There are questions that have one and only one answer, and there are several questions that have the same answer.
For example :
Question : What is the thing you despise most about Pune?
Question :What is your worst transport nightmare in Pune?
Question : Why does your mood often get ^%#$& while traveling in Pune?
The answer : Autos / rickshaws.
(Why specifically Pune? Coz in other cities like Bombay, they are one of the most helpful and decorous species. In villages and towns, they are sociable and encourage negotiating over fares. But, in Pune, they are the uncrowned princes and emperors. Monarchs that live life on their own terms, and dictate others’ lives, too.)
They are tyrants on the roads, abusive and reckless, doling out dirty looks by the dozen. Dressed like cool-dudes, one leg up folded on the seat, chewing tobacco or betel leaf, and spitting around (not caring who’s near or behind and who’s clothes are getting soiled with their spit), maneuvering the vehicle like DC’s super-cool sports car. (DC = Dilip Chhabria, who else? Don’t teme you haven’t heard of him!)
In terms of nakhras, they outdo the fairer (and the not-so-fair) sex! What with their jazzily decorated vehicles, that are furthermore adorned with funky lights and massive garlands during special occasions and festivals. Some play loud disco music or romantic stuff of the 80s and refuse to turn it down or off (as if the music is the fuel!) and signs that read “don’t touch meter” (as if I’ve got nothing better to touch!), “carry change” (now that I’m not contesting or opposing) and much more.
I don’t care if you think I’m biased. I don’t care if you say there are exceptions who are polite and cooperative. I’ve read in the papers that some return cell-phones, valuables and money to customers. Not having come across any myself, I have come to the conclusion that the entire genus exists to fleece customers. (Of course, there are some that are friendly and chatty, but they also share the same objective wholeheartedly.)
Rude, ill-mannered, cheap fellows who keep watching women in their strategically-positioned rear-view mirrors. Insolent freaks who form long queues at auto-stands but refuse to go to locations you want, unless you pay extra. (For your info, once an auto is stationed at a stand, they are supposed to go wherever the passenger commands)
Or they refuse to go anywhere at all and direct you to their peers and stand-mates, as if you’re asking for charity or a free ride.
They purposely take long routes and fool newcomers to the city. Chiefly at stations and downtown places where someone or the other is bound to require and request their services.They need to fill fuel exactly at the time a customer is seated inside, wanting to get to his destination asap. (The meter is still ticking on, and the waiting charge obviously is borne by the silly, needy commuter.)
Not that they charge less anyway. The auto driver strategically quotes the fare a couple of Rupees above the correct tariff, by rounding up the number to the next higher figure. If you’re one of those informed folks who advocate justice and don’t mind haggling, then heaven be with you! The driver will look daggers at you as if you have committed a grave mistake, and then seek revenge for your direct albeit inconvenient expression. In a very uncomplicated, scrupulous way. “Chhutta do phir!” (= Gime the correct change then!) Topic over.
So, I have two simple recommendations for you when you intend to use an auto in the city:
1. Carry the tariff card (For your info, this formula also works in Pune – meter reading*8+2).
2. Carry enough change, almost 10 rupees to be on the safer side. (Even is the fare is Rs.18, you may end up paying 20 bucks. I’m ok if you’re fine with it!)
But even these wont help when you’re looking to travel after 9 pm. The kings of the roads deem it right to start asking for half returns!
(Half return = at odd hours, whatever is the fare upto the passenger’s destination, the actual fare is 1.5 times that as the auto may not find a new commuter and end up wasting fuel and time, so a humane response to an inhuman being’s troubles).
Legitimately, the half return charge is to be levied between 11 pm and 5 am. But “strike when the iron is hot” is the pet saying of this community. In the bargain, it is we who end up lighter in the pocket or on the weighing scale, while the auto drivers rejoice. Each day brings a new bakra, so no worries for them...
I have two funny incidents to share about them, but well, its time to say goodbye!
Watch out for the sequel!