Donna and Joe have finished their assignment in India. Occasionally they still travel somewhere.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Sunday Driver

IBM leases a car for us but neither Donna nor I have ever driven it. IBM strongly discourages assignees from driving so we have a driver who takes us wherever we want to go. He works six days a week and on Sunday we have Chand and his auto-rickshaw, commonly called an "auto" in India. There are taxis in Bangalore (normal cars which will take you from here to there for a fee) but you need to call ahead to arrange for one and it's much more expensive than an auto. So if you go out on the street to hail transportation an auto-rickshaw is the thing. All autos have a meter, like a taxi meter, although few use it unless you insist. By the meter it's 14 rupees (30 US cents) for the first 2 kilometers and 7 rupees a kilometer after that. Without the meter it's a matter of negotiation and it's best to discuss the fare before getting into the auto. At lunch one day a co-worker was complaining about an auto driver who asked him for an extra 20 rupees because the destination was on a one way street and he would have to go a long way before he could turn around and go back to his normal territory. I replied that no auto driver would ever asked me for an extra 20 rupees. With the "white man discount" he would asked me for at least 100 rupees extra.

Our first few Sunday's here we simply walked a block from our apartment to the main street and waited for an empty auto to come by. After taking us to church one week, Chand came back the next Sunday to see if we needed a ride again.
Since then he has become our regular Sunday driver. If we are going to be away on a Sunday we tell him the week before. Otherwise he is waiting outside the gate of the apartment complex for us every Sunday. Chand's mother tongue is Urdu and he speaks some English, Hindi,and Kannada, so we can communicate simple things pretty well but not anything complicated.
One Sunday he brought a hand written note inviting us to visit his house the next week and meet his family. (Jaya later told Donna that this was a risky thing to do.) This picture is two of his children standing in front of his home. The shadow to the right is pretty much the end of their apartment and the curtain on the left covers the window of his neighbor's window. The building is one story, comprising perhaps a dozen such apartments . The "street" in front too narrow for anything bigger than Chand's auto to navigate.
Once we entered his apartment his wife brought out a tray of refreshments, soda, chips, various kinds of fruit and an India desert called gulab jamin. There was much more food than Donna and I could eat but none of them would eat anything. This is an Indian way of honoring a guest.
What you see in this picture is literally about 1/6 of their living room/kitchen. To the right of the wardrobe behind Chand is a "kitchen" area about 2 1/2 feet wide, consisting of a gas burner, and not much else. We sat on 2 plastic lawn chairs, which was all they had room for. The only other room was their bedroom.

We discussed their family and then they showed us an x-ray of the youngest daughter's broken leg. I thought perhaps they were going to ask for money for medical bills but they did not. We were supposed to figure that out. It was a little confusing because his daughter's leg was obviously fine now. Since we didn't understand and couldn't communicate very well we went home.

The next week Donna asked Chan to come to the apartment when the maid would there. He was petrified. He offered to give back the Barbie and airplane toys she'd given his youngest kids the day of the visit. He finally relaxed a little when Jaya told him that Madam had a "helpful nature", and wanted to know what he needed. With Jaya to translate Donna was able to learn that he needed Rs 6000 (about $130) to repay money he had borrowed for the medical treatments. Donna gave him the money.

She was also able to determine that he wasn't offended that she had given his Muslim daughter a scantily clad Barbie. He had put that and the airplanes on top of the wardrobe in the living room, a place of honor, because a foreigner had given them to them--and wouldn't let the kids play with them! Donna promised to get or make some decent clothes!

I really wish I had thought to take a picture of the last story. Donna bought a deck of UNO cards because she thought it would be a game his children could play. But she didn't have the instructions and we didn't know that anyone in the family could read the instructions in English. So she asked Chand to pull the auto over in a quiet neighborhood and the three of us played UNO using the front seat of his auto as a table so that he could learn how to play it.

1 comment:

boston123 said...


That was awesome! You needn't have, but you took the trouble to do a deep dive into the auto rickshaw driver's life. I am sure for a little while,Chand and his family did not feel marginalized by society, as they probably do every day.