The primary topic is the auto rate, of course, but politics, movies, stars, the poor status of India, the horrible driving of other vehicles are other hotspots. Oh Yes! All autos are equipped with a meter here too, but that is strictly a decoration piece and if ever an auto guys asks you to pay what ever amount the meter shows….BEWARE!!!
Let me tell you how a person in Chennai travels in an auto from point x to y.
We stop an empty auto on the road and give our destination, immediately the auto wallah names an atrocious amount and then its up to us to bargain it down to something that might edge towards reasonable. Some of the favourite bargaining chips are - one-ways popping up on the roads, the traffic being heavy or traffic being light and hence not being able to get another passenger on their way back, rain, dharna’s and best of all hikes in petrol prices. If 1 re increases per litre of petrol, there is a corresponding raise of 1 re per KM at least. 1 Ltr petrol might give 25 Km mileage but we are not talking logistics here, if there is hike in petrol, there will be a hike in auto rates too, so don’t ask questions.
Once the bargaining is done and both sides are satisfied, there will generally be a monologue on any of the above said favourite topics If you actually involve yourself and start responding, be ready to hang on to dear life, coz the auto wallah is going to get very emotional and start gesturing. This is the time you start remembering all those prayers you were taught by mom when you were two years old.
On the other hand there was this incident when the auto guy agreed to a price but was not happy with it. He grumbled and mumbled and sniped at me hoping to get some raise out of me. I had my mouth shut (and with great difficulty), until he could bear it no longer and he actually stopped by one of the petrol pumps, jumped out and asked me to get out and find the cost of petrol and then tell him how I could give him so less a money. How I got back home is a story for another time.
In fact most travel guidebooks on Chennai will have a mention of its famous Auto wallahs warning foreigners to never pay the asked price if travelling by auto.
Chennaites are so immune to bargaining with their autowallahs that it just does not make their day, if they have not argued with one. It is customary to bargain even if a rare driver asks for the correct price.
The last time I had gone to b’lore, I went from the railway station to BTM layout, a distance of 13 KM by auto. A distance, that would have made the heart of a Chennai auto guy to go pitty pat and ask for 200 bucks at least. But here was the driver in B’lore, who put on his meter, which, to my amazement and crushing disappointment, showed just 75 Rs. Now I could not argue or bargain with such a nominal rate, could I? Oh! I felt so sad.:-(
Sigh! What can I say; the auto wallas of my city have spoiled me for any other autos outside.