My wife was inside a shop. I was on the sidewalk watching the metropolis in motion. The sight was not entirely unpleasant. In the stream of vehicles was a fair sprinkling of bright green CNG auto-rickshaws. Over the last couple of years, they have largely replaced the depressing black and yellow, fume-spewing petrol auto-rickshaws.
For a long time, the economics, or freakonomics if you will, of running an auto-rickshaw favoured the mixing of kerosene in petrol. It was bad for the engine. But rickshaw-drivers did not care since in most cases, they did not own the vehicles; they ran them on a per day rental basis. What mattered to them was lower fuel cost. The owner, too, did not stand to lose as he fixed rentals taking into account short engine lives.
The authorities had a hard time checking the mixing of kerosene in petrol. It played havoc with the air and with the rickshaw-wallahs’ health. But pangs of an empty tummy are sharper than the smell of polluted air. Some help from the government in terms of subsidy and easy bank credit has changed all that. I was thinking of all this when a brand new auto pulled up near me. “Chalna hai?” asked the young driver. I said no. He stayed there waiting for passengers. “New rickshaw?” I asked him, an obviously silly question. “Can’t you see it?” he nodded in affirmation.
“CNG is more economical?” I asked. “Aurnahin to kya? Aur police ka jhanjhat bhi khatam (What else? And no hassles with the police),” he replied, adding, “Lekingadi ki kimat thodi jyada hai. (But the vehicle costs more.)”
“Are you the owner?” I asked. His reply had a tinge of annoyance, “Aur nahin to kya? (Of course.)”
“How did you manage to buy it?” I asked. “Loan liya,” he said. “Is it available easily?” I asked. “Kyon nahin? Loan pe to saara India chal raha hai (Why not? The whole India runs on loans),” he said. Then, to shake me off, he asked, “Tumkochahiye kya? (Do you want a loan?)” I smiled at his audacity — a sign of pride and dignity that comes with economic freedom.