Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Auto-podal Tow and Other Phenomena on Indian Roads

Updated 7 Dec 2008: Ashutosh Mehra, my friend from back in college, also blogged about autorickshaw antics in India, and you can see an actual picture of the autopodal tow in action.

After a week on Indian roads, I wonder:
  1. That people are actually able to get anywhere at all, and
  2. That I actually drove on these roads when I lived here.
Many Indian cities now have three lane roads — the right lane meant for use by two-wheelers like motorbikes, the middle lane for cars, and the left lane for trucks. Such traffic rules, of course, are blissfully ignored. In fact, two-wheelers occupy all three lanes of the road, drive on the sidewalks when possible, and squeeze in between larger vehicles at every opportunity. Cars and trucks, on the other hand, tend to straddle the line dividing two lanes.

Two-wheelers always make their way to the front of the traffic light at every intersection, like the vanguard of some randomly assembled army. Somehow, they always know when the light is going to turn green. Ironically, though, two seconds before the light turns green, these modern day cavaliers dash through the intersection, thereby making it a fatal strategy to try and rush through a yellow light in India.

Autorickshaw crushed in between two buses Auto rickshaws, which are, as far as I know, a uniquely Indian mode of transportation, commit so many transgressions on Indian roads that the subject deserves its own library of work. But among the more entertaining of these is what I call the auto-podal tow, wherein the driver of one auto-rickshaw gets behind the rickshaw that needs a tow. He then sticks out his foot and pushes the other rickshaw forward, while driving his own. Significant distances are thus covered. This feat of supreme agility is performed with much nonchalance, while taking up as much width of the road as possible. Often, the drivers of the two auto rickshaws can be found engaged in conversation, oblivious to the honking of the other riders stuck behind their coupled vehicles.

In Chennai, the auto-rickshaws are equipped with fare meters, but not a one of the meters is actually used. Fares are agreed upon by the driver and the passengers beforehand. I read somewhere that auto-rickshaws have less power than a high-end lawnmower. That, by itself, may not seem significant, until you also know that a single auto-rickshaw is regularly used to transport up to five grown men, or a dozen schoolchildren, or the entire livestock of a small village.

2 comments:

Ashutosh said...

I found this pic capturing an auto-podal-tow in action!

Sneha Divakar said...

hilarious! this auto-podal tow...