I had the opportunity to experience Bengaluru for quite some time through the eyes of a resident. It is a city of many delights – the easiest on the eye among all Indian metros, the advantages of a modern lifestyle (though only until 11 pm, more on that later) without losing out on a certain old-India charm, and a climate that gently, smilingly urges you to forgive the city’s idiosyncrasies, generally with a very respectable success percentage.
My new job having given me the opportunity to escape the bullying, brutal Hyderabadi summer, and the relatively easy pace of Bengaluru cushioning the impact of being separated from the great things I love about Hyderabad (my family, functioning public transport, nightlife and, most importantly, home delivery.), I was able to approach life in my new home with a cool, breezy confidence not unlike that shown by Duke Nukem on learning that aliens had invaded Earth, and were planning to steal away our babes. (I read that as ‘babies’ when editing my draft, even though I myself had written it – a clear sign of priorities shifting with age).
Right up until the moment I had to encounter the famous auto-rickshaw drivers of Bengaluru.
When you move from Hyderabad to Bengaluru, along with warm welcomes and tearful goodbyes, you will also be flooded with well-meaning advice about auto drivers – friends will warn you about how they are a lazy, greedy lot (being either lazy or greedy is fine by me, but being both poses a rather sticky logical problem. Which can be solved only by a third ingredient – stupidity) who are intent on fleecing innocent commuters. However, this is plainly wrong, and an injustice, as I soon discovered.
For the first few days, my observations led me to the conclusion that auto-rickshaws in Bengaluru existed for purely decorative reasons, serving no actual function. Like teenagers in malls, they merely hang about, occasionally moving around purposelessly in what appear to be random directions and refuse to interact in any way with bystanders, even if said bystanders happen to be frantically waving their arms about, clearly desperate to get to a hospital or airport. It’s almost as if the city authorities got together and decided that, in addition to the many gardens, fountains and statues, Bengaluru needed a sprinkling of auto-rickshaws around the city as part of its beautification plan. Sort of like plonking down those useless but ornamental objects into your empty lots in all those Sim-City type videogames, in order to get bonus points.
However, after a few more weeks of careful study, I chanced upon the truth about the auto drivers of Bengaluru. You see, unlike their counterparts in Hyderabad who are essentially businessmen or those in Chennai who are essentially gangsters, the Bengaluru auto driver is a man of higher moral fiber. He is a hobbyist, who is driving the rickshaw not as a profession or duty, but merely in pursuit of pleasure and perfection – much like a violinist, painter or mountaineer. If his hobby earns him some money along the way, then that’s fine, but it is not all important.
This is why they merely cruise around the streets of the city, picking up fares merely if and when their whims urge them to, with a carefree disregard for profit or efficiency, which is the burdens of a man who is trying to earn a living. These men are on a different mission, they have a higher purpose – rickshaw driving for rickshaw driving’s own sake. Not for them the crassness of commerce. This is why people who compare Bengaluru auto drivers unfavourably with those of Hyderabad and Chennai, merely because they charge higher fare and refuse to ply, are making a mistake. Expecting a Bengaluru auto driver to take you where you want to go at meter fare is like expecting Dr.M.Balamuralikrishna to come and sing at your daughter’s birthday party, at the same rates charged by an amateur light music troupe. It is unfair and insulting, not to mention delusional.
I have decided to leave these men to their relentless pursuit of high art and take buses instead. It’s the respectful thing to do.
Another curious thing about Bangalorea . . . er . . . Bengalureans (city authorities should really consider the impact of their hasty name changes on derivative words such as this) is their liberal interpretation of the term ‘dead end’.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary a dead end is defined as ‘an end (as of a street) without an exit’. But not according to Bengalureans. They will cheerfully ask you to do such seemingly impossible things as “take a left turn at the dead end”. By which they really mean “take a left turn at the T-intersection, which is what I really mean when I cluelessly say ‘dead end’. Pliss don’t mind it.”
I often wonder what it would be like if there was a suspenseful, thrilling chase sequence in, say, a vampire novel, set in Bengaluru. It might be something along the lines of this:
As he pursued his frightened quarry into the bylanes, Gangrel knew that he would feed soon on fresh blood. The unfortunate wretch had, in sheer panic, lurched into a dead end. Gangrel had him cornered now – it would not be long before he would taste the sweet, coppery taste of a kill.
“Give up, fool. This is a dead end, there is no way out. I have you know.”, said Gangrel.
The human smiled. “Nope. You forget – this is Bengaluru.” he shot back, before suddenly taking a left turn and vanishing.
“Shit.”, said Gangrel.
You have to feel for Gangrel – but then, vampires would have to be pretty stupid to hunt in Bengaluru. Nobody steps out here after dark anyway.
Disclaimer: This is a humor column and the author has always espoused the cause of making statements tongue-firmly-in-cheek. He requests that you take his column with a generous pinch of salt, if not a bucketful. Water after it, however, is completely optional.