Roadside cajoling…

Over the years, I have been quite dependent on the auto-rickshaw for my travels. Not having learnt to ride a bicycle, let alone a motorcycle, I have had to depend on other modes of transport. Now this wasn’t much of a problem back in Bengal, where public transport in and around my town was cheap and ample. However, it became a problem when I moved to Nagpur in 2002, where the cheapest bus ride was Rs7. Compared to this, busride in Kolkata can still be as cheap as Rs3-4. Besides, the buses of Nagpur didn’t go everywhere.

Therefore, I had to turn to the autos. Now, these auto-drivers can be wily customers, and more so in a tourist destination like Jaipur. They take one look at you, and gauge you as a local or an outsider. And then comes the sting – a distance that normally costs Rs30 to travel now costs anywhere between Rs80-100!

Then again, after a certain point of time, you learn to ‘deal’ with these people. You learn how to bring down the cost to what it actually is.

First of all, for any suggestion that’s double the amount of what you pay, laugh diminutively and say, “Rehne do. (Leave it)!” That generally does help, and a Rs100 becomes Rs60-70.

Second, you say that you keep going ‘there’ on an almost regular basis. That generally brings it down another Rs10-20. So now, it’s Rs50 approximately, when you pay Rs30 for it actually.

Third, you explain how you will alight on the main road itself, and how the auto won’t have to be navigated through serpentine by-lanes where even a cycle might get wedged between two walls. That’s when the bhaada comes down a little more.

If it’s still not the desired Rs30, say something like “Rehne do,” again and look away, as if you were looking for another auto. That’s when the penny drops, and the auto-driver sees you for the true haggler, or if you prefer a more ‘classy’ term, a value-for-money person that you truly are.

And that’s how you bring these people and their prices down to earth.

But beware, these people are now coming up with new ploys to fleece you! For example, just the other day, I was confronted by an auto driver who promised to take me a distance for Rs40, which was what it actually cost, but added, “Aur dus rupaye mujhe apna bada bhaai samajh ke de dena. Chai paani ke liye! (Consider me your elder brother, and give me another Rs10. For some refreshments!)”

I refused to establish any new fraternal relationships in Jaipur. Initially he drove off in a huff, but came back minutes later to take me home for the agreed sum of Rs40. The experience left a bad aftertaste, though.