Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Calcutta Autos!!

AUTOS ARE DELIGHTFUL by Warren Brown

Those “mechanical bugs”, called “Auto-rickshaws” or “Auto-taxis”, hop wildly and race across the streets, while narrowly missing vehicles and pedestrians. Autos are almost always overloaded. The autos are supposed to transport three passengers at the back and one passenger with the driver. However, by the early evening, when the “eyes of the law”, turn blind, three passengers sit in the front with the driver and three sit at the back. This “City of Dreams”, which are sometimes more like nightmares, which was once called Calcutta, has now been re-baptized as Kolkata, needs a few more rigid traffic laws and stricter policemen.

As you get up each morning and hail the first Auto that passes to take you to work, you are welcomed with ear-blasting music, from the “Mirch-masala” program Radio-FM. The popular Hindi, Bengali and English songs are played at a high-pitch volume. The speakers are strategically placed at the back of the auto, so that the passengers seated at the back receive the whole impact of the music. The volume controls are in the front with the driver, who turns it off and on when he pleases. If a few stocky men and a few brawny cart-pushers object, the stereo is turned off. However, when ladies, elderly and young people request them to play the music softly or to switch it off, the volume is turned down low for a few minutes before it is switched back on to maximum, as a form of punishment for its innocent victims.

Music in autos should be banned, where or where is the invisible Noise Pollution Control Board? The loud noise which in no way resembles even faintly music upsets its passengers, who are all setting off to work, college or school at the very beginning of the day. The “dull clods” of drivers, do not care about the inconvenience caused, to their passengers. “ Gaana toh mazaa Hai!” or “Music is fun and enjoyable!”, says the driver, “Enjoy it you working-class slobs”, the driver implies with a mischievous glint in his eyes, as he looks at his lady passengers seated at the back, complaining softly about the music. Playing music in the autos is a matter of great pride, a type of status symbol, among the auto-drivers. Music and lights help them to imagine that they a driving around in the latest sleek cars. The Chandney Chowk Market to Park Circus auto-route, is a great experience to have sitting as a passenger in an overloaded, noisy auto, with a reckless driver.

The Auto ride in the morning, evening and night is a nightmare on wheels, as the drivers dangerously zip through congested traffic, between pedestrians, cars, rickshaws, buses and taxis. The nervous passengers patiently wait for the dreadful sound of a crash and a whimpering bang. Images of Collisions and wrecked autos loom large in the minds of the petrified passengers, as they wait for the sound of a crash, in a bouquet of splintering glass.

The educated passengers do not utter a word, as the drivers do not bother, to listen to reason. The amazing aspect of this situation is that a person pays to be a hostage while traveling in public transport. Educated people with the world before them and the shimmering stars above them, risk their lives everyday, when they place their futures in the grubby hands of illiterate and reckless auto-drivers. Daily commuters have no way out of this situation, only the law can save them by implementing strict traffic norms and noise pollution rules.

Those delightful autos are “miniature roller-coasters” on wheels, the “Auto-rickshaws from Hell”. Yet, these mini speed demons excite children and drive adults over-the-edge. Autos are an essential part of the city of Kolkata and a boon for commuters, not yet a Godsend. Long Live the delightful Autos!

This article is not a work of fiction. If you would like to taste this thrilling experience, be my guest, sit in an auto on a weekday, during working hours for a memorable trip. Some experiences can be bought, like an Auto ride.
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