Capital Letters I: Auto-Immunisation

I came to Delhi last March. One of the recurring horror stories I had heard about the city from before (and had experienced in small doses) was about its auto-rickshaw (tuk-tuk to the Westerners) drivers: their arrogance, their absolute unwillingness to go by the meter, the sheer disregard of the nature of their profession by refusing to go to most places citing the unlikeliest of reasons – you get the drift. Sure enough, after coming here and starting to live like a local (as opposed to a tourist), I started experiencing it first-hand on a regular basis. When I look back at the last seven months, what strikes me most is that I have had only one major fight with one of these people so far – that too over change. But the experiences have been rich: the usual bunch of thugs who can smell your urgency pheromone and overcharge the fare by 20 to 30 Rupees instantly, the friendly young Turk who drives like James Bond while playing Bhangra music at full blast, the avuncular gentleman who discusses politics, inflation and healthy lifestyle while squinting through his thick glasses to navigate the furious Delhi traffic, the rare angel who starts the meter without a word as you board – but mostly it’s the thugs. Now that I have started taking the bus from Hauz Khas metro station on my way back from office, I don’t have to negotiate with them at the end of the day while at my wit’s end; that’s surely a relief. But the mornings are still like hunting for the elusive Greater Kudu: satchel strapped to my back, eyes scanning the horizon for the familiar yellow-green silhouette, trying to guess if it’s occupied (this is a skill in itself, and I’m getting good at it), and finally – if the auto-wallah stops – cajoling or demanding that he charge a fair price. And then slowly a realisation dawned upon me: the auto drivers are there for a purpose. They teach us anger management, to defeat our inner violence, to keep calm and stay on the path. It’s like one of those clichéd training montages of a martial art film: the defiant young protagonist slowly learns to be a detached professional who can focus on the bird’s eye through the chaos. And I started liking them. Without knowing it, they’re giving me more than a ride. They’re letting me make myself a better person; a mature, level-headed, focused person. What’s 20 Rupees more for a lesson like that?