I guess we did not know how to name this vehicle so just named it as ‘auto’ abbreviation of ‘automobile’. That is lame but was easy to call. It is a three-wheeled vehicle you would find on the roads of India. They are said to be a poor man’s taxi but they too can be occasionally expensive due to the rising cost of fuel and the cost of being volatile to consumerism.
A lot of the auto drivers advertise themselves to parents of children who are very young to ride bicycles and old enough to embark on an auto journey to school without their parent’s companionship. Parents would pay a monthly fee to the drivers. They would drop us at school in the morning before the first-period bell rings and pick us up after the school ends for the day.
This facility was by no means reserved only for the upper-middle-class privileged people. The fee they charge was meager that could be afforded by middle class and lower-middle-class people too. In a nutshell, you get to interact with people from different economic classes and when they are dropped at their house after school you feel grateful that you are in a way better position when compared to those who live in a house the size of your bathroom.
Every day we need to rush, after school, to a particular spot where the auto stands or else he might leave without us. Yeah, they were ruthless because they had a schedule to keep up since they take-up ‘sawaari’(a Tamizh term equivalent to the whole journey of pick-up and drop)of children from different schools so they need to rush.
An auto would normally be comfortable for two people to ride on and can be adjusted for three people to ride. Believe it or not, autos that acquire school sawaaris fit in fourteen to fifteen kids inside the vehicle, and by god’s grace the auto would not become tremulous. They were robust, rigid and over a period of time immune to heavyweight I guess counting in the weight of the children and their bags.
When kids become teenagers we are in need of flexibility. We want to wake up on our own time, get ready on our own time to be at school at right time, and leave after school leisurely consuming oily foods such as samosas and chat(equivalent to burgers and hot-dogs). We are allowed by our parents to go solo on our bicycle to our school, to tuition classes after school and music classes when we are around thirteen or fourteen years old.
Slowly we lose touch with our auto drivers who were dear to us. They were like a part of our family. They are in charge of not losing us and bringing us back home safely after school when parents are not able to. Just like people gift sweets, money, jewelry, or anything auspicious to relatives during festivals auto drivers too receive a handsome amount from the parents of the children during these celebratory seasons. As long they take the responsibility of our journey from our home to the school and vice versa they are in charge of our safety, making sure we don’t get lost and no harm is caused to us in the process.
After we graduate, we tend to even forget them, erase them from our minds with all the superfluous we have going on with our life. But every now and then I heavily bet that almost every school-going student who is now a working professional will get nostalgic once he sees an auto, filled with children with their plastic-wired lunchbox and zip-torn bags hanging to the sides of the vehicle.