June 29, 2007

Tales Autorickshaw Drivers Tell...

Autorickshaw drivers can be in a loquacious mood when it rains.
Perhaps it is because they make a killing on a day when people desperately seek them out.
I enjoy the company of these drivers. Because they have stories to share.
Not gossip. Real stories.
And imagine how engaging these tales can be when you engage a three-wheeler on a monsoon night and the ride is a long one.
This week, Bhaskar took me home from a lane in north Madras to my quiet neighbourhood in the south. And when I gave him the wrong direction as we negotiated the Adyar bridge, he had a story to tell.
Bhaskar was born and grew up in the middle of 'no where land' in what is today Besant Nagar.

At a time when all that you could see from the edge of Sastri Nagar was a sandy expanse which drowned in the sea and all that you were forced to inhale many times a day was the stench of burning flesh emanating from the graveyard that was to become Besant Nagar's busy electric crematorium.

He lived with a community of dhobis.
For Vannanthurai was a dhobi ghat without walls or limits.

The clean water in the many 'kuttais' which dotted this area was just what the dhobis wanted to wash clean the used linen of the people who lived on the other side of the Adyar river.

For Bhaskar and his teenage friends, there were two exciting diversions in life.
Scout for fruit-bearing trees in the 'thopes' which had not yet been plotted out by the state and plan for a Tamil film at Jayanthi theatre in Thiruvanmiyur village.

Bhaskar was smart when it came to saving money in times when two paise meant a lot.
He would double up to an Adyar firewood shop which sold the wood at a lesser price than at the local shop, and tote up the paises to pay for a place in the sand of what used to be a 'tent' cinema - movies screened inside a tent.

People like Bhaskar have lots of stories on our neighbourhoods. Origins, geography, history, lifestyle, development, people, community life . . . .
Put together, these stories can contribute to the social history of our neighbourhoods.
Perhaps I should invest in an audio recording gizmo and click it on when the stories begin to roll.
I don't have to worry about the fare meter.
The auto drivers of our city are nice guys. You only have to engage them in a wonderful story and they will take whatever you give them.


swapnaa said...

I'd strongly recommend you buy the audio recording gizmo! Been wanting to do this myself for many years and I totally regret the wealth of wonderful stories and episodes I missed because of that!

Anonymous said...

Nowadays, one hardly finds people conversing with auto-drivers - your conversation and the information was certainly worthwhile.

jillumadrasi@gmail.com said...

Much the same thought has occurred to me! It is cool you do this on a regular basis.