An Auto Ride and Clash with Verna Driver

Syed Tajamul Imran

"Yes sir, I am on my way. I will probably reach in the next 10-15 minutes. You know the traffic in the city, sir,” I said in a rushed manner.

There are some excuses that always work, no matter what the situation: Srinagar's traffic is one of them, especially on Monday morning.

Though I did not realize that the traffic was heavy ahead and I should have bargained for some more time. But, that was just a usual day for me.

A clumsy auto-rickshaw with a dead meter, (In Kashmir, you’ll be very lucky to find an auto-rickshaw with a working meter) wallpapers of Kareena and Katrina in skimpy dresses on both sides of the seat and people poking their eyes inside the auto expecting to see a beautiful girl seated cross-legged only to be utterly disappointed on spotting a man.

"How much longer will it take?" I asked the auto driver as he stopped at a red light near J&K Bank headquarters. He instantly turned to me and replied, seemingly frustrated, "It’s not me, it’s the terrafik, sahib…,” with the last word coming after a long pause.

Perhaps it took him a while to realize that a customer is not the right person to dump his frustrations upon. This time, I noticed his face, as I’d not really seen him while hiring the auto.

This is what too much talking on your cell phone can do; you do not notice the people around you.

I was getting a fair deal and so, I hadn't bothered to notice him at all. His face had several familiar details. He must have been in his early 40s, semi-bald with a tiny moustache and an unshaven look, weary eyes and plenty of wrinkles on his face and some more on his forehead.

He was what a common lower middle-class family man would look like. In search of life.

I could feel his willingness to work although I doubted if his body was equally willing. His clothes screamed for a wash and I bet he would have liked one himself too. But here he was, holding on to the clutch, feet on the paddles and eyes on the traffic light.

Just as the signal turned green, our auto flew… like a unicorn flying with all its strength, touching all the seven skies in one go! “Oh s***," I yelled, as I tried not to fall out of the auto. For the next few seconds, I was just trying to figure if I had escaped unhurt and whether my newly purchased cell phone was fine or not. I would not have minded a scratch or two on myself but the phone was way too expensive.

If you are someone like me who forgets to take his cell out of his pocket before entering the rivers for a dip, then you will value it more than yourself.

A shiny, black Verna was standing in front of the auto with somebody seated in. By the time I got out of the auto, the auto driver & the owner were exchanging “I-am-going-to-kick-your-a**” scowls”.

The boy must have been in his late twenties, clean-shaven with a strong build, neatly dressed in a white shirt and black trousers with a cap.

Within seconds, their verbal battle began.

Had it not been for the ear-shattering horns from the traffic jam behind us, the boy would have pulled the auto driver into a fight.

Finally, after both of them had used all the slang they knew, and after the intervention of people around, they decided to go their separate ways. The auto driver did not say a word for the next five minutes. He was visibly upset with what had just happened.

It is not easy for a man to immediately recover from a hurt ego.

"These car owners think that they’ve purchased the entire road and that rules can be broken whenever they want," yelled the auto driver noticing that I was looking in the front mirror.

He continued in an agitated voice, "These people do not have any values nor any respect for anyone. They only value money, Had I been in a car that was bigger than his, would he have dared to speak to me like this?". His voice trembled and he wanted to say more but for some reason, he did not.

I could feel that his voice had choked, much like his self-respect just a few minutes ago.

The next ten minutes were silent…very silent. The silence was killing me. I wanted to say something to him but feared that it might agitate him further instead of calming him down.

I gave him 100 rupees and he left in a hurry, perhaps eying another customer. To a large extent, he had a valid point; people have become extremely money-minded. Money drives everything. But what can one do?

It is the harsh truth and people accept it without challenging this social mindset. After all, acceptance is much easier than trying to bring about a change.

"You are so late!”

The boss had seen me. I got to work, all thoughts of the auto driver driven from my mind.

  • Syed Tajamul Imran is a columnist

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