Monday, November 10, 2008

Sex in the Delhi auto rickshaw

Photo by LoveLeLisa
My video to come.

A pot of millions, Delhi has over 130,000 rickshaw taxis sputtering around the city. Competition is thick like the pollution. Yet still, drivers turn customers down a lot. And many times because they don't want to drive a short distance. The longer the ride, the more likely they can hit you with a ballpark fair.

Last Sunday, I'd had it with auto drivers refusing to take me home. While standing on a corner near Khan Market, 15 minutes passed and two rickshaw drivers had stopped for me and sped off when they learned I wanted to go just around the corner. I stood on a long, dusky street. Five minutes into my wait, a skinny man with his hands behind his back walked up to me. I assumed he had a knife. So I stared him down so hard I missed an empty auto racing by. Shooooot, Delhi!

Finally, and as I started cursing out loud, a driver pulled up to me. By then, the night had totally collapsed on the city, and I was alone, trying to get a ride. The driver had a stringy head of hair that licked the skin below his hears. He was hunched over his wheel like most auto drivers are by the end of the day. He seemed too tired to say no. So I grabbed the main bar of the rickshaw and blurted my street -- Tilak Marg! And its address in Hindi.

It all appeared in slow motion -- but the driver shook his mangy bob no and pressed his gas. But I was in the mood for justice and exercise. So I took flight on foot and ran alongside the auto, holding it with my right arm. And as he sped up, I jumped into the moving auto, causing the driver to halt the auto and turn around.

That's when I went off.

"Look, there are police across the street," I pointed at the darkness. "If you don't take me to Tilak Marg, I will get them."

I couldn't even hear what he said back. So I kept yelling until the wheels started moving.

"It's the law. You take me. Now! 40 rupees!"

Right away, the driver turned in the direction of my house. Sure, I ripped a man's man-skin off. But that's what I had to do.

The whole ride, I sat up in the jittery machine in case he made a wrong turn and I had to jump out. Once we reached my destination, I gave him my money and patted him on the shoulder. I hope he learned a lesson.


And here is where I find my main frustration in India. I'm tired of fighting for a ride.

Like many men in this city, women with no car in Delhi have to take auto rickshaws. But being a woman in Delhi is a safety liability.

Buses, like many side streets in Delhi are clunky, horny cages of men. Every time I think about hopping on one, I see arms groping out the bus window and the warp of men turn to look at me from the bus, and I start chasing down a rickshaw.

Knowing how much people depend on them, rickshaw drivers go out of their way to mark up their fair in Delhi. The first few weeks I was in Delhi, many of them lied about the agreed-upon price at the end of the ride. I now prepare the exact change.

A popular way getting more money is to get the passenger so riled up, you know, so ready to knuckle-up, that you give an embarrassed-faced, peace-making tip having cursed the driver’s mama and kids.

Aside from the fair fights, many drivers have just been assaulting -- and only when I'm alone. One time, a driver kept slowing his car down to turn his entire body toward me and then body search me with his eyes. Another laughed wildly and every time he checked his rear view to look at me, his laughter got bigger and bigger.

Recently, I invented a cruel pose to avoid any hint that I can go for a run.

First, instead of asking the driver if he can take me, I practically bark out my destination. I then slap my hand on the central rickshaw bar connecting the front driver's seat with the passengers'.

When the driver repeats my order to confirm his trip I say yes with my best scowl, like I'm saying to-hell-with-you!

Yet still, people hear my accent and feel vibrations of a money tree. So now, I don a South African accent. All this-- the gangsta warrior dance and the fake African accent --makes me feel like a new kind of woman.


Chandna said...

True, blogger - getting an auto in this city, for a woman, is a triumph of the mind, body and spirit. But you forget, blogger - the ones who take you for a fair price nearly kill you with their driving. Matter of fact, they nearly kill themselves too. It literally is, blogger, your money or your life.

The Idea said...

that's an interesting point chandna, --why are the drivers always so near injury, always brushing the hairs of fatal collisions?

One auto driver I had today said he'd been working for 4 years. Which exmplains why he cold talk, look at me, and drive at the same time.

In the end, I feel most comfortable with a nice and respectful driver. That tells me he honors human interaction, and mostly, his important role in it.

It's a gamble, but we women have a choice-- we can always walk!

Thanks for you note,