Delhiwale: Life in an auto-rickshaw
- Considering the possibility of quitting this occupation, he observes that “one of the good things of being an auto driver is that all your income is made in hard cash.
It looks like a pillow, so delicate—as if it were the magic cushion of some fairy tale princess. But of course it is auto-rickshaw driver Krishna Kumar Gupta’s little cushion, the one that he always keeps on his seat.
“Few drivers have such a gaddi (cushion),” he admits while gazing upon the little fluffy thing. (Just looking at it gives one the feeling of comfort.) “But every driver should have one,” he continues. Mr Gupta talks about the particular difficulties posed by the nature of his job. “It’s a fact that many auto drivers suffer from bawasir (piles)... this is caused by prolonged sitting... and the driver’s average seat is usually a hard surface.”
And that’s why he protects himself by using this cushion, he concludes.
The gentleman is waiting for customers this evening in a central Delhi lane. A quick survey of his auto reveals that it’s much better groomed than most. A colourful mask, a spare one, is hanging from a side mirror. A plastic sanitiser bottle is fitted by the steering handle. And the bottom portion of the front view glass is painted in beautiful fonts with the names of Gods, including Lord Krishna. In fact, Mr Gupta hails from the land most identified with Krishna, Mathura.
Mr Gupta, 60, has been driving his auto around Delhi for 40 years. “I’ve been in this line for so long that I know a bit about what we drivers most suffer from... many of us are addicted to smoking—but not me! And almost all of us suffer more frequently than other people from jhukham-khasi (running nose and cough) and breathing problem. This is because we are continually exposed to the pollution, I think, absorbing all the bad air of the city from morning to night.”
Considering the possibility of quitting this occupation, he observes that “one of the good things of being an auto driver is that all your income is made in hard cash. No borrowing, no lending, no depositing in the bank. You get your money instantly.”
Mr Gupta lives with his family in Sangam Vihar. His late father used to run a small grocery shop in Mathura. He feels he ended up being lucky. “My two daughters are married and settled in their homes... my son is in 12th standard. Next year he will try to get a job as a peon in the government.”
As for himself, he accepts that ageing auto drivers keep driving into their advanced years “as long as hands and arms and eyes are on our side.” But he’s planning to give this line up in a year.
“I have other plans. I want to open a small shop in Delhi, after retiring from auto-giri.” And then he will, at long last, do what his father did.