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Balancing a corporate job and an autorickshaw

 Brian de Souza | Updated on January 17, 2018


Shashikumar represents new India’s sense of entrepreneurship

 When he gets back from work in the afternoon, Shashikumar has a light snack, puts on a pullover and hops into his autorickshaw to begin the second part of his daily routine. From 5.30 till 9 pm, he ferries people across the city in his endeavour to achieve his daily earnings target.

A commerce graduate, Shashikumar works at Accenture’s MIS division during the day before getting into his three-wheeled machine in his owner avatar. When he passed out of college, one of his dreams was to sign on for a course in cost accountancy but family commitments made pursuing this goal difficult. That is when driving an auto came as the most pragmatic solution. “I like the independence that it gives me in addition to the fact that I am the master of my time and destiny,” he says.

Born and brought up in Bengaluru, Shashikumar worked his way through college in a courier company and then moved to a small firm in the posh Indira Nagar suburb. To supplement his income, he bought an autorickshaw which he operated after office hours. It generated useful additional income for his family.

Yet, before he acquired his prized possession, he did a ‘survey’ (as he puts it) of an autorickshaw with trusted school friends. “I found that while people tend to prefer buses when they travel alone, it is the autorickshaw that is a better and comfortable option for a small family,” he says. He then decided to buy a Bajaj model as it was the only product with resale value.

When Shashikumar moved to Accenture, where the pay was much better, he saw no reason to give up driving his beloved three-wheeler. “I have a licence to drive a car as well but I feel good in this vehicle,” he says. Driving an Ola or Uber was never an option as he would have had to go to fetch a customer only when he got a call. “I like to pick up people on the go and keep moving in various localities,” he says. On weekends, he ups his daily target four times.

Besides his native Tamil, Shashikumar speaks Kannada, English and a smattering of Telugu. He is equally happy in his day assignment and reiterates that Accenture is a good place to work as it is a process-driven and professional environment. His day begins at 6am when it is ‘Asia time’ and preparing reports for the company’s global clients kicks off in right earnest.

Millenial man

In many ways, 28-year-old Shashikumar epitomises today’s young millennials who value a job and take pride in the fact that there is dignity in all kinds of work. In fact, one of his questions to this writer was, “Do you have your own business or do you work for someone?”  Come to think of it, he balances both rather effectively.

Shashikumar has had some interesting passengers in his daily rides but recalls one in particular. This was a Japanese man walking out of a prominent mall who did not seem the type to travel in an autorickshaw. Yet, he got into this one and was both delighted and surprised when told that the ride would be charged on the meter. Generally, foreigners are quoted ridiculously high rates and this was perhaps a welcome relief to the gentleman.

They got chatting and Shashikumar presumed his passenger was a tourist. He asked him if he lived in Tokyo and about life in Japan. To his surprise, this man worked with Honda Cars and invited Shashikumar to a beer and snacks when dropped off at his destination. And even when the latter politely declined, he was still given a generous tip of ₹100 for the ride.   On a typical day, Shashikumar ferries 10-15 people across the city, going as far as Bommanahalli on the outskirts or Electronic city in the east, and to Tumkur and beyond in the west.   A lover of James Bond movies , he likes to relax with his family when time permits. Shashikumar is also keen on making enough money to buy a home and then a small car. The Renault Kwid is on the priority list but the autorickshaw will, in all likelihood, continue to be part of his kitty even then. 

India is estimated to have five million auto rickshaw drivers, many of whom are struggle to make ends meet, and have large families to support on their meagre incomes. It is an extraordinarily hard life where many of them need to factor in heavy rentals and fuel costs.

Interestingly, in 2010, the University of Texas at Austin conducted a study to understand the lives of autorickshaw drivers and recommend ways to improve their conditions. A pilot study of 25 drivers was conducted in Bengaluru and among the recommendations made were a driver training academy as well as providing them medical and insurance benefits. It is something that the likes of Shashikumar will welcome wholeheartedly.

The writer is a Bengaluru-based communications consultant

Published on July 21, 2016

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