Vehicles have been honking all around the flustered traffic policeman for a long time. His whistle lies against his paunch – defeated. There is confusion and desperation to reach offices/schools/colleges written across every face.
I decide to get down from the auto rickshaw half way to the office and walk the rest rather than sit through the traffic jam. I tell the auto rickshaw driver to stop way ahead my corner so that he can go back. As I hand over half my fare and start to walk, the driver stops me by blocking the way.
He is an old man. His dirty grey hair covers his sweaty collar. His eyes are red. He is sweating profusely and demands more money. I say no way. He starts shouting at the top of his voice in Tamil and hands me the money back. I understand only bits and pieces of what he says. He wants more money and has started talking in an utmost uncouth way.
I try looking for police. Well let’s say he has his own problems in the jam. I tell the driver this is all I’m giving. He says he doesn’t want it. I know the trick here.
Long stay in Chennai and frequent conflicts with these drivers has taught me their strategies. As soon as they know you are going to an IT office, they double the fair. As nobody bothers about meters, you have no option but to haggle back by cutting down the fare to half or to a reasonable amount. Once settled did you think you can take in the ride peacefully? You couldn’t be more wrong. There is always a chance that the driver bears the traits of a born criminal and many a time a specimen of this hateful species has demanded more money as they near destination, threatening to drop you right there. Usually happens if you are a girl traveling alone at night.
Now there is another set who on reaching the destination start quarrelling saying they drove more than what you said and hence need more money even if you had made it very clear where you need to go before starting. They usually start shouting near your office/apartment or just anywhere in public to embarrass and intimidate you into paying them. They usually resort to following you shouting god knows what in Tamil and one time the driver even tried putting money back in my bag. I shouted and said I’m going to get police and then he drove away grumbling.
Police doesn’t mean anything to them. I don’t know if they are bribed. But I have never witnessed or got a policeman to help with these issues. Drivers also seem nonchalant at the mention of police. There have also been reports in paper when the driver beat up a girl and her friend when they didn’t pay him what he demanded. And the public watched.
Coming back to my encounter this morning, the trick here is embarrassing me by shouting at me and attracting attention and humiliating me. I have been through this and paid most of the times just to run away from the scenario. Not this time. I take the money back and walk towards my office. Driver has got into frenzy now. He is spitting on the road and quivering with anger. I can feel all eyes on me. I guess its fun for some while for others it must be deja vu.
Driver blocks my way. I look at him angrily and threateningly. Its poor defense but it sure works. I am losing my cool. I catch something like “moonjaye paaru”(Look at her mug!!) in his lewd Tamil gibberish. I laugh thinking “Well its loads better than his!!” and that gets me back in control. He now wants the money back. I WIN!
But its not happiness one feels trapped at the end of such a situation. It’s very humiliating and emotionally draining to be subjected to mean and cheap auto rickshaw driver strategies. Only God can save Chennai from these deviled creatures. Or may be the Police?