An open letter to auto drivers from a foreign college student

Pic: Deepa Mohan

Auto-drivers come in all shapes and sizes: old, young, thin, fat, toothless, handsome, smelly, bearded, grumpy, cheery, etc. Like a good box of chocolates, you never know what kind of driver you’re going to get. Sometimes you can depend on them and you feel like they are there to support you… At other times, they seem to derive joy from your frustration, they tease you when they pass by, they try to kill you with their reckless driving, and when you need them the most, they are nowhere to be found.

After a few weeks of taking a rickshaw to and from Citizen Matters, I have a few things to say to the men dressed in tan, driving around in those funny looking green and yellow taxi things. So here goes…

Dear auto driver,

Firstly, thank you for stopping.  I have felt the sharp sting of rejection from more auto drivers in these last couple of months, than I have from all attempted interviews, auditions, and dates in my 21 years. I know that you and I come from very different places, but here we are, about to engage in a very necessary economic transaction, so that you can earn a living and I can get to where I need to go.

Secondly, if you haven’t shrugged your shoulders, bobbled your head and driven away yet, thank you for being patient with my English. I know I butcher the fluid pronunciation of your neighborhoods and streets, and I am so sorry for that. You are a kind soul for filtering through my ill-formed vowels, so that we can come to a mutual understanding.

And if you speak English, thank you doubly for stopping.  The joy you are witnessing stems entirely from your ability to not only understand me, but also respond. You may sometimes smell bad, but you are wonderful.

Thirdly, that sigh you hear when I ask “Meter?” and you respond with a grunt, switch the meter on and start the auto; that is a sigh of relief. So far we are on the same page, and I get the feeling that the rest of our relationship will be as smooth as a freshly paved road.

But when “Meter?” compels a response of protest, it is clear you and I are not going to get along. The sihg you hear then, is one of annoyed anticipation of an argument. I know I am a foreigner, but I am not an idiot. I have been here a while, I know the proper rate.

I also know my three kilometre ride isn’t going to cost Rs 400.

I also know your meter isn’t broken.

Fourthly, thank you for your vast knowledge of this poorly planned city. I lack a sense of direction even in the parallel and perpendicular streets back home. Your winding, erratic, overcrowded roads make my head spin; I would be truly lost without you.

However, if it so happens that I do get lost with you, I am sorry I can’t tell you more about my desired drop point than I already have. The only directions I have consist of a neighbourhood, a block, and a landmark. I thought that’s how everyone got around this city.

During our adventure, please don’t spit out of the rickshaw at every traffic jam and stop light. The sound of you uprooting mucus and saliva from the back of your throat and nasal cavities, hawking it into the traffic, and it splattering on the pavement, is not pleasant. Please don’t do that.

Fifthly, when we finally do reach the end of our journey, thank you for having change for a 100 rupee note. Seriously, thank you!

I don’t understand how the other rickshaw drivers can drive around all day, collecting cash from busy people, and not have change. In fact, I find it hard to believe the drivers who claim not to have change. Liars!

Despite the ups and downs and speed bumps and potholes we have gone through on this trip, I am grateful for you. You are of an unpredictable breed, but you are an integral part of my experience in this great city, Bengaluru. Honestly, this city wouldn’t be what it is without you. So thank you.

A foreign college student


  1. glman says:

    An “open letter” which will never be read by auto drivers. I am waiting for them to go extinct, but it will be a long wait.

  2. M Ramachandran says:

    Exactly. Not one “auto pilot” will read this letter. I do not want them to go extinct. This is the only machine other than bicycle that can pass through a gap if the front wheels can enter.

  3. Deepa Mohan says:

    I agree that the auto-drivers will never read this…’but it is very well written. Enjoyed it very much. We have a saying that most Indians who are on the road are the spitting image of their brethren!

  4. Royston D'Souza says:

    Nicely said! I face the same issues and I am an Indian

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