From literature to business, it’s been a culture shift but I am enjoying every minute of it. I survive on my sense of humour. Love Wodehouse, westerns, crime thrillers, and a good laugh with family and friends.

Mythili Rajkumar

Driven by kindness

| Updated on March 09, 2018

The men we all love to hate have redeemed themselves, to some measure, with those gestures of selflessness.

Chennai autorickshaw drivers, generally a reviled lot, showed during the recent rains that they could be different

“They are a breed unto themselves.” “What they do is plain extortion.” “You have to wage a battle to pay by meter.” “In places like Coimbatore, they are at least polite while fleecing you. In Chennai, their abusive language adds insult to injury.”

By now you would have guessed who is being described thus. You are right, it is the autorickshaw drivers of Chennai.

And by a logical extension of thought, you wouldn’t be wrong if you wondered what they did during the recent floods, if they overcharged you during sunny weather!

However, one can’t tar the lot with the same brush.

I, for one, was lucky to get autos to ferry me to and from office during those terrible November-December days for pretty reasonable fares. Of course, where I would have paid Rs 100, I paid two or three times more. But that was peanuts, given the lashing rain, the condition of the roads and the menacing floods.

Take that fateful Wednesday, for instance. Leaving home at 11.30 in the morning, when my neighbour and I hailed passing autos, one fellow finally stopped — more out of curiosity than business interest. Where to, he asked. Egmore first, then Mount Road…..

Aayiram ruba kudippiya? (will you give Rs 1,000), he wanted to know. But after a brief wait, we did get reasonable autodrivers – the first dropped us at Choolaimedu and the second at Mount Road, in all for a bill of Rs 300.

But it was when I rushed home from office Wednesday evening, after learning that the house had been flooded, that I needed all the luck — and got it. After at least 10 autowallahs drove past on Mount Road with comments like, “West Mambalam? Forget it,” and “Duraiswamy subway? It’s under water” the one who finally stopped at my call was a ‘pucca gentleman,’ as they say. “West Mambalam…mmm, it will cost you Rs 300,” he said. I jumped in and we took off. Over potholes and puddles, over overflowing drains and ditches, we rode and rode. His was a never-say-die spirit and he put to use every trick in the book, saying “This lane is always dry, let’s try it, or “I know a shortcut here, it takes us to Cathedral Road rightaway.” Triplicane, Royapettah, Nungambakkam High Road, Habibullah Road… all the areas went past, in different stages of water-logging. My friendly neighbourhood automan finally met his match when we descended the Rangarajapuram flyover near the Vivek showroom: Swirling waters that were at least 3 feet deep lay ahead.

“Please stop, you can’t move an inch ahead, I’ll wade my way home from here,” I pleaded. Reluctantly, he agreed. I gave him a 500 rupee note. He returned a wet Rs 100 note despite my urging him to take it all. “Take care, madam,” “Follow the lady walking ahead of you”…he kept calling out encouragingly before driving away on a new savari (ride).

There are many untold tales of automen’s kindness during those days when cabs were hard to come by and cars were marooned. A colleague shared a horrific account of how his niece was stranded, with her baby, for over 10 hours at the airport after her flight was cancelled. It was an auto driver who finally braved the floods and helped her reach home.

Another touching tale he narrated was about an auto driver who ferried a pregnant woman to hospital but refused to take money after dropping her. He visited the hospital two days later, with gifts worth Rs 1,000 for the newborn!

Granted, other than the lucky ones, many others would surely have paid through the nose for auto rides during the recent rains. Nevertheless, the men we all love to hate have redeemed themselves, to some measure, with those gestures of selflessness. Wouldn’t you agree?

Published on December 25, 2015

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