Auto rickshaw drivers, the ultimate symbol of adjusting and overcoming


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.

Art and communication

Chesapeake Bay, 2013

I didn’t have a chance to go to a museum or gallery this week, but I had a really nice conversation with a five year old about art.  He lives next door and just started kindergarten this year.  He’s really into maps! It’s great, because my art is made of maps.

I showed him the painting that is pictured above and I couldn’t believe how inquisitive he was about it.  He asked me all sorts of questions about how I made it and why I did this or that.  It was the first time in a long time that I really talked about my art work– with anyone.  It was such a fun experience, but at the same time I was thinking– Wow! How amazing is this little boy?  How can he be giving me such good insight about my own work?

It just goes to show you that anyone can see something in your artwork that you may not have even noticed before.  That is why it’s good to think about why and how you make your own artwork.  I know the reasons why I think I make my art, but this little guy actually gave me a few more reasons.

There is a belief, or philosophy in art that it takes more than the art itself to exist.  Meaning, there’s the artist who makes the art, the art itself, and the viewer.  People who study this philosophy believe that if there is no one to view the art, then they question it’s existence.  I don’t really subscribe to that belief, because I think that if you make an object and called it art, then it’s art and it exists.  However, it’s interesting to think about how others could view my art.  I have some control over how they view it, but I have no control over how they think about it.  It’s a good lesson in letting go and acceptance.  If you have different ideas about your artwork than someone else you have to let the art reach them where they’re at.  A lot of artists stay stuck to one meaning, but the truth is the artwork can be interpreted as many ways as the people who see it! Or, none at all!

So the next time you view art, or meet an artist who is showing your their work ask questions.  Ask the tough questions!  Make them think and tell you why they make their art.  All the components of the art come together (the artists, the work, the viewer) that brings understanding about each other, the processes we use to create the work, and what we think.  It also allows us to be open to different interpretations,  explore further understanding of the art work, and to share our personal experiences alongside the artwork.  Talking about art builds community and tolerance of different ideas.  It eliminates right and wrong and focuses on what just is.

When I was talking with that little boy, the only thing that existed at that time was me, the painting and the boy.  We shared a connection through an artwork that was made out of objects we both like and understand.  I also showed him something new, what could be done with maps, and how I interpret maps. Maybe he will get some new ideas or make something new in his own way and share it with me!  Either way, art can be a gateway to communication, understanding, and building relationships.