The word “AUTOPHOBIA” means the fear of being alone. But if you are someone residing in Chennai, the word takes on a completely different meaning!
AUTOPHOBIA in Chennai would be taken in its literal sense, roughly, it would just mean: Fear of AUTOS!
Now I have to admit that I actually love traveling by autos…imagine the wind messing up your hair…you get to think happy thoughts and idly glance around at everything around you!
It’s like in Cochin and I’m sure it would be this peaceful in Uganda even (If they had autos there!), the tune changes drastically when one arrives in Chennai and takes a rick. I bet anything that by the end of the ride, the traveler is bound to show the first symptoms of “AUTO”phobia!
They are just vehicles you say? Like giant motorized bees maybe? NO! They’re a bundle of chaos just waiting to happen! Scoff do you? Fine let me show it to you the tough way. I shall take you step by step.
The first step would be actually catching an auto to your destination. Now, autos in Chennai are dime a dozen except when you seem to want one! Most of the autos that rush past your desperately waving hand, have auto drivers sticking their heads out and exclaiming “Ange poga maten!” and you are left with a doubt as to whether you asked the auto guy to take you to Pondi Bazaar or Pondicherry!
So you finally have finally flagged down an auto guy who is willing to take you to your destination. Now comes the real infuriating part: The bargaining.
Auto Drivers in Chennai tend to think that ever single person who flags them down is a relative of either the Ambanis or maybe even Bill Gates, because even a lousy ride from Office to Home (which would be about 10 minutes) would be charged Rs. 70 at the least!
Some of the figures they quote will have you forget the math that you learnt in school and trust me its almost like we hand them a chunk of our property in writing in exchange for a ride to wherever!
The way they bargain is hilarious as well! Every street one wants to travel to would have a “one-way street” and it is because of this imaginary one way menace that the “poor” auto fellas have to charge such exorbitant rates. I do pity them! Grrrr!
This is how a typical conversation would go (Pardon my tamil!):
Me: “Anna, R.A.Puram Pono”
Auto fella: “Seri ma! Okaronge!”
AF: “oru 50 rupees kodungo!”
Me: “50 a? Illa Anna! Adhu varaykum 30 Rupees pothum!”
AF: “Illama ange one way iriku, pinne U-turn panni , angenu right cut panni, ingénue left vandu, pinnem U-turn panni straight pono.”
Turst me! These guys are as irritating as a box full of proposals!
So you get an auto guy who has agreed to give you a ride for a fare you are also ok with. Congratulations! The true test of a chennaite is of course surviving the auto ride! I really don’t know where these fellas get their driving license from because trust me I would not even let them take me in a bullock cart for the way they drive! It’s almost like you got into the auto with some milk and ice cream in hand and gave the fella a challenge saying “By the time I reach my stop, I dare you to turn this glass of milk and this bowl of ice cream into a lovely milkshake!”
These guys love every bump on the road. Incase they even miss one; don’t breathe a sigh of relief because they are sure to make it up with 2 extra bumps on the way! I can imagine a driver not being conscious of other people’s lives but hello! Auto drivers are probably the only people on earth who don’t care about their own lives as well! It’s like they are on a constant acid trip!
The auto travels more on the pavement than the road, the auto drivers tend to stare more at the passengers through the rear view mirror (esp more if it is a girl and even more if she is wearing a T-shirt! The jumping over bumps increases then!) than the road and of course their vocabulary when it comes to obscenities knows no bounds! Even if an accident is their fault, the obscenities pour out like lava an over active volcano!
Going for an auto drive in Chennai is like watching a horror/ action/ drama flick! There are constant screams, oohs and aahs! Endless fights and of course it’s a life altering experience that makes even the most sad person love life to the fullest!
Ok you’re about done with your ride, your hair has taken a slight shade of grey and you have bitten your nails down to your elbow but no matter you are still breathing and that’s a good thing!
Some cunning auto fellas have the audacity to ask for more money than bargained for and that is so ticking off! To avoid such a situation, make sure you always have enough change with you so that you can give the exact amount. The most common excuse any A fella would have is “Saary ma! Change ille!”and that just makes your life miserable!
In case the final bargaining continues, make sure you give the amount agreed upon initially in 50 ps coins and scoot! They too need a little pain in life!
So the next time you take an auto in Chennai, make sure you have had the best meal in your life and pray to god like it’s the end of the world, because for all you know, it just would be! All the best!