Thursday, March 19, 2009


The time: 6.45 a.m. Not quite morning (Mumbai mornings wake up late, though the people, of course, are up and about, including yours truly).

Up and about at high speed. On the Western Express Highway, which is converted to a Formula One race track every morning (till 8.30 a.m -after that it's a different story altogether). And so, the daily round of Formula One races are underway. Instead of foreign-Ferraris, our local F1 champs drive the proudly-Indian auto-rick(ety)shaws. From their respective pit lanes (in the bylanes of Borivili and Kandivali), the desi Lewis Hamiltons, Kimi Raikkonens and Fernando Alonsos cruise (at deceptively ‘normal’ speed) to the Highway. The wide open newly-concretised makes a tempting racetrack in the pale yet-to-be-sunlight. And then the race begins. With me as a VERY RELUCTANT PASSENGER and SPECTATOR (with wind-whipped hair, high-jumped heart and gut-curdled stomach).

At any red traffic light, the autos screech to a stop, forced into what is called a grid position. But even when cars and buses are content to wait, our intrepid auto-champions push and jostle their way to pole position (the most advantageous position in the front of the grid from where to start the race). And almost before the light changes to green, they open full throttle, slipstreaming behind the huge Goliath-like BEST buses and overtaking them like fearless Davids. They zoom over flyovers and down monstrously wide stretches of not-so-open road (often passing within centimeters of people running to cross the road) from Borivili to Malad and beyond. (I am not even mentioning the heart-stopping daredevilry of the helmetted-incognito-two-wheeler-riders who weave in and out of the more-than-two-wheelers).

What further unsettles me is the high-fiving camaraderie of the auto-rickshawallahs, interacting with all the bonhomie of members of a Scuderia (racing team). They will often casually lean out and chat with a fellow driver (riding alongside recklessly at a similarly breathtaking speed), making my heart almost leap out of the autorickshaw, too, in the process.

Turbulence, according to the Formula One Glossary, “is experienced in the area directly behind a car”. In auto-rickshaws, however, turbulence is experienced in the area directly behind the driver, especially when that area is occupied by me. I sit upright and afraid, clutching my mobile and bag and desperately dreaming of all the things I want to do while I live. With neither the hi-tech suspension or the fancy survival-cell of a Ferrari, I am always in a suspense about my survival in this auto(rickshaw) racing line. I keep having flashbacks to the fate of Ayrton Senna, the Formula-One triple world champion who died in a crash on the racing track in 1994.

As my Michael Schumacher (or whoever it is for that day) approaches the Pushpa Park bus-stop, with immense relief and thankfulness I say, “Aagey se left” (Take a left turn). Rather indistinctly, because my heart is still blocking my throat and my tongue is stuck to the roof of my mouth.

As the disappointed driver (he has been forced to retire from the race, not because of accident or mechanical failure, but because of passenger interference – surely that is against the rules of racing?) reluctantly turns left off the Highway, his speedometer (if he has any – many auto-rickshaws do not) and my blood pressure returns to normal.

Till the next morning, same time, same place, different race.


ugich konitari said...

You just left one thing out. Unlike F1 types who swerve around a capsized burning car to continue their winning lap, these rickshaw champions often give literally a leg-up to a fellow rickshawallah whose vehicle is acting stubborn. I have once been in a rickshaw where the driver stuck his leg out and kind of anchored his friends rickshaw so that it got pushed with his own. We were on a slope, and i was the weight in the wrong direction. I still wonder how we made it.

On the lighter side, my mother, then in her 70's was travelling in a rickshaw and the fellow started his race tactics. She tapped his shoulder, wagged her finger and said "Aplyala Race nako (We dont want a race)". The fellow slowed down only to play some disco number on the tape. .....

SGD said...

Oh yes....scary dare devil of an experience each time I board the autorick. Everytime i announce to the autowallah "I'm in no slow". Some listen, some pretend they havent heard!!

Double-Dolphin said...

But isn't this kind of fear fun too?

Inder said...

that is so familiar... i have been in the same situation so many time... jaan hatheli pe lekhe.. on the back seat of auto-rickshaw, bus, cab, motor-cycle. my most preferred mode of transportation - in my bicycle at the speed of 5kmph, pedestrians overtaking me :)

Pradip Biswas said...

Autos at Kolkata are far advanced,they want to complete the route and want to reach as fast as possible to be in a better position in the que for return. They have their friends everywhere except the passengers they cary

Lilly said...

Oh my what a good post. Of course it just makes me want to visit Mumbai for myself!

jyotsana said...

this is a wonderfully written always the fun with words....and tho the race may scare u but i must come to mumbai sometime otherwise i m missing all the fun.

Sucharita Sarkar said...

Hi Suranga and SGD,

Autorickshaw guys seem to listen only to themselves, don't they?

Hi Double D,

Fun, yes, only if you like sitting with clenched teeth for the entire length of the trip.

Hi Inder,

Cycling being one of my weak points, how I envy you!

Hi Pradip,

Kolkata being a city full of statues, most autorickshaws seem to be keen on emulating them.

Hi Lily, Jyotsna,

If you like life in the fast lane, do visit Mumbai.

Femin Susan said...

Keep up the great posts. Love, light and blessings to you and your family :)

introspection said...

Lovely post...! so home!
I love and miss my Bombay. I am over from your comment on Lilly's life post.
Will be back for the rest, if I may.

Lazyani said...

Absolutey hilarious!!

Reminded me of the NSC Bose road of Kolkata in the early and late hours. I feel that I lose 5 minutes of my life everyday whilst travelling to the Tollygunge Metro station-- and I am not talking of the infamous Katatel Fumes.

magiceye said...

loved it!!

Sucharita Sarkar said...

Hi Femin Susan, Introspection and Magic Eye,

Thanks for dropping in.

Hi Lazyani,

Bet Mumbai's speed is swifter than Kolkata's...but you are right about the loss of five minutes of life.

Pinku said...

sheepishly may I add...that I have been guilty of racing against these autoricks in my zen while in bombay and on exactly the stretch u mention.

Sucharita Sarkar said...


Et tu? I guess the driving wheel in your hands leads to temptations of this sort.

AMIT said...

Mumbai Life is very bad and busy too.

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