When moving to India, one of the first things that come to mind is the traffic. You hear stories about how the streets are clogged with all sorts of transportation, inclusive of pedestrians and animals with all the modes that come with them. It’s a barrage of sensations when you take your first ride through traffic. The honking, the jerky movements that ebb and flow with each corner. There is also the passing, the abrupt stops and the very many bumps you hit along the way. It’s a lot to take in. Since I’ve been in Chennai, all I do is ride in autos. That’s my main mode of transportation, except for my feet. It’s not exactly the cheapest way to get around, but it does get me there fast and amazingly safe and comfortably.
I’ve probably ridden in 64 autos. I’ve had the same driver twice. By the time I leave India I could potentially ride in almost 400 different autos. The one thing I’ve picked up on with the drivers is their intensity. It doesn’t matter how they drive the auto. They can be aggressive, assertive, or even relaxed. Anyway you have it, they’re still focused. They have to be. Everyday I come with in centimeters, no millimeters of the person next to me. Sometimes, I think, there is no way he can get out of this one. But he does.
These drivers know their vehicles. They know how much pressure to put on the brake and how much gas to give. I have to tell you, I often get a little nervous for the open road because it’s the pedal to the metal for these guys. They see an open road and all of a sudden you feel the wind whipping through your hair, you’re looking for something to hold on to, you grab tighter to your belonging….. Then you realize- you’re really only going 35 miles an hour. It’s a sense of awe, freedom, and the ultimate thrill ride!
Drivers pay attention here, such minute attention to everything around them , that they’ll call out to someone to “Move over”, or “Watch it”, or ”Put your lights on”. Once I even understood that my driver was telling a driver in a car that his door was open, and another auto driver that he was about to lose his sandal. There are hand signals, there are waves, horn beeps to communicate with other drivers and pedestrians. There’s also a lot of giving directions. Many times I have witnessed a brotherhood of auto drivers actually helping out one another (particularly the younger ones) with directions or maybe explaining which roads to avoid. There is a strong camaraderie, to a certain extent.
Let’s get back to their nerves of steel and being able to adjust and overcome. Not only do massive amounts of drivers know the ins and outs of the different parts of the city, they’re focused on the streets themselves. Just this morning I was noticing the eyes of my auto-driver. His eyes were wide open, awake and focused. He appeared to be very vigilant in watching almost everything that was happening right before him. He knew how to gauge slowing down and when to pass. How does he remain so steadfast and aware? What does he do to train the brain to stay so aware? Driving is a learned skill, but to drive like this is even more specialized.
I’ve met old drivers and young drivers and the things they seem to have in common is the ability to know when and how to adjust their driving. They don’t seem to hold on to near misses and slamming to a screeching halt. They don’t seem to even worry when they are within millimeters of an object or person. It just is. They adjust. They do what they need to do to get me to my location, but they have to be flexible in how they get me there. No one can really predict the quality of the road, the amount of people who are using the roads, or what other obstacles get in the way (cows). He knows he has a job to do, and he will do it.
We can learn a lot from sitting in auto rickshaws. And I’m pretty sure someone has already studied the mindset of an auto driver, but one thing I can tell you, it’s not just know the roads, and being able to maneuver around all the obstacles that get in the way all day and everyday, it’s the focus and intensity they bring to their job. At times they too must feel that they are so in it. Is there a perfect ride for an auto driver? Is there a certain feeling they get from getting some from point A to point B? Or are they not really attached to the outcome? Do they just do what they need to do? Are they focused on the present, and being in the moment?
Either way, I’ve gotten used the auto. No matter what, I usually really enjoy riding in them. Everyday I thank my driver and I’m truly amazed that he navigates his way from where I work to where I live safely and seemingly undisturbed from the experience. Yes, they have a job to do, but I think in a way they are teaching me that you can find challenges everywhere in life, but you always have to adjust and overcome.