We love them, we hate them, but we cannot ignore them. The ubiquitous yellow and black (now of course they are going green) auto rickshaws are part and parcel of this city. This is the taxi of the middle class. You get the first taste of what is to come when you get off in any of the Bangalore railway stations. If you are not careful you will end up paying Rs 160 from Bangalore Cantonment to Halasuru, even if it is after 6 AM.
Random sampling for the sake of this column, tells me that six out ten passengers who flag down an auto are women. Now when you are a woman traveling by an auto there are three kinds of drivers you are likely to encounter. The surly, I don’t care about you kind, the friendly chatterbox kind, and the ‘silent starer.’
The surly kinds are the best. They just grunt when you ask them ‘Basavanagudi barteera’ and drop you off as quickly as possible without as much looking at you. It is the other two kinds that you should look out for. Now even in the friendly chatterbox kind there are two types, one, that banters about traffic and weather till you get to your destination. No problem there. It is the second type that you should be wary of. The kind that insists that you tell your name because he likes to make friends with all his passengers or that he would like you to remember his name because the next time he sees you, he will ask if you remember him. Unlikely to forget someone like that isn’t it?
Then there are these friendly fellows who want to discuss politics of language, religion and even gender with you. I know of an instance when the driver got upset at what the lady said on the subject of women’s lib and dropped her off half way and said, ‘lets see you get another auto independently’. The ‘silent starer’ kind is the scariest of the lot. If you are a woman you know what I am talking about. Else, let me elucidate. The autos till recently had only two rear view mirrors on the either side. Then suddenly there was this new mirror inside that sprung up in almost all autos like the ones in cars where you can see the passenger in the back seat. Except of course these mirrors in the autos aren’t focusing on the face of a passenger. This makes every woman extremely conscious and nervous. This is a very common phenomena but least talked about.
Blank Noise, a community-public art project that works to confront street harassment, designed t-shirts that had “yenu nodtaideera” printed across the chest. This is what their blog entry has to say about it “NO-Blank Noise is not anti auto rickshaw drivers. Not all auto drivers adjust their rear view mirrors to women’s breast level either! However, this t-shirt works for those ‘awkward’ situations, where it’s a little obvious why the rear view mirror is focusing on parts of the female passenger’s anatomy.” I don’t know if those t-shirts worked but firmly telling the guys not to stare at you certainly helps.
This is of course not to say that auto drivers are all bad. There are drivers who go out of the way to help. When there were these nasty attacks on women wearing western outfits we happening earlier this year in the city; one of the girls managed to escape because an auto driver she had flagged down, had the sense not to say no, and take her away from the following miscreants. There are umpteen other incidents where auto drivers have stepped up to help out women in trouble; be it taking them to hospital in time or finding an elusive address at the middle of the night and actually waiting with the headlights on till the woman is safely inside. ⊕