No this is not a fairy tale- it is very much about real life.
So what or who are these monsters? For those who live in Chennai the answer should not be difficult. This is a breed of extremely awful individuals who prowl the streets of the city in their yellow vehicles with black tops supposedly providing "public transport" . Yes I am talking about the auto drivers of Chennai. Anyone who arrives in Chennai are assaulted by them from the moment they get off the train. They hound you until you make your way for the "prepaid counter". This service by the way is a recently introduced one. Until about a year ago one had to deal with them oneself . As all Chennaites know there is no concept of a meter and whatever these guys say is the rate is what one is expected to pay.
For someone like me who has a job quite far away from home and who cannot drive any vehicle, these creatures are a part of the daily existence. While mornings are not too bad in the sense that I deal with familiar specimens from these species the return journey is an absolute nightmare! One of the first things that I have learnt while dealing with auto rickshaw drivers is to avoid negotiating with them at the auto stand. An auto stand is literally the "wolf's den". I have found that it is safer to stop autos that are cruising along or engage those who may stop for you.
So what happens next? They ask me where I want to go. I tell them. They ask me how much I usually pay. This is actually a pointless question because they would never really accept what you tell them. Usually their quote would be at a minimum Rs 50 higher than that. We negotiate and then after a lot of haggling (during which time I may have to switch my attention to other monsters slowing down nearby and play the competition card) we decide on an acceptable fare.
But seriously does the problem end once the price has been negotiated and the auto engaged? No! It is just the beginning of the nightmare.
Auto drivers always .. and I mean always would like to drive through the worst roads in the city! Try telling them that the particular route may be congested or longer but no they are not willing to listen. However if there is a serious problem like a heavy traffic jam ( how much heavier can traffic get for this to be superlative I wonder?) they would turn round and squarely blame you. If they discover along the way that they have made a mis calculation then who is to blame? The poor customer! They would keep grumbling at you, using words that sometimes even border on abuse! Finally when you reach your destination they want another twenty or fifty ruppees more ( there is no concept of a Rs 10 with them!).
I have been living with this problem for the last eight - ten years of my working life in Chennai. I have travelled across various other Indian cities and nowhere have I encounterd such aggressive people like these monsters. Not only are they aggressive, they are dishonest crooks.
I have often been told that action cannot be taken against them because they pay off the traffic police and / or the vehicles themselves are owned by traffic policemen. What a predicament!
While I agree that travelling by buses might the only other solution for me, it is not a practical one given the distance I commute and the multiple roles that I play as wife, mother, employee etc etc. So until then I guess I should try to hone my skills in dealing with them and long for the time when I may retire and not have to venture out daily into this jungle trying to fight the monster. People tell me that the Chennai metro will solve these problems but I would like to keep my fingers crossed on that!