Saturday, May 30, 2009

Prerogative... not fundamental

An incredible thing happened today. Somehow it is connected to a larger subject shared by many of my fellow city residents. I am talking about the impudence of the auto rickshaw drivers of Mumbai city. The auto rickshaw drivers have made it a habit to 'pick' the fare as per their own convenience, i.e. whether going to that location would fetch them enough dough or not. Whenever there is an outstation train arriving, the auto-drivers will never let nearby passengers into their vehicle as they plan to target long distance fares for big bucks. Despite the fact that it is illegal to decline any person from hiring an auto for a ride, they still shamelessly refuse and brazenly break the law.

But more importantly, people let them defy the laws because most of the people are tolerant of such insolent attitude of the auto drivers. City residents, despite their vexation, just ignore this practice (like they do with many other anti-social activities).

So this is what happens...

I injured my right foot in Martial arts training. After emerging from a half an hour journey in the jam packed compartment of local train, I managed to limp my way to towards the auto rickshaw stand. I was really not up to walking all the way home (as I usually do). I tried to hire a Auto-rickshaw at rush hour. The results were obvious. The drivers declined. After some time I made up my mind and got into a vacant rickshaw and told him to take me home. They driver refused and asked me to get down.

I had no appetite for further tribulations on my foot, and I made up my mind to argue with this guy (argue over my fundamental right of an auto-fare) till I possible could. Maybe, I thought I could get lucky and this guy would agree to take me home after being irritated. To be honest, I am not much of guy to get into wordy fights, and I don't have the necessary skills need to argue in a high pitched voice.

But the auto driver was adamant, and in no mood to co operate. Just then a guy emerged from the crowd. From his face I could speculate that he had some fight at the office, and was not in the right frame of mind... not to mention the local train travel had already taken its toll on his calm. He looked as if he was seriously pissed. (Let us called him Mr. Joe) He too, like me, asked a couple of auto-drivers if they'd drop him home, and after being declined each time, noticed me arguing with my auto-driver. He soon realized what the apple of discord was. The next moment Mr. Joe is besides me in the auto-rickshaw. And he says to me, "Now look kid... this guy is gonna drop you at your place first and then take me home. Just watch."

The auto-driver had too much of an argument. He cut off his engine and folded his arms and replied in a defiant voice, "I ain't going anywhere". And then...

Mr. Joe got down the vehicle, and grabed the driver's collar with his left hand. At the same time he reached the ignition with his right arm and pulls of the auto-rickshaw keys. He then asked the driver for his license. The driver already at his limits, broadened his chest to counter Mr. Joe, and said, "Kya dadagiri hai?" (trying to bully me?)

And then Mr. Joe began. He uttered the worst kind of expletives from all corners of the country. And his voice articulation was just amazing, as if he was possessed by Hitler's spirit. In a overwhelmingly aggressive attitude, Mr. Joe censured the driver in public, accusing him of fraud, nuisance to public, thievery, torment to the city locals, and several other misdeeds. I expected the auto drivers around us to come to the defense of that driver, but they were too flabbergasted to get involved. The people waiting at the nearby bus stand also joined in the castigation, scaring off any possible reinforcements for the auto-driver. Even a bunch of cops who stood by the stand didnt dare interrupt Mr. Joe, such was his aggressive display of wrath.

The driver now, as if a mouse, started begging Mr. Joe to let him go. He wasn't worried about our destination now. All he cared for was his health. After some more threatening he was forced into the driver's seat by Mr. Joe, and ordered to start the auto. The guy did so unconditionally. I was going home finally.

The people who had joined the fight were delighted with the outcome, even though they had nothing to gain. I was pleased with myself for having ignited the whole thing.

I later thought about the whole thing and came to a conclusion. We cannot enjoy many of our basic rights, not because of culprits like that auto driver, but because either we are ignorant of their wrong doings or we dont have what it takes to claim our rights. To put it in better words, we citizen have fundamental rights, but on paper. Practically, only those who are up to the task of fighting for their own welfare are the ones who enjoy their citizenship. Not many people have this ability to be steadfast and stand up for what rightly belongs to them. Hence, these fundamental rights are in a real sense no at all fundamental but prerogative for the immovables (like Mr.Joe) who have the courage to face the culprits.

Now I have made up my mind to be ever antipathetic the notoriety of auto-drivers, and I wont be taking any shit from them again. I may not be able to put forth a performance like Mr. Joe did, but I wont stand down.