“How do you sit in one of this things? It is so small.”
“Why, we are a small-built people.” I didn’t explain to him how big a convenience it is to driving-challenged, small-built people like me.
“I mean, what if you have an accident, do you bury the person with the rickshaw?”
I got his point.
Today I rode an autorickshaw to work. It was no ordinary ride. I was seething with fear and fidgety all the time.
The driver, a minor, hardly, about 12 years of age, had me, and another man with him on the narrow driver’s seat. I didn’t have a place to hold so I was hanging on to his steering rod with one foot on his brake. The road had disintegrated in the rain and there were huge craters in which an auto could sink without a trace.
Four people were already sitting on the back. So that made us seven people.
“Hey, Chotu,” he called out cheerfully to a friend.
“Hey, Motu,” the friend acknowledged and jumped into the auto beside me.
Now we were eight people in the narrow confines of the auto, which for my American friend was too small to seat one person. I couldn’t squirm; I couldn’t breath. Not that I wanted to, because coming up ahead of me was the open public toilet.
Everyday when I pass this area I hold my breath. When I have passed it I shake my head and say thanks to the Lord. It was that dirty, stinking, and what made it more repulsive was the squatting people. The stench was unbearable.
I held my breath and averted my eyes.
The auto’s front wheel sank into a hole big enough to accommodate two such autos and with it I lurched to one side. The man beside me, the “Motu” said something like “@#$%^&*” and jumped out just in time so that the auto didn’t keel over.
The boy-driver hung there working on the accelerator. The man on the other side also jumped out and with some help from the “Motu” pushed the auto to safety.
Catastrophe averted! Talk of Indian ingenuity.
Then there were more such holes ahead of us. I hung on to the steering rod and prayed hard. Lord, reach me safely; what have I done to deserve this?
“Why do you seat so many people? There could be an accident.” I asked out of curiosity.
“Saab, nahi tho kamayi kaise hoga? Aap log panch rupayese jyada deneke liye mana karthe hai, na?”
“How will I earn money otherwise? You refuse to give more than Rupees five.”
This is some curious fundamental of Indian economics that had evaded me earlier. I don’t know the basics of economics, so I wouldn’t dare postulate here. At this point let the economists take over. Or, let me give it a try.
By seating eight people in his auto he earned Rupees forty. That is Rupees twenty-five more than he would earn otherwise. By sitting with eight other people I saved myself Rupees ten. Whoa, anyone see the budding economist in me, or the Chotu, auto-driver?
The auto dropped me right in front of my office. This is where we offer economies of scale to western corporations by taking over their routine customer interaction and marketing functions.
As the auto sped away on the deserted road I saw written on the back of it the usual, “HORN OK PLEASE, TATA.”
Then below it was scrawled something that caught my eye, “Shubh, Labh.” “Auspicious, Profit.”
That sure was an eye-opener.