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Sunday, February 05, 2006

Another one for the "auto-fellow"

Well, it's my one-day weekend and I think I've had a most awesome day! Well, at least it's the most awesome day in a really long while. But I liked the way it has gone so far, and now that it's about 7:30 pm I think I'm about ready to call it a day and just chill in the evening...

So, I woke up at about 5:00 am this morning, and since I've been kind of an insomniac this past month-and-a-half, well, I did what I usually do. I lay in bed, tossing and turning, and I finally got out of bed an hour later...because the fan was on due to the 'warmness' of the night, but the early morning is pretty icy. Annnyway, I ran a couple of errands and none of us were going to be at home for lunch, so I decided to head out at about 1:00 pm.

I decided that I'd take a walk to Indiranagar, which is just a couple hundred meters from my house, and because there was so much on my mind and that I needed to sort out. My mission was to locate the Spastics Society which was supposed to be on 5th Main, and then I wanted to go and see Sri Rakum at the Rakum school for the blind. The first objective was a failure, but it did result in a most awesome walk. I got to see parts of Indiranagar that still seemed to maintain their 'residential' charm; the greenery, the quiet lanes and the sound of the birds...with the occasional dog giving me the once-over. The second objective was achieved, and that's because I've been there before. Oh, why was I trying to find these places? Well, I've thought of getting off my ass and doing some voluntary work to see how I like it and how I can fit it into my 6-day week. The Spastics Society also has Tai Chi classes which it offers early in the morning, so I thought I'd inquire about that too. Well, Sri Rakum, who is an excellent blend of humility and frankness, was interested by my query.

"Uh, I was just wondering if I may offer to volunteer my free time here, and if there are some specific things that you want me to do."

So he told me that they were looking for a Math teacher from 9:30 am to 3:30 pm from Monday to Friday. Well, not only were the timings awkward, but the subject was not my forte. So, I said that I only had Sundays off, and if he could think of anything else in the meanwhile to give me a call. However, we ended up getting caught up in a conversation about "this and that" and by the end of it, I'd learnt about all the wonders of rock salt. Let me just say that rock salt is quite a versatile product and apparently, or according to Sri Rakum who was told about it by a Filipino Pranic Healing master, using it for the purposes of washing one's hands, to brushing one's teeth, and even going so far as to put it in the water that you use to clean your floor makes the overall surroundings that much more hygienic. Sri Rakum swears by it too because he said that his once soaring medical bills have since then plummeted by almost 96%...!!!!! Then, it was time for me to continue to the next task, which was trying to remember what I was supposed to do next.

I met up with my machcha Pradeep because he managed to call just as I was on my way to completing my tasks. We met up at the Cafe Coffee Day on Richmond Road, and had a couple of hours of catching up. Then, it came time for us 'to split', and I caught an auto back to my place. This auto, however, would prove to be one of the most exciting rides of my life.

Now, it may be fair of you to conclude that the first few paragraphs were a bit slow moving, like a movie that seems to drag... But the story I am about to tell you is about an autorickshaw driver who found himself up against the 'long arm of the law' on a fateful Saturday night...for no fault of his. So, my man Asghar, was taking me back to Domlur when just as we were passing the HOSMAT hospital building, a fellow auto-driver steered his vehicle right into our path. No collision, thank God. But Asghar was obviously pissed off. Still, he muttered something under his breath and went on his way. So, and because I was feeling like it at the moment, I engaged him in conversation by making a snide remark about the other guy not even having looked at the traffic and stuff. With this kind of invitation, Asghar seemed to take-off on how things were just wrong and no one seemed to be doing anything about it, and all that. This, in fact, seems to be a common topic of conversation among auto-drivers and cabbies alike. But my main man Asghar, and now I sound like Ahmed Rashad from NBA Inside Stuff, kept on going. He suddenly ventured into telling me about an incident that had happened the night before and he was still upset about the entire experience, apparently. Again, and because it was the most natural thing to do, I let my curiosity get the better of me.

As it turns out, Asghar was transporting a passenger to the Bangalore City Railway Station. Now, the passenger got on after 10:00 pm, so this meant that the auto could 'legally' charge one-and-a-half times the usual fare. And all of this doesn't involve any great calculations either because most, if not all meters, are now geared to have two modes: regular and one-and-a-half. So, Asghar put the meter into the second mode and made his merry way down to the railway station. Upon arrival, however, he found that the passenger, a Tamil-speaker and therefore unable to really communicate with my main man, kicked up a fuss about the meter being faulty and being cheated. Asghar tried to explain and work things out, but the passenger refused. He even went and called a cop standing nearby to look into the situation. "No problems with this," thought Asghar, "I'll just explain to the cop that this is the one-and-a-half meter rate because it's past ten o'clock."

The cop, however, seemed to have his own agenda. He came in with a your-meter-is-rigged argument that threw everything off track for poor Asghar. In fact, he cited Asghar on three counts and gave him a Rs.600 ticket! What? And what was the other way out of this predicament? Asghar would have to leave his vehicle in the impound lot and surrender his license and documents to the police and come back the next day to pick them up. This, and we shall call it Plan B, is not a viable option. Why not? Because it was more than likely, and believe you me 9 out of 10 Bangaloreans will agree with me, that he would end up spending three times his fine amount trying to grease all the palms that needed it, attempting get his vehicle and documents back. He said that he went to the police Station and demanded that the officer open the counter so that he could pay the fine and leave. Apparently, he said he left the Police Station at around 3:00 am on Sunday morning.

I really felt sorry for this guy, and all I could do was try and pacify him with my broken, no, shattered hodge-podge of Hannada...or Kindi? Anyway, as unholy as that mix was, Asghar pulled out the ticket, his license, his registration, and even the little manual that came with his electronic meter, and handed them to me. He said that he had everything with him, and still the cop went ahead and fined him for no rhyme or reason. And I looked through all of it, not that it made too much sense...but it was the ticket that was most intriguing. On it were listed the three counts that he had been charged with. They were: a) Charging excessive fare, b) Not having an emission test certificate and c) Refusing to be hired. What? It was nonsense. And even I, who was just another passenger who happened to hear the story, could tell you that it was baloney.

But Asghar had paid his fine the night before. Rs.600 to an auto driver is kind of like Rs.6,000 to you or me...maybe even more. He was a bitter man, no doubt. But who wouldn't be if they happened to look around them and see more examples of people vested with the responsibility to "serve and protect" the rest of society actually adding to and compounding the very problems they have been armed to eradicate. The average Indian policeman has a terrible reputation among the public. And incidents like this don't help improve that image either. Well, like I always say, something's got to give. Either law enforcement in this country will shape up, or there will be some kind of 'day of reckoning' with regard to law enforcement officials. So, as he goes around town Rs.600 short and his sense of value slightly bruised I'd like to wish that he has a good day tomorrow. Take care of yourself man!
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