September 15, 2006

Storytellers on Chennai's roads

Autorickshaw drivers are great story-tellers.
Wave them down in the late hours of the day and engage them for a fifteen-minute ride and you have a story they will share almost instantaneously.
One such story has gone on to inspire a Thamizh feature film.
'Auto' will be released very soon and it is made by a young husband-wife team of film makers who met when they were at a course in visual communications at Loyola College.
I am not a first-day first-show film addict but after having read articles on the film and the film makers, I think I am going to be in the dark hall as soon as 'Auto' is released. And in there, I may want to see if the film has twists and turns which my autorickshaw friends have shared with me all these years.
Another date that I hope to keep is at the no-holds-barred, no-rules-allowed autorickshaw races which are conducted in the wee hours of a weekend on highways on the fringe of the city.
One driver from Adyar who claims to lend a hand to his racing friend has promised to alert me to what is said to be a daredevil act. "If you crash and you die, thats it. You die!" he exclaimed as he took me through the background on this adventure sport.
Racers spend as much as 20,000 rupees outfitting their autorickshaws with all sorts of gadgets that turn the machines into terrestrial rockets after the machine has been stripped of the stuff that gives them some sanity on Chennai's roads.
You may get a sense of these races in 'Auto', the film.
But there are harsh stories that the drivers have been sharing more recently.
And these have given me a sense of the displacement of entire communities.
Since I head south to get home, I come across drivers who are also heading home and in the same direction. But for them 'home' is a new address. Places like Okkiam and Semmenchery, dark colonies converted from wastelands, way inside from the fashionably named OMR - Old Mahabalipuram Road.
These are colonies where rows and rows of tiny apartment blocks have been raised by the state to accommodate two categories of communities. All those who lived in huts along the banks of the canals that run through this city and were uprooted up in one civic drive or the other. And the hundreds whose huts were swept away by the sea when the tsunami hit the shores of Foreshore Estate in December 2004.
The state may have given these people a new place they can call home but at what cost?
Almost all of them must travel miles to the city if they are to keep their bodies and souls together. Women who worked as maids and hawkers and odd-job hands; men who drove autos, worked on construction sites or provided domestic services.
To them, Okkiam and Semmenchery is still a dark land.
And the autorickshaw drivers who have been displaced have only dark stories to share.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

All the autos plying illegally should be banned.Their complete lack of disregard for traffic rules puts the other road users at risk. .Most of the autodrivers are lumpen elements & do not deserve any sympathy.They should be grateful to the state/taxpayers for the free accomodation provided.Bringing sunshine into their lives is entirely upto them.Encroachments by the rich or poor cannot be condoned.
The government should address the problem posed by the autodrivers when they draw up plans to streamline traffic & not turn a Nelson's eye to it.