It’s a sin to not know driving and try to survive in the city of Pune. And it’s more than a sin to not have a scooty at least and try to travel from Kothrud to the F.C.Road every day via a public bus. Reason being Pune not having a bus stand at every corner of the city unlike the major metro cities of India.
Either you wake up early and take an hour in hand while travelling the 15 minutes distance or you have your sweet sleep and take an auto to reach your destination in 15 minutes.
The auto fare would cost you approximately Rs 40 to 50 depending on traffic. As I was enough privileged to afford it and of course as I was drawing it from my parents’ pocket, I opted to sleep until 8 :30 am in the morning and reach my college at 9 am.
But this piece is not about my schedule or to complain about the transport system of Pune. This is about the pleasant experience I had while travelling through the extreme ends of the city in my stay there for 3 consecutive years, both as a student and as a working professional.
Today, when heinous crimes are reported from various cities of India while travelling through taxis, autos and buses, I thought to pen down the good experiences I had. Something that shows that every part of India isn’t as bad as one thinks.
My first day in college started off and the first thing one of our professors had said was, ‘Pune is safe for the outstation students. Don’t worry guys, our roads won’t harm you!’.
And personally, may be I was lucky to experience the same always. And today I have absolutely three stories to cite about my experience with the ‘Auto Dadas’
Story 1 –
For the first few weeks when you always go through that gloomy feeling due to home sickness, there’s nothing better than listening about your home city from someone.
On my way back from college, my mother called and as usual out of habit I talked to her in Bengali. Hearing that the ‘Auto-Dada’ identified me as a Bengali and the suddenly overjoyed man inquired if I was from Kolkata.
Getting an affirmative answer from me encouraged him further and he spoke non-stop for 15 minutes talking about how no one else in India can celebrate any festival as grandly as Bengalis celebrate the Durga Puja and how still miraculously you get a full healthy and tasty lunch meal only in Rs 20 at Kalighat, something that people in other big cities can’t even imagine.
And oh yes, he also warned me saying that if I loved rice like a regular normal Bengali, then I would be grieving in Pune. Because according to him, even if I pay Rs 90 per kg, I won’t get the kind of ‘great rice’ that I would get in Kolkata at a much cheaper price. (Without bias, those might be true words!)
The man was not a Bengali. And I didn’t ask his name or surname, but his 20 years of service in Kolkata, made him extremely passionate and possessive about the city.
Nevertheless, that day this man’s words definitely were a soothing balm to a lonely homesick girl like me in a city wherein she was just 2 days old!
He dropped me at my PG and even gave me Rs 20 discount from the fare! A token, because he still missed that Kalighat’s lunch meal worth Rs 20/-.
Story 2 –
Being a habitual ‘late lateef’ didn’t help me especially while booking tickets. May be I had been the only fool to not pre-book my flight tickets on time and then face trouble while going back home during Diwali!
All the tickets of all the flights taking off during normal working hours were booked. If I really wanted to go home, the only option I had was to avail an Indigo flight that was supposed to take off at 4:30 am in the morning, which means I was needed to get to the airport at 3:30!
And I had no option to go to the airport early and wait inside because Pune airport authorities hardly let you wait inside for that long since evening hours.
It was 2012 – The Nirbhaya case at Delhi just rocked the nation and my bold attempt to confirm those tickets shocked my family back at home.
Travelling at wee hours of the night, from Kothrud to the airport was a scary idea at that time even for my parents, who are otherwise quite cool people.
After digesting all the screams on phone, I finally went out to find a vehicle with a driver, who would make me reach airport at night.
People suggested me about booking a cab. But somehow the idea of sitting within closed doors at night didn’t appeal to me. Instead I preferred an auto again. At least it has two sides open and I can jump out if required!
I went to the auto stand right outside my apartment and approached a man asking for a booking at night for the airport.
An elderly man came out and asked me the time. I said 2:30 am. He raised his eyebrows and then said, ‘Madam, I would take Rs 700 as fare and also you need to call my wife at 2 to wake me up!’.
Again being privileged enough and coming from a family who were always delighted to scream ‘beti ghar aa rahi hai’, I gave him a nod and returned home.
I had called his sleepy wife, feeling guilty like anything at 2 am too. The lady in her annoyed tone had said that her husband already left.
At 2:30 when I came down from my safe and sound apartment, I saw the man standing at the gate doing aarti of his auto before starting the journey.
Right at that time, a friend called from Hyderabad. The ways these friends behave at times I tell you!
She apparently woke up at 2:30 just to ‘be with me’ through the journey on phone so that she made sure I was safe and the auto driver didn’t think I was alone. Weird logic much? May be it was. But who can dare to make a real friend understand that?
So this friend of mine kept on talking and asking, ‘How far?’ after a gap of every 2 minutes, throughout my journey to the airport.
Auto Dada was driving with full speed as the roads were empty and the city was sleeping. It was a chilling night and I would be lying if I say that I wasn’t scared when we left the main city and was passing through the dark streets to the airport crossing the grounds of Lohegaon.
There was nothing to get scared but probably it had something to do with being a girl. It’s in our instinct to feel threatened under such conditions.
But my friend kept talking and Auto Dada kept driving in jet speed and that kept me going on.
At 3:15 roughly I reached the airport. My friend happily retired to her bed again asking me to board safely. I paid the pre-decided amount to Auto Dada and said ‘Thank You’ to him. He just smiled and asked, ‘Beta darr lag raha tha? Humaare shahar mein mat darro. Hum log waise nahi hai. Agar phir se kabhi aise airport aana pada, to meri wife ko call kar dena, woh mujhe jagaa degi, main aa jaaunga’.
I had his number saved until I left Pune and needless to say, the relief I felt that day after reaching the airport would unmatch the feeling of even getting the Oscar award probably.
Story 3 –
It was somewhere during the month of November. Mid-November to be precise and I had been walking along the streets looking for a proper gift shop in Pune. A friend had birthday within a few days and had to courier the gift.
Fortunately, I got what I wanted and was walking back home when suddenly my phone rang, I looked at the screen to pick it up and a bike out of no where (which is kind of normal in Pune), hit me and rushed away.
Poor me fell on the street and my knees got all injured and bloody. My phone still kept ringing by my side. It was my friend’s call. I picked the call but somehow hung up in a jiffy giving some lame excuse to return back home.
I don’t remember how I managed to get to home but post my return, when I checked my otherwise normal knees, I found them bluish and reddish staring right back at me threatening to change colours later too.
I went to doctor and she advised for an X-ray but then she got naturally worried about how I will climb up the stairs with such multi coloured knees. So my doctor prescribed a specific place to me in Kothrud, near the Dashabhuja Temple, where I would not need to climb stairs.
Next day somehow I again found myself standing at the auto stand just outside my apartment asking an Auto Dada about this specific diagnostic centre. He had no idea but probably he took pity on me, and so volunteered to find the place for me.
We reached in 10 minutes. He dropped me and I asked him to take his leave. I got my tests done and the kind doctor informed me, ‘No fracture, just blood clot’.
With the report when I returned, I saw the man still standing out for 1 hour outside the centre. It will be wrong to say I wasn’t surprised.
He came hurriedly towards me and took my bag and reports. He said, ‘Madam, aap chal nahi paa rahi ho, kya idhar udhar phir se auto dhundogi iss haalat mein. Isiliye main ruk gaya. Aapko jahaan se uthaaya tha, wohiin chodke phir niklunga’.
I don’t know if I had been exceptionally lucky during my stay in Pune or the Auto uncles there have a culture of being ‘good’ with people.
Yes, there are unfortunate incidences but somehow I still could never fathom how come I ended up having such wonderful experiences during my travel life in and around the city during those tough 3 years in Pune when I was studying and working there.