Double metre maddaam??

Posted: July 10, 2011 in Bangalore
Tags: , , , , ,

It was just another evening of commuting from Kammanahalli to Koramangala. The auto driver hesitated for a moment and then nodded. I jumped in.  

There was another momentary pause as he wondered whether he should take a left or right turn. Like most Bangalore roads that run in circles, both ways would lead us to our destination. He opted for the left turn. I did not object. He turned the metre down, and we were off.

But my auto driver’s choice of route meant that I was visiting a Kammanahalli that I had not visited for the last five years at least. Nothing could have prepared me for the ride ahead of me.

When I was child, Kammanahalli was considered the back of beyond. It was not a ‘happening’ or an extremely rich neighbourhood. But in a city where most people had houses that were large and life was easy, neither was it heartbreakingly poor.

About a decade ago, the loud reverberations of the information technology boom could be heard in Bangalore. Like many other localities that rose up to meet the needs of our fast growing metropolis, Kammanahalli slowly changed from being somewhere in the ‘back of beyond’ to ‘happening’. Swanky brands, cool restaurants and the well-heeled made their appearance. And with them came a new demarcation.

Yes, there was the Kammanhalli of bright shining lights, beautiful houses and nice things in abundance. But on the edge of this nouveau rich respectability, the old halli (village) still lived on. Only it was older and poorer.

My autorickshaw’s choice of path now took me to that Kammanhalli. Most of the single houses on its narrow lanes had been converted into three-storey structures that housed at least six families. Garbage was everywhere. Someone had shown the foresight to plant trees here, but even they were covered in grime. The halli that once happily overflowed into an open railway track was now hemmed in by a bridge. It was the bridge that both cut it off and hid its poverty from the rest of the world.  

The city had grown rich, but it was a stingy millionaire. The halli had not shared in its new found prosperity.

The autorickshaw driver made his way expertly through the narrow lanes and over the dividing bridge, even as the madness of Saturday evening traffic closed in from all sides. But the autorickshaw driver moved with the familiar ease of one who travelled in his own world and knew it well.

At the Bypannahalli Railway Crossing, he was brought to a halt as the railway gate was closed for an incoming train. This shortcut connects Kammanhalli and Indira Nagar ever since I can remember, and inevitably fails you on the days when you most need it because the railway gates are down for a passing train. But a good Bangalorean still always takes a chance 🙂  

This evening too the Bypannahalli short cut failed us. Commuters in cars chose to take a U turn and travel by the longer path. But the autorickshaw driver did not have that luxury. So he waited with resigned patience till the railway gate opened 15 minutes later.

By the time the railway gate opened, traffic stretched back as far as the eye. We edged towards the narrow opening in bumper-to-bumper traffic and finally made our way out.

The now familiar sight of Indira Nagar’s new shiny glass façade, displaying the best global brands hurt my eyes that evening. There it lay, sprawled out in luxurious opulence, completely indifferent to the grinding poverty of the halli. In a couple of minutes, we reached nearby Koramangala, which also basked in the happy glow of Bangalore’s new richness.

Both Koramangala and Indira Nagar had always been residential localities for well-to-do Bangaloreans. Now they were home to the cities information technology factories, with homes and shops for workers employed in these concrete jungles.  

So why had the city’s newly acquired wealth found its way into the richest localities and completely bypassed the poorer one? As Bangalore booms, why have the poor never seemed as poor as they did today?

We had reached our destination by this time. I paid my fare and was about to leave. A girl approached. “Forum Mall jaana hain bhaiya”, she demanded. At the mention of Koramangala’s big expensive mall, pat came the standard reply, “30 Rupees madam”.

He had charged me by the metre. But I guess he figured that if you could shop in an expensive mall, you could also pay ‘double metre’.

Yet when I thought of our long ride from Kammanhalli to Koramangala, I almost sympathised. Only someone who has experienced deep grinding backbreaking poverty can understand it.

So the next time I hear “double metre maddaam”, I will not turn my back in anger. I will reason it out with him till we arrive at a mutually acceptable solution. I will not let anyone take advantage of me. But let me also not forget to be guided by the spirit of generosity.   

“Double meter” does not always mean that he is a crook. “Double meter” sometimes just means that he is poor.

It’s also true that until the money from the new Kammanhalli finds its way to the halli, we will fail in our dream to create a beautiful Bangalore.

  1. Amit Mukherjee says:

    Nice post. Unfortunately I don’t like to be overcharged, even if the person is needy. If the driver requests nicely I may to him, but not if he makes it a condition. Actually, no one should stand outside an auto an ask to be driven. A passenger should get in and simply mention the destination.

    • 101dreams says:

      I don’t like being overcharged either… I also don’t like encouraging people to believe that there is any substitute for good old fashioned hard work. But for the first time, I saw things from the autorickshaw driver’s perspective… So even if I finally do walk away to wait for an autorickshaw that does go by metre, it will not be in the belief in that the driver is a crook (as it used to be earlier)… It will be after a discussion (if they co-operate) and from their perspective. That at least works for me 🙂

      • Amit Mukherjee says:

        Agree with you there. BTW, my previous response had a few crucial words missing, but I think you would have filled in the gaps.

        I am often foxed by an auto driver who readily agrees to go by the meter, because I tend to think that the meter is doctored. So for quite a while now I have been turning on the GPS on my mobile phone to monitor the distance travelled and more often than not I have found that the meter is doctored. The only option at that point is to get into an altercation which of late I have come to thoroughly detest. It is quite a challenge to solve this problem.

  2. poupee97 says:

    Nice post. Beautifully written.

  3. 101dreams says:

    Amit – My mum makes it a point to only travel in autorickshaws with digital meters. Apparently those are more difficult to tamper with.

    • Amit Mukherjee says:

      Not tamper proof, but difficult to tamper. As I said, I tracked the distance using a GPS, and even electronic meters gave inflated figures. Anyway, maybe most electronic meters are not yet tampered with.
      Technology is no match for human dishonesty :-).

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