Get off the metro at Rajiv Chowk, already late for a music concert at Kamani auditorium, I go to the nearest auto and ask him, he asks Kamani, Copernicus Marg? Hanji, and he gestures to me to get on. How much, I gesture in turn, and he says 80/-, I laugh and roll my eyes at him, he asks, kitna denge, I say 60/-, he says 70/-, and I scramble on. As he starts after a bit of scuffling with a motor cycle that has parked at right angles to the road, neatly obstructing his path, I ask him, why do you not turn on the meter?
After a brief silence (he is maneuvering through traffic in CP on a Friday evening), he says, I will tell you, but after this one thing–and he goes on to say that he rarely saw a “हँसमुख” like me. Me? Cheerful? Thinking about possible responses of several people who know me, I laugh openly, he insists, says I meet many people and I could tell them anything, be friendly, tell them the truth, lie to them, yell at them, rarely do I get a cheerful response (only he said all of this much more poetically). Looking for an auto in CP is enough to make anyone grouchy, I remark, we talk on, agree that in today’s world it’s better to laugh, else one would have to cry or get angry, he comes to the point about the meter.
If it had been day time, he says, my waiting time after dropping you at Kamani would be 10 minutes and I would have turned on the meter, but at 6:30 pm it would be more like 20-30 minutes and so I had to make up for that. A mode of pricing that puts a question in my head, why have you not opted for the Ola route, I wonder, and he goes off on this. After a riff on AAP, their not living up to their promise to auto drivers, Ola autos and how they have been given a stand, but not people like him (600/- to the cop that catches them soliciting rides outside the metro station), concludes that Ola is not good news for auto drivers.
Stuck at a light behind a large truck, he kindly directs a lost biker and I am prompted to ask where he comes from. His family is from near Agra, his father had worked in Mumbai before returning home, he too worked there for a while, but came to Delhi about seven years ago after a falling out with a brother.
By this time we are at my destination and I cannot help asking him a last question–how much it would actually have cost me by meter? About 45/-, so my offer of 60/- was quite reasonable? Yes, yes, and any time I see you I will only charge you by meter. I hand him 100/-, he gives me 30/-, I give him back 10/-, he refuses, a little back-and-forthing and he finally takes it and places in a separate wallet, where he might come across it by serendipity some day.
On that हँसमुख note, we part ways.
And there is still a smile on my face.
Delhi, Oct 28, 2017