Money first

Went to office in an auto-rickshaw today. For a distance of three kilometers the 'fixed rates' are Rs. 40(The meters which measure rates according to the distance covered are systematically removed.). Apparently it has been so for the last four years, as I was told emphatically by the driver (There would have hardly been any habitation in this area then, and fuel prices would have been lower too). The vehicle runs on diesel which costs Rs 38 per litre and gives a mileage of 40 km per litre as I was told again. Which means, that the journey costs the driver less than Rs. 3. The vehicle apparently belongs to him too.

The profit he makes is more than a staggering 1200%. Regularly. Now that is a lot of money accumulated over each day. Well, we know where the money goes. None of it is taxable, to say the least, but trickles into all the inevitable corrupt channels. The Auto-rickshaw wallas (as the drivers are called) have a strong union. Their numbers are large. And hence their rates are fixed. Their power is in numbers. And that, in India, is democracy.

There was another incident today. I was stoical. Shocked at the request, but stoical. I knew I could not fight the deaf with reason. I think I surprised them by offering more money, since I wanted all our transactions to come to an end. There were attempts to provoke me into a fight, after which, getting the money from me would seem much more justifiable to their 'consciences', if they had any left. In these situations, I do not believe in taking the bait. And so I offered more. After which they took much less than what they were initially asking for. I will remember the Wilson shoes lying on the window sill, the designer glasses and the Rs. 160 that I handed over.

The interesting thing to observe was that they could not meet my eye, their heads turned down. To me, that tells a thousand stories. About the India I live in. And about our times.

I suppose I have lost, if one looks at this as a competition. But as I walked back home under the slanting rays of the evening sun, the steady breeze and the welcome clouds about to paint a beautiful sunset, I only smiled.

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