My Encounters with Mumbai Rickshaw Walas

The most challenging part of my work day is finding an auto rickshaw on Linking road during peak hours, to ply a short distance. I turn from Zenia to Xena – the warrior princess – fighting my way through the swarming traffic, competing with fellow office goers, all so that I can find someone to safely take me home. Sadly my ordeal does not end there. 

I seem to have the innate knack of attracting auto drivers that range from the obstinately rude to the downright cheap. An interesting rickshaw ride yesterday inspired me to list down the types of rickshaw walas I encounter on a regular basis, and here goes –

1. The Opinionated Chatterbox

This category seems to have an opinion on everything, and he ain’t afraid to voice it. Right from politics, to weather, to Bollywood, to the state of the roads – this one seems to know it all! And then there’s the moral police variety as well who enjoys talking aboutsanskaar and sabhyata. I cannot begin to tell you the number of times I have faked a phone conversation so that I don’t have to listen to him rant. And then there are the times I actually enjoy this category – it feels good to chat with a stranger sometimes, on any and every topic under the sun.

2. Desi Speed Racer

Murphy’s Law of Rickshaw walas #1 – When you are in a hurry, you’ll find yourself seated in an auto that travels at turtle speed. And when you’re in no real hurry to get home, you’ll find yourself seated in the auto of Mr. Desi Speed Racer. 

If I had a penny for every time I said, ‘Bhaiyya dheere chalao‘, I’d have a lot of pennies. These guys seem to be practicing for the Formula One, except that Indian roads aren’t made for that kind of speed. Neither are three wheeled auto rickshaws!

3. The Religious Bhakt

You’ll spot this one the minute you enter the rickshaw. Usually a middle aged fellow, adorned with tilak who drives around a mobile temple. You’ll find photo frames and idols of Gods near the driver’s seat complete with incense and garlands. 

I once had an auto rickshaw driver who refused to accept a note from me because I used my left hand to give him the money. I had to change the note, use my right hand this time, which the driver happily accepted and offered to the idols adorning the auto.

And then there was this one driver who insisted on taking me home via the Khar Danda road, because it was Saturday and we could stop and pay our respects at the Hanuman temple there. I actually went on a mandir darshan with him!

4. DJ Wale Babu

This is the cool rickshaw wala who has a ‘deck’ in his vehicle; the fellow that goes around playing blaring music for his entertainment as well as the amusement of vehicles around him. His choice of music is majorly retro Hindi and Bhojpuri super-hits, but you’ll also find the occasional rickshaw playing English numbers. I remember taking a rickshaw ride from Andheri to Bandra once where the driver – a young Catholic chap – played everything from Boney M to Abba.

(Image Credits – @dakuwithchaku )

5. The Chutta Collector

Murphy’s Law of Rickshaw Walas #2 – The lesser the amount of spare change in your wallet, the higher your probability of sitting in an auto where the driver says, ‘Madam chutta dena.’

Spare change or chutta is my top most reason for getting into an argument with rickshaw drivers and I am pretty sure it’s the same case everywhere. Even if they have a huge bag of coins hiding under their seat most of them will flatly refuse to part with their collection. If I owe you thirty-eight rupees and hand over a fifty rupee note to you, how much more chutta do you want, bhaiya?

6. The Creep

Murphy’s Law of Rickshaw Walas #3 – The later it is at night, the higher your chances of discovering The Creep is taking you home.

Women, we’ve all had those moments where we’ve felt that the rickshaw wala is examining us from the rear view mirror? Or the rare cheapo who tries to touch your hand while handing over your change. I’ve also had the occasional driver check me out, from head to toe before deciding whether he would like to ferry me or not. Sadly a couple of them have done the ‘checking out’ routine and refused to ply. Am I not good enough for you, ha?

7. The Genuinely Nice Guy

And then there are the genuinely nice auto walas. Like the one I encountered yesterday. I walked out of the rickshaw in a hurry (Masterchef had started 15 minutes ago!) and I left my cellphone in the back seat. The driver – a middle aged gentleman – called out to me, handed over my phone, and reprimanded me for being so careless; re-instilling my faith in humanity.

And then there are people like Sandeep Bachche, who I read about in this BuzzFeed article first. He donates a portion of his earnings to charity, and offers discounted rides to senior citizens and persons with disabilities. He also stocks newspapers in this vehicle, offers free WiFi, and gives you weather updates. He is also active on twitter (@SandeepBachche), and popular among Bollywood stars.

(Image Courtesy – @SandeepBachche)

So yes, the good guys exist. We have to remember the job they do ain’t easy – driving around the entire day in Mumbai’s heat, pollution, and traffic can drive anyone insane!

Have you also encountered any or all of these auto drivers? Tell me in the comments below.

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  1. A rickashaw wala in dombivali has a fish tank in his rick as mentioned by my colleague. so, i tried to show him our bandra ka rickshawala – sandeep bacche and there i came across your article.

    Beautifully penned down jotting down every minuscule observation. Enjoyed reading it. can co-relate it with my own encounters with rickshaw walas in aamchi Mumbai.

    1. Fish tank in the autorickshaw simply blows my mind away! I’m going to try and find a picture of that. I later discovered autos in Udvada, Gujarat that removed the back seat to install hand churned ice cream machines there. Mango in summer, strawberry in winter – only two flavours!

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