Category Archives: Driver Chronicles

From auto driver to advocate: a Bangalore woman’s story

By | Autos, Driver Chronicles | 2 Comments

[Editor’s Note: It’s been five years since I moved to Bangalore. During our first few weeks settling into a new city, new office, new apartment, etc. auto rickshaw drivers and taxi drivers were our best friends. One of the taxi drivers who drove us around in his new Tata Indica was 22-year old  Nagaraj. We still remember him because he was: a) studying for his LLB degree on nights and weekends while b) driving the Indica during the day, and c) making the car’s installment payments. What a remarkable story to welcome us to Bangalore, we thought. After reading our recent post, a blogger from iChangemycity shared a similar heart-warming and a more powerful against-all-odds story about a female auto driver who goes on to become a lawyer.]

Pic courtesy

Pic courtesy

Among thousands of autorickshaw drivers, Venkatalakshmi was unique in attitude, spirit, confidence and in her goals. For 13 years, she drove an auto that took care of her family’s subsistence that aided her to become what she dreamt of. Becoming a lawyer is what she aspired for and today, she is one. It was during the last five years of her life as an auto driver that she spent preparing for her law exams and in 2010 had successfully graduated from Babu Jagjivanram Law College in Basaveshwarnagar. She is now a successful lawyer with a dream and agenda of her own.

She was an ‘unwanted’ child of her parents as they were expecting the birth of a boy. She was brought up by her maternal uncle who inspired her to chase her dreams irrespective of her limitations. She aspired to be a police official and this was the time when she got into a legal tangle with some land sharks trying to grab her land. There were attempts even to kidnap her and this was when she was exposed to the corruption in the police department. It only made her to give up her aspiration of becoming a police officer.
While driving her auto, she got to interact with people of various backgrounds which helped her to develop her people skills. She travelled across the city which gave her a sense of location of offices and their jurisdiction. She was the sole bread winner for a long period of time, as her husband was not physically fit and her daughter was still studying in middle school. She also had to regularly go to her farm to supervise the cultivation.
The only time available for her to study for law was when she was at home and the time she spent waiting on road between trips. For her, the side of a pavement, an auto junction or even a traffic jam was study time.
On why she aspired to be a lawyer, Venkatalakshmi feels that it is a way to fight for justice. Her heroes are M.N.Venkatachalliah and Anna Hazare, are among them as they have the fight in them despite their ripe age. She has worked in the Gem and Jewel industry and even in an insurance company that helped her to get knowledge on the legal aspects of these sectors.
Asked on whether her stint as an autodriver had helped her law practice, Venkatalakshmi has an emphatic Yes for an answer. She  relates to clients with ease, and driving through the potholes of Bangalore city had taught her the values of patience and fortitude.

This article was originally published on the iChangemycity blog by Janaagraha’s Divya Komala. 


Na hum extra maangte hain, na hum lete hain

By | Autos, Driver Chronicles | No Comments
Pic courtesy

Pic courtesy

(Translation for non-Hindi readers: Neither do I ask for extra money, nor do I take it when a customer offers it.)

My regular auto commuter friend, who has a clear tipping policy for five star auto drivers, was left dumbfounded recently. After peering at the meter, she gave a Rs. 15 tip to the driver. He calmly returned the money and uttered the words Madam, na hum extra maangte hain, no hum lete hain.

This, my friends, is the A+ grade for a five star auto rickshaw driver. You cannot ask for more. He agrees to your destination. Goes on meter. Has a perfectly functioning meter. Drives cautiously and follows all traffic rules. He is polite and courteous to a fault. And he refuses to take tips!

For someone in the service profession to decline a tip, what is it but the very definition of a moral compass?

There are two important and related questions that need to be answered in some detail.

  1. Why do some auto drivers ask for extra money?
  2. Why do many auto drivers NOT want to go to YOUR destination?

The answers are not as straightforward as you might think. There’s a method to their madness. At least for a segment of auto drivers. Stay tuned. Subsequent posts will shed light on these questions.




Income determinism, rhythm and a daily routine

By | Autos, Driver Chronicles | No Comments
World music band Autorickshaw (I kid you not!)

World music band Autorickshaw (I kid you not!)

Three months ago, we had a fascinating conversation with an auto driver in in his early 50’s. Satish (name changed for this story) had the entire office’s attention as he spoke about his family, his expenses, his daily routine, healthcare challenges, rickshaw camaraderie and several other sundry topics. He was one of the initial auto drivers who spoke really good English (we’ve since met many more who speak impeccable English) but that isn’t why I remembered him today.

The striking aspect of his driving life was a “school gig” that runs 10 months of a year. A gig that pays him Rs. 5,000 per month and engenders two virtuous cycles – a) the Rs. 50,000 annual income gets directly earmarked for his family’s housing rent , and b) the creation of two trip anchor points (drop off kids to school  7:30 to 8:30am and pick them up from school at 3pm). Throw in a two hour lunch and an occasional nap and he has himself a semblance of rhythm and income determinism, albeit partial. A work ethic that has him pulling 12-15 hour working days ensures his family’s other financial needs are met.

Today I heard a story that takes income determinism to a whole new level.

This is a story that starts with my regular commuter friend – the same one who provided fodder for the Auto rickshaws and tipping post. My friend is an exacting commuter who only picks five star auto drivers. Today’s driver (who obviously did not ask for extra money) suddenly stopped his auto after crossing a signal. Turns out he wanted to buy a copy of the Bangalore Mirror (yes – English). After reaching the destination, as my friend took some time to pay the fare, the driver was in no rush. He was already settled comfortably behind the Mirror pages, reading. As he took the money, he explained that his next “scheduled” ride was still 20 minutes away. Now quite impressed, my friend handed the driver an mGaadi flier and gave a brief verbal pitch. The GPS solution perked him up – apparently he had read about it in the papers.

Ten minutes later our Ops team got a call from him. His day starts at 4:30am and ends at 6pm. Nothing particularly remarkable about his hours — we know many drivers who pull in even longer shifts. What’s amazing about his schedule is that he has regular customers from 4:30am to 11:30am every singe (week)day – a staggering 7 hours of a daily routine! He’s eager to join the mGaadi network and we are very eager to meet him. I’m sure there’s more to his story.


Auto Driver Zamir, may your tribe increase!

By | Autos, Driver Chronicles | No Comments

[Editor’s Note: This Facebook post making the rounds today. It included an exhortation to share and certainly relevant to what we are doing. Read on.]

Pic courtesy Facebook

Pic courtesy Facebook

I was for sure lucky today.. 🙂
Took an auto from koramangala to yemlur(my house), in between it started raining heavy. somehow i reached home safely and the driver u see in photo dropped me till the door step so that i don’t get drenched. I was so excited to see baby that i made the payment and left my iPhone 4 (Gifted by my hubby on my birthday) in the auto..
After almost 35 mins I thought of making a call to my parents and here i don’t find my phone. My hubby called from his cell to trace the phone n luckily the auto driver had kept the phone safe with him which he received.. He was dropping someone to whitefield but he promised that he will return the phone after the drop.. Imagine heavy rain and the driver was so kind and honest that he didnt think of his comfort.. he was not carrying any phone of his own. It took almost 1 hr for him to come back. We generally dont trust auto drivers as they keep asking extra money, late night work and what not.. so with that mentality we used find friend and find my iPhone apps to trace the phone and the route of my iphone was sure to my house. In that heavy rain he did come home and returned my phone..
We should seriously appreciate such people on earth.. and we do.. this auto driver’s name is Zamir auto number KA 03 9847. Thanks Zamir for being so honest and trustworthy.. and also to be a reason for making my day lucky.. 🙂

Friends please feel free to share my experience..


The Never Say No Guarantee

By | Autos, Driver Chronicles | No Comments
Pic courtesy

Pic courtesy

Several months ago, Solomon and I were in a meeting with a micro financing institution (MFI) and we heard this story of a auto rickshaw driver who doesn’t refuse a single trip. He’d regularly put in a 12 hour day and gross around Rs. 1200 – well above the median daily earnings for an auto driver. Later I followed up with the MFI leader – did he perchance have the contact details of that auto driver? Alas he didn’t. I filed the episode as hearing about a rare sighting of a unicorn.

The unicorn finally took shape yesterday… in the form of an auto driver in his early 30’s (let’s call him “G”). G speaks Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, and Hindi fluently. He also reads and understands English. We conversed in Telugu during our 45 minute trip.

A quick glance at the auto license sticker told me that G lived in Rajarajeshwari. I remarked that he’s come a long ways from his “home base”. He nonchalantly replied I go wherever the “duddu” (money in Kannada) takes me.

“Hardly any of my rides are within Rajarajeshwari itself. I’m in the Domlur and Indiranagar area almost daily”, he continued.

“As it gets closer to evening, you probably refuse some customers if it takes you further away from Rajarajeshwari?” I asked.

“No. Never. I always go where the customer wants me to go. I drive 12 hours daily and I make Rs. 1500 minimum.”

“Wow! Really? That’s a lot more earnings than what most drivers make.” I told G.

G nodded sagely and added “Sometimes I drive a few hours extra also. On most days, I spend Rs. 300-400 on fuel and food so my take home is over Rs. 1100.”

After paying the fare and taking down his mobile #, I ruminated on how he was able to optimize two seemingly conflicting goals. The not refusing a customer directive introduces a geographic randomness yet he seems to be reaching home close to his usual time. I suppose he directionally aligns himself to a few key artery roads after 3pm to increase the chances of finding commuters headed in “his” direction.

I call G’s operating philosophy as the never say no guarantee. As we enroll drivers for our pilot testing phase, I can’t help wondering how many such drivers are out there in Bangalore.

Have you met any of this breed yet?

Next time you get into an auto and (assuming the driver isn’t anti-social) do ask him this question “Do you ever refuse a customer?”

If he answers “no”, give him your best My first look at Taj Mahal look and promptly note down his mobile# and please share with us – either on this blog or on our Facebook page or on Twitter (@mgaadi_blr).


An Ethereal commuting experience – Part 2

By | Cars, Commuting, Driver Chronicles, People, Taxis | No Comments
Pic courtesy

Pic courtesy

I might as as well finish the story I started to enumerate to Vishy. So the ‘S’ is me. The passenger in a KSTDC taxi.Very surprised by this experience. I saw KSTDC taxis around, hadn’t really called them for an onward trip to the airport, so I wanted to give them a try. I always took Meru or Easycabs, and if that failed, my office would organize a taxi from an small fleet operator nearby. Calling KSTDC was like calling VSNL dialup customer service in those days when Dialup was King; the most you could do is to get a fancy modem that could wringe out those few extra Kbs of speed on your telephone line. VSNL customer service was like “aah,  what is your problem? Ok. This is what you can do,… ” and then they will give you a solution that will work. Todays’ call centre services mostly have too much niceties before content, mostly they cant solve your problem (if you had a real one). My KSTDC call centre guy sounded like that, it was refreshing. No niceties, … but the tone of his voice I could make out he meant that the job is done…He said I would get an SMS with the details of the taxi and so on…. and so it goes. As you read in Part 1, I was feeling…. is this guy for real? Hey,… whats your story?

Ramesh has a very  unusual  story.  My usual question to any taxi or rickshaw driver is – Do you own the vehicle you drive? I usually find better service, better maintained vehicles in most cases when there is ownership. This ride was exceptionally good, he was brisk, but not speeding more than necessary, it felt like he had an extra pair  of eyes under the car chassis. He seemed to know every small undulation on the road and rolled over graciously over them. Hardly  feeling  any jerk while driving. He drove as though he had two eggs embedded under his feet when he was pushing those pedals, any sudden push might break those eggs… I assumed right, that this guy owns his car. He did, but he said his wife took a loan from her bank to finance his vehicle. How come? I asked. The story is – his wife works for a reputed software firm. He met his wife some years ago in their village, she belongs to a different caste, but both the families made hell for them and he could not live with his parents, as he encouraged her to finish her college (much to the  Chargin of his parents). They moved out on their own, she finished her college and learnt programming ( rattled a list of programming languages she knew). She had taken a break from work for a year  because  they had a baby and she is now back to work. He has paid off his loan, and sometimes rents his vehicles to other drivers occasionally, when  there is an urgent need. He  doesn’t  do night shifts too often, unless there is a prior commitment.

Ramesh plans to buy another vehicle and get his cousin from the village. He has dreams for his kid. He believes there is a discipline in eating, sleeping and habits while driving that keeps one fit and free from accidents caused by fatigue. He also seems to know how to maintain his vehicle in great condition, so that it is reliable.  To me he seemed that in his job as a driver, he is as good as it can get in a place like India. He looks to me like  a person who has a story, doing his best to make his life work.

My commuting experience was great, five Stars to him and his well maintained car. This interaction made me see that he is not just a nameless operator, driver but  a person who plays his role for the time being. He has your life in his hands. Taking a vehicle out in Indian roads is potentially dangerous, conflict ridden and threat to life and  property. Its got everything to do with the driver and drivers out there. Not all people who drive, and become drivers, get on this path, even for a while. There are somethings innate, people come with those  attitudes  that makes them take those decisions; but a lot is systemic. So what is so systemic about driver behavior  and a great  commuting  experience ??


An ethereal commuting experience

By | Commuting, Driver Chronicles, Taxis | No Comments
Pic courtesy

Pic courtesy

A few years ago S needed to take an early morning flight. Normally he would book a Meru cab but this time his friend persuaded him to try the local independent cabbie (Ramesh).

The evening before his trip to the airport, he received a call from Ramesh.

“Hello sir, this is Ramesh. You had booked a taxi for tomorrow morning at 5am, to go to the airport, no?”


“Could you confirm your apartment details, sir?”

“It is <So and so Apts> on <Such and such Road>. Do you know this area?”

“Yes sir. I do. It is right opposite <Such and such Landmark>, right?”


“I will be ready outside your apartment complex by 4:45 am, sir.”

“Very good. Thanks.”


Next morning, S gets an SMS from Ramesh at 4:50am. “Reached your apartment. Waiting outside.”

Five minutes later, another SMS – “Waiting outside the elevator, sir.” As S stepped out of the elevator, he was politely greeted by a smartly dressed Ramesh. With a shimmering presence reminiscent of a Jeeves, the smiling Ramesh spoke “I thought you might need help with your luggage, sir.”


As S settled down in the back seat, he noticed that the interiors were strikingly clean. The shimmering presence spoke again, “Here are today’s newspapers, sir.”

S began to wonder if he was dreaming.

“Bottled water is also there, sir. On the left side, if you need it.”

S had started to pinch himself by now.

“Should I put on some music, sir? Or would you like to rest?”

S was wide awake now. He was still in the same cab. Ramesh was looking at S through the rear-view mirror.. politely awaiting his response.

S spoke up for the first time that morning.

“Are you for REAL?”


This story continues in Part 2.