1] Sticking to a principle means having to fight.
On an average, I haggle with ten auto-drivers every day. I insist they use the meter. They insist that their meters are not working.
They say: "Vaise, aap kitna dete ho, madam?" (How much do you pay, otherwise?)
I say: "Vaise toh meter se hi chalte hain, bhaiya. Meter se Rs 38 hota hai." (Otherwise, I pay by the meter. It is Rs 38)
It is the same locality, the same route. I know exactly how much I should pay. I usually end up paying Rs 40, because no auto driver worth his CNG will ever return small change.
So, they say: "Madam, aap 50 de dena." (Madam, give me fifty.)
I say: "Kyon? 38 banta hai, 40 de denge, zyada se zayda." (Why? It should be 38. At most, I'll give you 40)
They shake their heads and look away.
I walk away, and on to the next auto. Which also says that the meter is not working.
"Vaise, aap kitna dete ho madam?"
... Usually, I keep moving from auto to auto until someone finally agrees to use his meter. Or agrees to be paid Rs 40, which is fair enough, assuming his meter really isn't working.
2] There is no such thing as a small mercy forthcoming.
Like I said, small change isn't returned. Ever. If the meter says Rs 36, no auto-driver gives back Rs 4. If the meter says Rs 41, you will hand over a fifty-rupee note and will be given back only Rs 5. The auto-driver will invariably say: "Aur chutta nahin hai." (I don't have any more change.)
If I had a piggy bank into which I could put in all that small change due to me, I could have bought myself a new pair of shoes every month.
3] Restraint, restraint, restraint
The desire to search the person of the auto-driver, to check whether he really doesn't have any chutta is overpowering sometimes.
The desire to say "Accha? Meter kharaab hai? Chalo mechanic ke pass chalte hain." (Really? Your meter isn't working? Let's get a mechanic to look at it.) is overpowering sometimes.
The desire to carry around a smal tool kit and immediately begin to take the auto's meter apart, is overpowering.
The desire to take the autodriver straight to the RTO office, and complain about his eternally non-working meter is overpowering.
The desire to take down the numbers of all the autos who claim that their meters are faulty, and give a list to the traffic police, is overpowering.
But I exercise restraint. In the interest of keeping the peace. In the interest of my own time and sanity. Exercising restraint and not complaining to the cops about the cheating, overcharging, lying, arrogant, (arghghh) auto-walas of the city may or may not be good for the civic health of the city. But it is good for me.
4] People who can take advantage of you, will.
In Delhi, the autos have showed me this great truth of life. In times of distress - when streets are flooded with sewage-water, for example, or on national holidays - no auto-wala will want to take you anywhere, and if he does, he will ask for twice or even thrice as much as he should.
This lesson came home to me strongly on the day it rained so hard that I had to wade knee-deep in my colony. I counted 27 autos who refused to take me. After that, I lost count. Finally, I was forced to take an old man who overcharged me by only Rs 15.
5] The very young are very rash
Boys who look no older than sixteen or seveteen drive autos in the city. Usually, they drive too fast, brake too hard and generally seem to be suffering from the delusion that they're driving a racing car.
6] Some older men never grow up
See point 5.
7] Never trust anybody.
I clearly remember this encounter with an auto-wala two years ago. He was a friendly fellow and was supposed to take us to Mughal Garden. Instead, he dropped us off at Parliament, saying that the gardens are five minutes away. (It turned out to be a good forty-five minute walk). In exchange for this favour, he not only overcharged us, but while dropping us off, he also told us that he would not need to drive an auto very long. He was going to buy himself a car. (I still can't afford one).
8] There's always somebody who can take you where you want to go. Just don't give up.
Stay calm and go on looking. That's the rule. As long as I don't get angry, I feel fine. All I need to do is to remind myself that there is no need to get angry. If one refuses, another will come along. If nine refuse, the tenth one will agree. If ten refuse, the eleventh won't.
Corollary to that: The darkest hour is before dawn.
Just when you think there's not a single auto-wala in the city with a heart or a shred of virtue, you will find one.
9] People will try to use your generosity against you.
Often, an auto-wala will say: "Madam, zyada kahan maang rahe hain? Gareeb aadmi hain. Sirf 5 rupaye hi toh... aap jaison ke liye 5 rupaye kya hai?" (Madam, I am not asking for too much. We're poor. Only Rs 5 extra... what is 5 rupees for the likes of you?)
I usually smile and say: "Main 5 rupaye kam doon toh chalega? Nahin na... aapko phir 5 zayada kyon diya jaye?" (If I give you Rs 5 lesser, will that be okay? It won't... so why should you get Rs 5 extra?)
10] There's always a Plan B
Not getting an auto doesn't mean much. It simply means an inconvenience. Even if a thousand auto-walas refuse to take me to work, refuse to use the meter, refuse to charge fair rates, I still have the option of getting into a bus. The bus stop is a couple of kilometres away. I might have to walk under a hot sun. But I have the bus as an option. Or, I can take a cycle-rickshaw to the bus stop and take a bus from there. It's a little less convenient, but it's an option and a cheaper option at that. As long as I remember that I have the option, I can stay calm about the lying, cheating, harrassing, (arghgh) auto-walas.
Lesson - Never forget Plan B.
11] Life isn't always about getting there; it's about the ride too.
So often, I am focused on keeping an eye on the meter, on the route, on the traffic, that I forget that it is a nice day outside and it is fun to be sitting in this little rounded box-like thing on wheels, zipping over flyovers, with a rash young man at the wheel. Some days, the air is freshly washed; some evenings, there are honeysuckles draped over a wall near a traffic signal; some nights, the city is twinkling, buzzing, whirling; some mornings, there's a fize drizzle and everything is like a soft-focus slow-motion movie from the Yash Chopra stable.
Some auto rides are worth themselves.
More on autos -
Auto-maton 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.