Every city has something unique to it, something that lends it its own character, making it different from any other city on the planet. Chennai is no exception, and the one thing that sets this city apart is: its autorickshaws, or rather, their drivers. Undoubtedly Chennai’s favourite sons, these auto-drivers are world renowned for their honesty and polite disposition.
Yes, I was obviously kidding. And you would have known that immediately if you’ve ever had the pleasure of riding a Chennai auto. But despite their seemingly obvious unpopularity, I honestly feel that the auto-drivers in Chennai are more tourist-friendly than anywhere else in India. They’re definitely better than, say, Bangalore, where the driver can’t ever decide which language he wants to speak in.
Your average Chennai auto-driver, on the other hand, is fluent in a number of languages, including English, which he will demonstrate by addressing you, “Brether…” from time to time. And if you make the mistake of saying more than “Ah” in reply, then you immediately become his best friend and he starts feeling like he can talk to you about everything that’s troubling his mind. Which is actually not that bad a thing, because considering the rate at which Chennai traffic moves these days, the driver might fall asleep if he had no one to talk to. Now the drivers understand that not all passengers are dying to talk to them, but that doesn’t stop them from jabbering on anyway. It’s in their nature to be talkative. And as a passenger, you have no choice but to clench and bear with it. There’s no escape.
There are many such problems involved with Chennai auto travel, and it’s very important that you know about them. That’s why I’ve decided to help you out in the form of these…
Frequently Asked QuestionsQ. Whenever I get into an auto, I immediately notice this mysterious looking black thing inside. What is it?A.
That’s the driver.Q. No, not him, you idiot. It’s this funky looking black object with a number display and all. It looks sophisticated but doesn’t seem to serve any specific purpose. What exactly is that? And what does it do?A.
Oops! Sorry, my mistake! Yes, I know the object you’re talking about. That would be the fare meter. It’s there strictly for decorative purposes only.Q. So how is the fare calculated then?A.
It’s a very complicated procedure because there are many factors that are involved in calculating the cost of an auto journey. These include distance, number of passengers, time of the day, rate of interest, relative humidity and the net run rate. Plus, an extra 5 bucks for everytime the driver calls you ‘brether’.Q. How do I go about haggling over the cost?A.
Price negotiation can be quite tricky but it can be done. First, go upto a driver, name your destination and ask him to quote his price. Now take that figure and subtract Rs.100,000 from it. That’ll give you the amount the trip should actually cost. And that in turn means that you’ll soon have to decide if you’re going to have to sell your house or not. However, if you ask nicely enough, the driver might consider reducing his demands. For further discounts, call him ‘brether’.Q. What is meant by the phrase "meterukku mela"?A.
It means that you will, in fact, have to sell your house.Q. Are you hinting that there are no honest auto drivers in Chennai?A.
Of course not! I’d never do something that stupid. No, I am STATING that there are no honest auto drivers in this city. It’s a union rule.Q. Hmmm… ok, you said auto drivers are talkative. What do they talk about?A.
Oh they generally don’t need a specific subject. All they need is a starting point. Recently, I was travelling to Satyam Cineplex in an auto which had so many Rajnikant stickers pasted on the windshield that I’m not too sure how much of the road the driver was actually able to see. As we started moving, my heart in my throat, the driver said, “Enna movie, brether?” And forgetting the “Ah” rule, I stupidly told him, “XXX 2”. And that was all that was required to keep him going for the rest of the journey… “Engleesh phileem a? Nalla acsion movie a brether?” “Jackie Chan padama, brether?” “Avaru vandhu super, brether, semma fight” “Chandramukhi paathuteengala brether” “Rajni politics varuvaara brether” and on and on and on…Q. So, what are we supposed to do when he’s going on like this?A.
Oh you have no choice. The more you try to ignore him, the louder and more irritating his voice will become. And if he doesn’t hear you speak for some time, he’ll immediately want to make sure that you’re still alive. “Brether?” he’ll go, “BRETHER?” So, you’ll have to keep reassuring him with an “Oh” now and then.Q. Is there absolutely no way to escape this?A.
There is something you can try. If you have a cell-phone, take it out and pretend you’re talking to someone else. The driver, the polite man that he is, will not disturb you. Of course, to carry on a long conversation with no one at the other end, you need a very active imagination, and powerful jaws. If you don’t have either, you can listen to him gabble and just pray that you meet with an accident and die, which is quite likely considering the number of stickers on the windshield.Q. Ya, what’s with all the stickers?A.
Another union rule, I’m afraid. There’s nothing we can do about it. But the autos with the movie star stickers are actually quite ok. But if you get one which has a sticker with two garish, murderous looking eyes and ‘NO FEAR’ emblazoned below them in capital letter in a shockingly distasteful MS Word Art font, then you should immediately make sure you’ve taken out an accident insurance policy.Q. Ok, I think I’m going to have to travel by Chennai autos in the near future. What’s the most important thing to remember?A.
The most important thing to remember is that I’m currently on the lookout for a new house. So, if you’re selling, you know whom to call.Q. Ah thanks, anything else you want to tell me?A.
Ya. Good luck!