You never know what kind of driver will pick you up when you use Ola. Most are not very talkative, but others talk your ear off, or ask you copious amounts of questions. Many are truly just focused on getting the customer from point “A” to point “B”, no matter what. This driver is one of my favorites. He seemed really happy when he picked me up. Greeted me with a nice smile and turned on the meter quickly and without question. On this day, the traffic was light, there was slight breeze, and everything seemed right about the world.
I was busy looking at my phone to follow along on google maps when I noticed his whistling. It made me so happy. At first I just listened, but then I felt the urge to capture his the joy he shared with me. I hope you smile.
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.
Sorry for no updates recently, it’s been challenging to find the time to sit down and write. It’s funny, one of the last things many people said to me before I embarked on the Fulbright was,” Have a great vacation!”. Let me be clear, this is not a vacation. I’m definitely on a trip, I’m experiencing new things, trying to understand a culture that is not my own, and getting to do some things I wouldn’t normally do. BUT, it is definitely not a vacation. Just ask the immigration office (story to come).
There are many things that make it seem like on a vacation. One of the things is that I kind of live in a hotel. It’s actually called a service apartment. I have my own room and bathroom, but I share the main living space which has a dining room, living room and kitchenette all in one. At times it is quite possible I will share that space with many other people, other times I may be the only one in the space. It’s an interesting concept, and I’m trying to get used to it. Just the other evening I was watching a movie at the dining room table by myself and in walked two people. They had reservations to stay there that night. They were lovely people, and I spent the rest of the night talking to them about Chennai, Kerala, college, working, movies, tv, and Chipotle (the guy’s dream was to go to America and eat Chipotle, I told him that wasn’t such a good idea right now).
I’m glad I get to try it out for a little while. One of the best things about living in a place like this are the “services”. It took a while for me to get those services, but now it’s all finally happening. It does kind of seem like I’m on vacation. I don’t have to clean a lot. The managers of the property are in charge of cleaning the spaces, changing the towels and linens, and basically maintaining the living areas. Get this, they also will do my laundry! They will even bring me breakfast and delivery if I want. So yes, kind of vacation-like.
One of other reasons it may seem like I’m on vacation is because I’m taking a lot of photographs and videos of things that are new to me. Yep, you’ve seen some already. Most of the pictures are of things I see daily n my commute to work (yep work) and walking around my current neighborhood. These objects, people, and places aren’t really common where I live back at home and I’m documenting them. So I guess it may seem like they’re “vacation” pictures.
Oh, another thing that makes it seem like I’m on vacation– I’m totally in another country. Yep, I’m in India. People often go to other countries when they go on vacation.
That’s kind of where it ends. I am working. I have an office space, I commute 2 hours a day (way longer than what I’m used to), and I’m expected to — work. Over the past week I’ve been getting to know the organization. I spent a week learning about the different arts programs they offer and even had a chance to visit some schools and observe their programs in action. It was amazing! It actually made me miss my day job – teaching.
One of the other expectations is that we exchange information. They aren’t only teaching me about their jobs and arts programming, they’re also teaching me about themselves. We’re getting to know each other, we eat lunch together, have tea breaks, share work stuff, and even talk POLITICS. That’s why I’m doing this! I want to know more about the world we live in, I want to understand more about the lives of people so we can find similarities and discuss the differences. One of the best ways to learn something about people and how they live is to just be around people!
It’s been busy. A good busy, and I’m so happy to be here. There are so many things to write about, and I hope I can be better about sharing them here on this platform. Keep checking in, because even though I’m working, I will be making time for blogging.
But let’s be real, you’re only in it for the pictures: