The Loneliest Wallah (I): The Auto Driver
by Dave Prager
Originally published on The India Tube
All the autorickshaws in Delhi appear to have their genesis in the same factory, for all are exactly identical. Before their labor-intensive customization. Variation comes in accouterments added by aesthetically-minded drivers: Shah Rukh and Kareena looking equally sultry in heart-shaped stickers on either side of the rear-view mirror, or life-sized cutouts of scandalously-clad heroines tucked behind the clear vinyl that protects the auto’s side panels and passenger seat from the sweat of a thousand sitters.
More than once I’ve been scared silly by the sudden appearance of a face when I turn my head to see what street I’m on: a starlet I didn’t notice is suddenly pursing her lips at me, a poster positioned there not to promote a movie but to keep a driver company while he spends the night,as auto drivers often do, on the side of the road, bare feet dangling outside, head resting comfortably on a fantasy’s two-dimensional lap.
Imagine if his loneliness was yours: you negotiate fares all day long, but you talk to no one at all. You try to meet a passenger’s eyes in your mirror, but all you see is a set-jaw profile looking anywhere but at you, or a steely glare warning you not look any more.
Confronted with the solitude of the service professional, you too would take refuge in Salman’s biceps or Priyanka’s neckline. Each of them would tell you what you want to hear, if only paper could talk; neither of them will ever ask you to put your eyes back on the road.