There are auto-rickshaws available right outside my office building. But I am resigned to a five-minute walk before I find one that uses the meter. I refuse, barring emergencies (or when a movie is about to begin in exactly 30 minutes), to haggle with drivers.
The drivers outside office have begun to recognize me: meter-wali sawari.... I am, to them, the passenger who cannot be wooed without a meter.
Everyday, they'd ask me 'Madam, kahaan?' (madam, where?)
And everyday, I'd say, "Kahin bhi... jahannum bhi jaaon, meter se chaloongi' (Wherever I go, even if I go to hell, I'll insist on the meter)
Often, I'd lose my cool. They would say 'But we're only asking for ten rupees more.'
I'd say, 'Would you accept five rupees less? Why should I lose ten rupees, then?'
Very deliberately, I would march off, sulkily, waiting for a driver who used the meter without a fuss.
Imagine my surprise when, the day I was struggling to haggle with rick-drivers at CP, an auto brakes to a halt barely inches from my toes. A grinning driver leaned out and invited me to sit inside, while switching on his meter with a flourish. The pock-marked face (is that politically incorrect? Not meant as insensitive, but merely a description), the tiny eyes and leathery skin were familiar. It was the same man who refused to use the meter everyday, outside the office.
I smiled and thanked him.
A few days later, I found myself similarly stuck, near Mandi House. And there was Mr Grinny-Marked Face, again to my rescue. Since then, he's become like my commute-knight. I see him and I know I won't have to haggle.
Last week, I hailed him, but he was busy chatting up a friend, over chai. Nevertheless, he took me to another auto-driver and sternly told the latter, "Daily ki sawari hain. Meter se...' (She's a daily passenger. Use the meter.)
On Saturday, I was forced to haggle again. It was late at night and Mr Grinny-Marked Face was nowhere to be seen. So, I argued, I marched off, I came back, I haggled. But ultimately, I gave in, taking the only auto available. Just as the auto swung away, I noticed a very visibly angry Mr Grinny-Marked Face stamping behind us.
And I am hoping that my commute-knight will give his biradari-brethren a sound verbal lashing on behalf of the 'daily ki sawari'.
Auto-maton 1, 2, 3, 4