, as it’s lovingly called, is our very well known auto-rickshaw! Tuk-tuk is a beautiful name, absolutely lyrical & musical. The heroine (I refuse to believe that the tuk-tuk is male!) of today’s post is very significant. Why the tuk-tuk? Because it reminds me of situations which are extreme deviations from the world that is flashing across the television screen right in front of my eyes – The Royal Wedding! The royal guests are all pouring in and the royal relatives arriving from the Buckingham Palace in their fleet of royal cars – the Rolls Royces, the Jaguars, the Range Rovers, the Maybachs etc. The bells of Westminster Abbey are ringing incessantly. I get the first glimpse of the royal bride through the misty veil, the screaming of the over-excited crowd and suddenly crkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk – I am transported back to the crowded streets of where our beautiful red tuk-tuk screeches to a dead stop.
‘I asked for Rs 50 because I thought you are a Srilankan, Mahatya‘, argued the tuk-tuk driver who was now demanding Rs 150 for a 50 yards drive from the hotel that we were staying in to the main road which was a very very short destination. A huge verbal fiasco broke out between the tuk-tuk driver and my husband. The crowd around and us got split up into two hoodlum gangs – one gang supporting us and the other supporting the tuk-tuk driver. The Z-SISTERS were completely zapped by the new avatar of their dear Papa! Politics, recession, global warming, zero carbon footprint etc – all got wiped out as our huge debate continues. Why, we asked again, why should we be paying more at the end of our journey than what we had been asked for at the beginning of our journey?
Agitated and hassled, this incident took us to our memory lanes a decade back. How could we forget our own history of histrionics with the tuk-tuk driver every time we would ride a tuk-tuk? After-all, it used to happen almost on a daily basis.
We started our married life in Srilanka and I always associate wonderful memories with this country, a country where we built our first home – metaphorically and almost literally. My husband was always mistaken to be a Srilankan! We used to live in a place called Rosmead Place.
This was a high security area because of lot of dignitaries staying there. For example, Mrs. Bandaranaike, the wife of the ex-Srilankan President Mr. Bandaranaike and the mother of Mrs. Chandrika Kumartunga, the former President of Srilanka. Their house was almost in the next lane. Plus, a few embassies thrown here and there. It was also a locality where each bungalow had 2 to 3 cars parked in their garage. And 2 more small cars parked outside on the road per bungalow, belonging to the various staff employed in each bungalow!
We too lived in a luxurious bungalow. However, minus the frills. Our bungalow was an exquisite one with a dreamy and beautiful spiral wooden staircase (above). But, we were an exception. Neither did we have any staff to look after our home (forget about driving in their own cars). Nor did we have a fleet of cars ourselves. The tuk-tuks were our only trust-worthy carriers. We would sneak out of our bungalow and cheekily end up at a distant crossroad just to hire a tuk-tuk. Not because of embarrassment I suppose (staying in Rosmead Place and travelling by tuk-tuk? OMG!) but to avoid paying a higher tuk-tuk fare! There was not so much of a negotiation in the payment for our journey out and would be charged the normal ongoing tuk-tuk fare as my husband was always conveniently mistaken as a Srilankan! But, our return journey was invariably always full of excitement and adventure. As we would approach our bungalow in Rosmead Place, perhaps a few illusion bubbles for the tuk-tuk driver would be burst.
One: We were not Srilankans!
Two: We stayed in Rosmead Place!
There was always an unceremonious hike in the tuk-tuk fare followed by a BIG EXPLOSION with non-stop verbal exchange of missiles.
‘I didn’t realize that you were not a Srilankan, Sir’!
‘But both of you stay in Rosmead Place, Mahatya’! Etc Etc Etc…
And a decade later nothing had changed. ‘I asked for Rs 50 because I thought you are a Srilankan, Sir’!
Autos in Kolkata
Coming back to the tuk-tuks – we also have tuk-tuks in Kolkata, the city where I have grown up. I have travelled by tuk-tuks most of my college life. But tuk-tuks in Kolkata are different. Firstly, they are not called tuk-tuks. Though similar word exists in the Bengali dictionary. The word tuk-tuké is used to describe a cute little kid and tuk-tuki is a very common pet name/nickname for sweet little Bengali girls. A pet name is also called daaknaam in Bengali, a term that has been popularised by Jhumpa Lahiri in her book The Namesake. As the tuk-tuk in Bengal is stripped off it’s sweet name and is just called the ’Auto’, with it goes away all the sweetness of the tuk-tuk.
There might have been an on-going battle of verses with the tuk-tuk driver in the streets of Srilanka, but the tuk-tuk in itself is a very cute little vehicle. They come in different colours. It’s also a challenge to sit inside a Srilankan tuk-tuk for long when the tuk-tuk driver must have taken an oath not to ever drive beyond 20kms/hr!
The case is very different with the Autos in Kolkata. When one wants to hire an Auto, he/she screams the word – ‘AAAAEEEIIIIIII AUUUUTOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO’ and with that powerful reference the Auto is empowered with a strange heavenly power and responsibility. An Auto screeches to a halt and honours a person by letting him/her in. At this point I must stress the need that you might have to be privileged enough to be selected by the Auto driver. If you are not selected then, Sorry! A huge apology, your ride in this particular Auto is not destined to be yours.
The other difference is that the Auto drivers in Kolkata are intrinsically different. They believe that they are the worthy avatars of Michael Schumacher. So, if you happen to be privileged enough to be inside a Kolkata Auto, imagine yourself to be in a Formula One Racing Car without the seat belts and without the safety of knowing that you are being driven in between the race tracks. You are in the open streets of Kolkata, jostling for some space amongst the speeding bikes, the nosy and the real noisy buses, the ‘oh-I-am-scared-please-don’t-scratch-me’ sedan cars along with the taxis, the hand-pulled rickshaws, the pedestrians… and then with gradual realisation you thank your stars. You thank for being in the Auto as you whirr past (actually way past) the traffic and reaching your destination sweat-free because of the open ‘tornado’ mode of ventilation that came free with your Auto package.
Another thing comes free with the package – the cool hair-styling done by God’s natural Hair-blower!
Now its time to pay for your dream ride. ‘Dada, I said Rs 50 because I thought that you stay in Kolkata, but it seems you are a NRI (non-resident Indian). Please Dada, give me some dollar. Okay, okay I’ll give a NRI discount and make it Rs 150 for you!’
History repeats itself. And, it doesn’t care about Geography – whether it’s Srilanka or Kolkata!
Unblogging it all… Ishita
Glossary – Mahatya: Sinhalese equivalent to ‘Sir’
Dada: Elder brother in Bengali, again equivalent to ‘Sir’
Both terms are used to address a man with respect
Disclaimer: I hope you enjoy reading the posts with lot of visuals. While you enjoy seeing them please don’t use them. You can see more pictures of my travel and food journey here.
Other articles you make like reading on Kolkata or Colombo:
Auto, My Ultimate Road Crush – Kolkata
Getting Started, Rather Re-started – Kitugala, Srilanka
Heritance Tea Factory Hotel, Nuwara Eliya,
SrilankaLiving By The Water With Sunset As Prop – Colombo & the Indian Ocean
Living By The Water With Sunset As Prop – Kolkata & the Ganges
Terraces and Beyond – Kolkata