Because the Meter Goes Down
Auto-rickshawwallahs occasioned much grumbling in 2011. Exposure of the meter-fixing scandal gave way to flash agitations that disrupted commutes for days and weeks on end; trust reached a low ebb. Now that it’s blown over, however, the hullabaloo only underscores how completely we take for granted the hassle-free availability of surface transport.
Indeed, in Mumbai even fraud has been rigged for our convenience. There are many ways for a driver to make an extra buck; one unscrupulous taxi-driving sardar ran four simultaneous scams on a visiting friend of mine who, it should be said, looks like an easy mark. But a tampered meter, while not precluding other forms of cheating, has two remarkable effects: it puts a cap on “acceptable” levels of greed, and in doing so confirms the norm of no-nonsense service. It’s known as honour among thieves. (The few exceptions to this such as refusal to accept minimum-fare trips or ply during shift changes, are problems in search of a structural, systematic solution.)
The result is that we virtually never have to haggle over a fare; the meter just goes down, no questions asked. Mumbaikars all know time is money—so let’s get a move on. Get into a rickshaw in any other city in India, and see if you even get a meter to run in the first place.
As a rule, Mumbai rickshawwallahs tend to be humble and personable. But some sport a service ethic that’s larger than life. Where else could you find Sandip Bacche, the so-called King of Bandra? This justly famous Mumbaikar gives discounts to the elderly and free rides to the blind. For the rest of us, there’s his fully pimped rick, loaded with TV, newspaper rack and mobile-charging station. And don’t let these amenities distract you from the warmth of the man behind the wheel…er, handlebars. New York cabbies may once have been famous for their patter, but these days they’re almost always chatting on an earpiece—presumably with a family member in South Asia.
Notwithstanding Bacche (and one Schumacher-wannabe who has covered his entire windscreen with a decal reading MY NAME IS REBAR), most rickshawwallahs remain anonymous, as is fitting. After all, it’s easy to love Mumbai for its colourful standouts (the crazy ones, the misfits). Instead, here’s to all the nameless ones, for going about their business so that we can go about ours.
• Your Reasons To Love
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• Because We Have Our Own NBA
• Because South Mumbai Has Life In It Yet
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• Because the Safest Place In the City Is A Thieves’ Market
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• Because of This
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