Last week, I had the best auto ride of my life. It was my first experience with mGaadi, the start-up co-founded by fellow runner Vishy Kuruganti (@ulaar on Twitter). mGaadi is an attempt to address the perennial woes of auto commuters in Bangalore whose stress levels routinely crosses dangerous thresholds whilst attempting simple tasks like trying to get rude, unprofessional auto drivers to go to one’s desired destination and then being forced to deal with the ‘one-and-a-half kudi, sir’ situation, on top of it.
A friend and I had to get to City station last Friday night to catch a train, and being a satisfied user of the mGaadi service a few times already, he had made a booking through his android phone (btw, bonus points to Vishy & team for a smoothly working Windows Phone app too!). My friend’s experience had been very positive – he said it works pretty much like a Meru or any other cab service – when you book an auto, you get a text with the contact details of the driver an hour or so before your specified reporting time. He had already talked earlier to our driver to know where he was, so the auto showed up almost exactly when we stepped outside our apartment gate.
Actually, to term our ride as just an “auto” was doing this particular specimen of the 3-wheeler species a gross injustice. Beginner’s luck had probably got me the crème de la crème of all the autos in the city for my first mGaadi ride. Gleaming light bulbs on the outside greeted us, making me feel like a celebrity as I got in. A bright tube light lit the inside very well… get some quick work done on your laptop, sir? No? Then how about humming along with your favourite movie song as you ride? A switch was pressed, and voila, a small LCD screen came to life in the front. Ravikumar, our driver, proudly beamed as he chose to play a number from a recent movie – Auto Raja - featuring the Kannada movie star Ganesh. And his punch line was delivered even more beamingly – the auto used in the filming of that song was the same one we were riding in. We were truly privileged to be ferried by the Auto Raja of Bangalore that night.
(Aside : the original ‘Auto Raja’ released in the early 80s, starring the late, revered Shankar Nag. It has long been considered a cult movie among the auto driver community in this part of the world).
Not to be outdone by his noble steed, Ravikumar too, turned out to be Royalty, as far as grace and manners go. We realised very quickly that we had underestimated Bangalore traffic, and should have got him to report atleast 15-20 minutes earlier. It was touch-and-go in terms of making it in time to catch our train at City station. We explained this to Ravikumar and asked him to go to Cantonment instead. Initially, he said that he had another customer appointment at City station after our drop there, but when he realised the gravity of our situation, he graciously agreed to divert our ride to Cant. No grumbling at all. And when we got there, he read out the standard amount (mGaadi charges Rs. 10/- extra for the service, apart from the metered fare). I was totally mind blown. Of course, we paid him extra to compensate him for his detour, but am sure all of us would have gladly done the same.
The key takeaway was how happy I felt after an auto ride in Bangalore, smiling away as I alighted. Smiles/happiness & auto-ride - almost feels like an oxymoron, doesn’t it! But it did really feel like being in a parallel universe.
Of course, I realise that I probably lucked out a bit and got the absolute best of breed that night. But Vishy says mGaadi is over a thousand autos strong in Bangalore now, and growing each day.
I don’t believe in good omens and all that, but a ride with the Auto Raja that Friday night was a perfect start to a weekend trip that turned out to be an inspiring, humbling experience, one that I hope will greatly enrich my life in the future.
So here’s a huge shout-out to the mGaadi team. May thousands of such Auto Rajas thrive, to spread joy and happiness in the city.