Until very recently, auto rickshaw drivers were always males; autowallahs, that’s what we called them.
But on 26 June 2018, I had a pleasant surprise. My driver was a female and I had an additional bonus. It was a brand new vehicle with new floor mats placed neatly on the floor.
We waited for a few minutes while she solicited for more passengers.
A fellow e-rickshaw driver came up to her and said respectfully, “Madam, thoda aage badha lo! (Meaning in Hindi, Madam, please move a bit ahead)”
While he walked back , she drove her rickshaw a few steps ahead.
Finally, it was full and she confidently drove the vehicle into the busy traffic….
A few stops later, we saw a young man waving. She stopped beside him and waited for him to enter. He eyed the passenger seat beside her on the front, hesitated, and a second later opted to sit along with us behind her.
Gleefully, I noticed that had she been a male, he would have probably just plopped beside her without a second thought and parked his right arm behind her on the metal railing…
Our next stand was at a temple near Channan Devi Hospital, Janakpuri. This time she stopped and came out with a water bottle. She filled it at the water cooler and returned to continue with the journey.
She turned to the passenger next to her and said, “Yahan ka pani bohot meetha hota hai (Meaning, water from here is very good to drink).”
My co-passengers included a little girl, age about 8, I think, and her mom. They spent the first few minutes in eating chowmein off a small plastic plate. The little girl ate elegantly with 2 forks while her mother kept on picking strands of chowmein with her fingers and depositing them into her mouth. Once the chowmein was over, the mother threw the disposable plate outside and thrust a 10-rupee note into the girl’s trouser pocket.
Cautioning her, she said, “Yeh Autowali Aunty ke liye hai.” (Hindi translation: This is for Auto wali Aunty).
A passenger got off from the seat next to mine and the chowmein lady took his place. Turning towards me, she remarked, “My father also has an e-rickshaw. He keeps telling me to start using it. You just have to take care of brakes and speed.”
We all seemed to be moving at a leisurely pace. It was my weekly off and I wasn’t in a hurry either. I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed my short journey.
When we reached our destination, I tried to come out from my right.
The autowali lady stretched out her hand and said, “No, not from there. There’s heavy traffic.”
I came out from the other side and handed her a 50-rupee note.
She muttered something into her face handkerchief about not always having “enough change.”
After giving me back my balance of Rs.40, she drove off…
With many government sectors closed and jobs too few, it’s good to see more and more women foraying into fields that were once male bastions.
Adversity, after all, doesn’t care for gender. Why should we?