"Aap kitna dete hai?"
Huh ?? I mean humminy humminy huh?? In my two years in this city, I confess I have completely failed to understand the thought process of Delhi auto drivers. Neither rain, nor drought, nor a blizzard. Empty autos positively littering the streets. I have JUST informed the dude that I pay thirty for the ride, so why exactly does he even expect that I am going to pay the twenty extra bucks? Time an again I have had this conversation with auto guys (allowing for differences in denomination and destination, of course.) and time and again I have failed to understand what exactly it is in my expression that makes me look like a retarded millionaire who would dole out extra money for absolutely no reason.
However, I will give this to Delhi autos. They are extremely good losers. Seldom have I lost a bargaining battle with them, (the trick is to not appear desperate and when they quote a figure too high, act as if they told you to stuff a live rattlesnake down your pants, startled incredulity with a tinge of have-you-lost-your-fucking-mind.)and while all hostility and/or desperate pleas that I am snatching the last crumbs of stale bread from the lips of their starving children, once the bargaining is over they are good humor personified. Some even strike up friendly conversations, as if five minutes ago they weren't arguing with me that a mere fifty bucks over and above the meter is just way too little. The fact that I would pay the extra money just to get them to shut up is, of course, another issue altogether. Nor do they haggle over the money(again!) at the end of the journey , as many Calcutta auto drivers do .
Of course that does not excuse them from the horrible habit of asking you to change autos in the middle of the trip. Noida autos do this more frequently than others, and they generally drop me off without a word of warning at the Delhi border, making me feel more like a piece of contraband or a Mexican illegal immigrant. And of course the unwritten rule here seems to be that the more inoffensive, short, semi balding runt your original driver was, the more intimidating and incredibly hulk-ish the alternative seems to be. You know, the kind you hope is merely a horrible axe murderer and not something worse, like a previously convicted axe murderer who has developed a taste for prison rape. Of course they always end up being nice people in general, but it's hard to notice that when I'm trying to meld with the fabric of the backseat every time he glances in the rear-view mirror.
I do love the adorable little hunks of metal they strap to the front seat backrest though. Officially, they're meters. Unofficially, they're the keep-cops-away magic box. And of course they have to be on, so some enterprising gentlemen keep them on all day long. This has, of course, led to some bizarre instances. Like when I came home from CP one night. Fare : 50 Rupees. On the meter : 278 Rupees. Or on one of my regular trips to Noida. Fare : 130 rupees. On the Meter : 544 Rupees. But nothing quite beat the moment when an auto I was on got stopped by the cops a few minutes away from home. It looked like a routine check. The cop popped his head in and asked " Ap kahan se a rahe hain?"
" Karol Bagh" (Karol Bagh is about a kilometer or two away from my house)
The cop looks at the blinking meter . 944 Rupees.
I walked home that night, but I couldn't help but feel a twinge of sympathy for the guy who forgot to just restart his meter all day. Poor fool.