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Capital culture

india Updated: Sep 17, 2007 00:27 IST

Delhi is known for its history and culture. Unfortunately, the rich legacy has not bestowed the genteel touch upon the people of the city. They are often impatient, impertinent, and out to make a quick buck.

Perhaps among the most notorious are the three-wheeler drivers. They often charge what they feel like — sometimes they tamper with the meter, sometimes they refuse to drive to a particular destination, sometimes they ask for an exorbitant rate for a short distance. Their asking rate varies, depending on their mood, on the passengers’ looks (read paying capacity), on the time of the day and often on the day itself.

On holidays or festive occasions, when the frequency of buses is less than usual, but the number of people out on the roads is more than usual, the three-wheeler drivers have a field day.

I was out on one such occasion. The day marked a festival — Rakhi is the day when brothers and sisters are rushing around town to meet, greet and celebrate. As I stood waiting, one three-wheeler stopped. I named my destination and the driver immediately said it would cost Rs 100. I was stunned. The fare by the meter is about one-fourth of this exorbitant sum. What about the meter, I asked. Not today, he replied. Today is the day we have to earn money, you see.

Another three-wheeler slowed down and again I named my destination. The driver asked for Rs 80. This is more than double the meter fare, I said. Maybe, but no meter today.

A bus stopped. It was empty since this was the starting point. It was a private bus, but I boarded it. I bought a ticket and sat down. After the inflated demands of the three-wheeler drivers, the fare seemed nothing in comparison. However, I was unfamiliar with the rates. The conductor seemed the zealous sort — he got down at all the stops and tried to fill the bus although by this time there were no seats and lots of people were standing. Once he went up to a lady standing at a bus stop and rattled off all the stops, asking her if she wanted to go any of these places. He allowed the bus to move only when the lady shook her head. Considerate or crafty?

The latter more likely, for much like the three-wheeler drivers, he believed in super profits. A lady said she was being asked to pay Rs 2 more than what she had paid for her onward journey. A man wondered aloud why the fare had increased by Rs 2 from morning to afternoon. For all these people, the conductor had one answer: other people may charge that, but I charge this only.