About Me

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Grapes Were Sour

Read the blog below about auto-drivers in Bangalore? If you’ve read it, thank you! If you haven’t, kindly do and then accept heartfelt thanks (ladies stand in front of queue). If you don’t want to read it – that’s alright too – now, that I’ve written it, neither do I. What I’ve written in the current piece draws a wee bit from what I’ve written below. A sequel if you may call it one – hence, the request to read the earlier blog.


With the arrival of the end of my bus-travel days, I looked forward to getting a 2-wheeler. Small thing now, but back in those days, to a guy like me it was as important as a color photo of Silk Smitha. Fate, however, made a quick move on me and sent me off from the city, moving the bike out of the picture. The closest analogy for this kind of disappointment, involves waiting in the movie ticket queue for about 30 patient minutes. With 3 people left, they announce that the last 20 tickets will be sold outside in black by the guy wearing red, on a highest-bidder basis. Multiplexes don’t do that, but try a Tamil or Telugu movie release on a weekend.

For all those intermittent visits to the city, the mode of transport forced upon me, was the humble autorickshaw - ‘humble’ being a reference to my state after being fleeced.

Only recently did Lady Luck smile again and put me back where I do belong – Bangalore. And not in Aruba, as lone touch-up fellow for the Pirelli calendar models… that’s where I would like to belong. I knowwww… its only semantics! On knowing with certainty that I would be in Bangalore for atleast 3 months, my first need was to change the mode of transport. A car was more of a luxury and less utilitarian I felt, like wearing golden jocks! It had to wait its time. It was back to square one. Plans from the earlier years were taken out and the dust covering them blown away.

Deciding to buy a bike was as easy as provoking Andrew Symonds in India. The difficulty was in deciding which one should be bought – how should we provoke Symonds - and therein lies the essence of this current piece.

Its time now to introduce a friend of mine – friend, philosopher and misguide – Manoj Bhat. A senior from college, Manoj in most aspects represents a typical MBA. Which means, he believes he’s either over-worked or underpaid and on Monday mornings, both. There are however, other aspects in which he doesn’t subscribe to the norms. His choice of leisure activities, for starters! Manoj is an endurance runner and most of his leisure time is spent training for the full-marathon. He is the kind who will run 20 kms in a matter of 2 hours and call it a warm-up. I on the contrary, would use a more scientific term to it – evaporation.

Also different or atleast not common-place is what he rides – A Thunderbird from the Royal Enfield stable. One may want to argue that it isn’t the greatest choice of a bike for city roads. “Why, a Pulsar or even a Splendor is far better for acceleration!” you may say. After half-a-dozen whiskey shots later you may even pick the gall to add “A TVS 50 or a Luna is more value for money!” I wouldn’t disagree with the former or the latter – more so with the latter because in principle, I don’t argue with anyone who has that much of alcohol in the body. All said and done, big bikes have a great appeal about them.

Paape’s Jawa was my first interaction with a member of the big-bike club. This was in 1998 when Pulsars were still restricted to the Physics syllabus. He would politely let me handle it from the bike-stand inside the college to the first junction we came across and when he was of a generous disposition, even further. A grand 200 meters it was. I even got to wipe the dust of its covers everyday, I remember. In return, I would ward off any attempts by the junior girls to play the role of Pillion on his bike. A very good friend I make. Loyalty is the key here… that and a mean look when any girl tried to capture the pillion seat. I would fight away the need to get onto a bus as much as I could. And if it meant my close friend would have to remain single and unable to mingle for 4 years – only fair, I thought.


In the run up to the final decision, I was faced with two front-running options - the Bullet always held an appeal, but as a practical choice, the Activa seemed to make sense. Unable to conclude, I checked with some friends.

“An Activa is perfect for city roads; solid pick-up…yes, picking up girls also…. Yes... petrol and charm are both needed”

“Bullet – mileage and maintenance – not so easy. No spare parts easily available!”

“You got just one life Suri, go for it! You’ve always liked big bikes… remember the Jawa?”

“You’ve never owned a bike earlier, the Bullet will be too much to handle.”

Arguments were shot back and forth, all with the intent of easing the selection process. I gave it deep thought for nearly 3 days and an equal number of nights… By the morning of the fourth day, it was all over.

The winner was clear. The Bullet it was! If I ever convinced myself that the Activa was a better choice than the Bullet, I would do so because the grapes were sour and not because I genuinely felt that way about the Activa.


Having made the choice a quick check of the price list of the models at the nearby showroom was made. One lakh Rupees was the general figure. With my savings I could easily purchase the helmet and a mud-guard; with a kidney thrown in I guess the complete bike would be at buying length. Deciding to retain my body intact, I did the next best thing – approach Manoj and check if the biking club he rode with had any used-bikes up for sale.

A day passed by… then another! By the third day restlessness stepped into the picture and I cold-called Manoj. For all of my luck there was one, he said. A Thunderbird for 50K; the owner was abroad and wouldn’t return for a few years atleast. I could check the bike out anytime I wanted. This was it I knew. My bike was waiting for me somewhere. But I was unable to convince the owner for a 2 day warm-up period on the bike. Manoj stepped in again! He suggested a ride to Hoskote on his own Thunderbird, to figure out if I can handle it. At 11 in the morning on a Saturday we met up. I sat on a Royal Enfield, as a rider, for the first time and worked the gears. All smooth! The ride had begun. Power from the engine reached the wheels with precision. By the time we covered a few kilometers, I was convinced.

6 hours later I was back on my own. All that was there was to arrive at a fair price for the bike on sale and get to the haggling part with its owner. A short test ride to a mechanic and a phone call to the showroom later, the price was clear – 50K was on the higher side. The recommended price was 40K. “Five thousand rupees jaasthi for frensip” said the mechanic with a smile that was short of a few teeth. The mech gets his friends for dirt cheap I second guessed.

Within hours, the mail from me must have reached Manoj’s friend – the owner of the bike. 40K was what I was willing to give. It was only a matter of time before we arrived at some conclusion and with that feeling I relaxed. 2 days later the response wasn’t still there. The mail could have been wrongly recognized as spam; he may not have found time to read it – the possibilities were large.

Things couldn’t wait any further at my end. I called his folks in Mysore. It was 12 pm, on a Wednesday that was already loaded with work.

“Aunty, I checked with the mechanic. He said 50K was too high and 40K was a good price. Even the showroom person says the same. I’m fine upto 45K but nothing above that aunty… and yes, I’m also in a hurry to get done with this… before Dussehra goes by for sure… Oh! OK… that’s great to know… pretty good price too… What’s his name? That’s fine… Thanks a lot anyways aunty!”


A few minutes later, some friends and I marched up to get lunch at the office canteen. I felt heavy and settled down for a fruit salad - an unholy mess of banana, shredded oranges and apple pieces, all mixed with honey and topped with a lot of grapes. “So when are you getting that Thunderbird” asked one of the colleagues. “Weren’t you supposed to know the final price yesterday itself”, he continued.

“Thunderbird? It’s not such a great bike” I remarked, while shoving some of the fruit mix into my mouth. “I’m buying the Honda Activa, its certainly the better one for me."

And as I chewed on the salad, I could feel the grapes.... the grapes.... were sour!

Monday, October 01, 2007

Autodrivers of Bangalore - Second half (or) The Journey Not-completed

For the first half of the journey, kindly refer to the blog below this one

What amuses me most is the versatility with which the average Bangalore autodriver has arrived at this juncture – from being a mere con-artist to one who can nudge bigwigs out of the Interpol’s red corner list; from being fluent only in one language – abusive, to being able to swear in 6 – he has come a long path. And if he throws one quick glance around and looks at the path… he’ll realize it’s the wrong side of a one-way road.

I will take you, my dear reader, on a ride with one of these autos. The ride itself may be uneventful, but there is plenty to cover before and after it. See if you can get some learning out of this and apply it in Bangalore or in your own city if there is a fit.

The pain in the backseat starts seconds before you get into the auto. A potential traveler, with hope in eye and good coffee and sweet wife waiting at home, approaching an auto driver will get the following treatment –

Let’s assume the pedestrian can speak Bangalore’s version of Kannada

Passenger: “Bartheera!” (Translation – “Comingaaa!”)
Auto Driver: “Yellige!” (Translation – “Where to?”)
Passenger: “Koramangala” (Translation – “Koramangala”)
Auto Driver: “Tch!” (Translation – “Tch!”)

Other travelers, heading out in any of the other three directions, will meet the same fate. You conclude that that auto drivers have got into market research - using cluster analysis to figure out where citizens would like to travel most - and have quit their natural-born instincts of transporting people around.

Let’s assume that Shukra and Shani in the potential passenger’s zodiac for the week are in the right position. They aren’t upto any of their usual tricks and are rather co-operative. This translates to the potential passenger finding an autodriver who is willing to transport him to the chosen destination. Now, he needs to face the next level of the game – the “Put something on the meter and give no!” syndrome. Here’s how it works…

No driver in his normal senses is willing to go by the meter. There always is a need to ask the traveler to “put something on the meter” and pay them. Being a veteran at receiving such requests from those tough souls, I suggested to one of them, a banana for the putting. The humor not only failed to register but was greeted with the look of a lion being told it had to go on the Atkins’ diet.

Convince the autodriver that you need to be taken for a ride and he might agree, but only on the outside. Deep inside, he has worked out the figurative meaning of “being taken for ride” and will scheme and plot like he’s the white-sari protagonist in a Ramsay movie. At that most crucial V junction in the road ahead, while leading you to believe that the Indian team did win the T20 and that he is indeed going to take the right of the fork as you wanted, he will take a cruel left. Your yelling at him for taking the wrong route will bring out the Socrates in him, convincing you with skewed logic that this route is indeed the shorter one and that all roads lead to the same destination (hence the adage – “All roads lead to roam”).

Of late, I have in my experiments with autorickshaws (read not much between the lines… the experiments are straight and have the SPCA’s approval), figured out that the auto’s wires snap when there are pretty women on the road or when a juicy junction in a busy part of the city is looming large. “Wire cut”, he will proclaim with gusto and a smile, as though that was your most anticipated event for the year since your great aunt infected you with common cold in mid-summer mango season. He will then go onto charge the full amount as shown by the faulty meter, along with whatever you can put on it. Just when you are out of sight, the meter in a pang of guilt will fix itself up and be ready for the hot chick from the north-east who is showing her legs a.k.a Yana Gupta in babuji zara dheere chal. I did try emulating them on one such desperate occasion; the results if memory serves me right, weren’t the same – the post-legging scene also, if I remember, involved a cop, some more autorickshaw drivers and women screaming and running into the front of moving buses. One is always left with the after-thought that he should have given the autodriver a nice kick between his legs and scream “banana split” in Mandarin before running.

A special mention also needs to be made of my friend Varun Veernala. Notice two things about the name – there is bravery spelt out clearly in the surname and there is no hint that he is connected to the Nizam of Hyderabad. When you pluck VV from Pecos and put him in front of any of our friendly autodrivers, both the observations, mentioned at the start of the para will go kaput. The bravery in his name quickly gets replaced with wetness in trousers and all autodrivers will immediately believe he is related to royalty. For the shortest of rides (and on one occasion, just for touching the autorickshaw), the drivers, on looking at VV will say “120”, “100” or the thereabouts. The auto unions have all passed decrees – the actor Ambareesh is our idol and no one shall charge Varun Veernala less than 100 for any ride. Great unity these auto drivers have.

So there! All I had to say about the drivers of Bangalore’s three-wheeled monsters. I do realize that I may not have touched all aspects. For example, his kindness in running over only one school kid when there is potential for three; his penchant for blowing cigarette smoke when the Miss inside is asthmatic – just to name a couple. After all, it is difficult to mention in one piece of writing, all that an auto-driver can do to you, without outraging modesty or referring to your lineage. I also choose to not make it completely exhaustive, so that the reader may pitch in with his views. No word limits. One nice compilation later, I can visit the auto-drivers union at Rajajinagar, and make my presentation. Let’s see if they will charge me one-and-a-half on the meter on my return journey from there. I dare them! And if I don’t blog within another week, you’ll know where to find me… please bring enough money.