Monday, September 23, 2013

Stop running after the autorickshaw

Commuting in Mumbai is one hell of a ride. It takes nothing less than two to three hours to travel anywhere in this cosmopolitan city of possibilities and improbables. The place is both famous and notorious for its public transport system, its white-and-purple suburban trains, red buses, and yellow-and-black taxis and autorickshaws. What it lacks is proper infrastructure. It is not unusual to see large crowds of people at railway stations, bus stops, and taxi and auto points at any time of day or night.

Among these modes of transport, the autorickshaws, which are permitted to ply only in the suburbs and distant suburbs, number more than 150,000. These three-wheeler pygmies are inadequate to ferry Mumbai's teeming millions. Likened to ants or cockroaches by bus drivers perched in their high seats, the "autos" are notorious for refusing fares. They say no outright if your destination is not on their preferred route. Filing a complaint with the traffic police or transport authority is futile. Instead, people prefer to flag down the next auto which is as likely to say no. If you are lucky, you could get one on the seventh or tenth attempt.

While the suburban train, known as "local train" in native parlance, is the lifeline of the city, the autorickshaw plays an important role too. Once you alight from a train and come out of the station you either make a dash for a bus or a run for an auto, to take you to your office or wherever it is you wish to go. Some people sweat it out in serpentine queues at auto stands; others move away from the queue and try and flag down any empty three-wheeler they can spot.

If commuting in Mumbai is stressful, getting an autorickshaw is a nightmare. What should be a simple and routine exercise becomes a nerve-racking chase that drains you both physically and mentally. So much so that on reaching office you are most likely to start your day by complaining about the audacity of the auto riders and narrating your “horrible” experience. In your agitated state, you forget that many of your colleagues have had the same experience.

You might wonder what all this has got to do with being positive. There is an important lesson in it.

Give up the chase, as in life, so also for the autorickshaw, a metaphor for all that we seek or desire. As the wise man will tell you, the thing you want most won’t come to you in spite of your best efforts. And yet it often comes your way when you least expect it. So when you don't get something, give up your quest. You are probably better off without it. If it must it will come to you anyway.

Similarly, if you don't get an autorickshaw after waiting for a reasonable length of time, give up the wait. Instead, take a bus or walk it up; don't fret or rue over your bad luck. Something will happen, as it so often does without you realising it: as you are walking home at the end of a tiring day out of nowhere an autorickshaw will stop in your path, its occupants will pay their fare and get off, and the auto rider will look at you inquiringly. “Get in,” he will say, when you tell him your destination. If you think hard you'll see that this wasn't the first time you got an auto when you weren't looking for one. That is pretty much how things happen to us.

Inconsequential as they may seem, never underestimate the power of small miracles—they happen all the time in our life. The key is how often do we see them.


  1. have you by any chance read the Tarquin Hall books about Vish Puri Most Private Investigator? I wonder how you would view them.

    1. Nan, I came to know of Tarquin Hall and his sleuth Vish Puri through blogs though I haven't read any of the books. From the reviews I have read I think I'd would easily identify with the character and the setting. I think the stories play out in Delhi up north and hundreds of miles from Mumbai.

  2. Yes, they are in Delhi, and I think quite wonderful.