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May 29th, 2012

The tale of a Delhi rickshaw-wala

One of my Twitter cyber-friends is the very thoughtful and eloquent @delhisultan. (That’s his twitter handle, for the non-tweeters amongst you)

You have already enjoyed 2 guest posts from him –  one was a restaurant review which he tweeted in real time, making us all very hungry and jealous, and another was a recent cycle trip through Old Delhi in search of the grave of Razia Sultana –  also posted in real-time, which makes people like me who follow him on Twitter able to share in the experience from the comfort of home.

On Friday night, @delhisultan posted a very different series of tweets.

He recounted a conversation with his autorickshaw driver, who struggles to make any kind of living, let alone a decent one.

When I cyber-chatted with @delhisultan the following morning to ask him whether  he  would write yet another guest post for me, he was, in his own words “still feeling low after that conversation.  It really hit me hard about how easy it is for me to pressurise them and make them comply but at what costs do they have to give in.”

Please read this eye-opening and moving post.  And reflect

“On my way home from AfricaDay2012, heard a story of great struggle & sadness from an autorickshaw driver, who I wasn’t ready to listen to.

I asked the autodriver to take me by the meter + a little more. He refused. I haggled. He did not relent. I said I will note his # plate.

I just wanted to get home. I walked away. He came up behind me & said he would. I sit. He angrily says: this f****** govt has ruined my life

Forced into paying exorbitant insurance & buying a meter box that is a few thousand rupees while meter remains stuck at Rs 19 for 3 years.

Works 12 hours in a day, lives on the outskirts of Delhi where he pays Rs 3,000 rent for a hut and electricity for Rs 300. What can he eat?

He takes only two days off in a month and those often go wasted standing in queues trying to service his vehicle. Hardly see his children.

This is the new shining superpower of a country where we define poverty at a little over Rs 20. He had nothing nice to say about the govt.

He kept driving & telling me his story. Not that he was seeking my sympathy. He wanted me to listen. Listen so I can understand his plight.

Listen I must because it is so easy to exert power on such people by feeling all civic and saying I will report him for not using his meter.

By expecting him to adhere to the meter, I feel I have been an upright citizen by getting someone to respect rule & regulations. Ashamed.

He tells me he often advises poor folks (new to the city) who want to board his auto that they should take the bus. He advises them how to.

It is only one poor man who can understand the aspirations of another poor man, he tells me. I see that as my duty to guide them.

Auto guy says, these big officers earn big money & they make decisions that affect my life. But they don’t even know what it means to be me.

They say CNG gas is going to rise. What will I save? what will I eat? how will I feed my family? Every rupee is squeezed out me by the govt.

The auto union is supposed to represent me when talking to the govt. They ask me to go on strike. Top guys get paid off. Who suffers? Me.

It is easy to get what we want without really considering what it must be like for those offering their services to us. Is it a fair price?

We reach home. meter shows Rs 50. He did not ask. I pay him more. We shake hands. A firm handshake of trust. He speeds away into the night.

Now I will engage for a win-win deal with an auto. Never exert a false sense of power as a customer. His anger at our system is justified.

His rudeness & refusal is not personal. His helpless angst is against our unfair system. He just sees you & me as a tiny cog in the system.

He seeks solutions. But he feels he cannot fight alone. And when he fights as part of a collective, he fears he will be taken for a ride.

deeply saddened by this conversation. Not that I wasn’t aware but I don’t put myself in their shoes & see the world through their eyes.

When an auto says no, don’t fight. Try reasoning with him. Reason for a deal that works best for both of you. Insist on meter + some more.

An auto guy opened my eyes to his plight. Delhi is a rich man’s city without a doubt. The poor (can) live here to service the rich & VIPs.”


Yesterday, our esteemed Delhi government increased the cost of CNG, which the rickshaw-walas use.

Poor man.



1 comment to The tale of a Delhi rickshaw-wala

  • How is the autorickshaw fellow different from, say, me, when I pay my taxes kicking and screaming just because someone else has the power to “note down my number plate and report”. We, ALL of us, are playing this out in our lives – we ALL help people as much as we can, we all get betrayed by our representatives, we all hyperventillate. I dont see the need to put myself in the autowallah’s shoes; heck, I already AM in his shoes.
    “His anger at our system”? “our system”? Heh!

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