Enter the Nizammudin Railway Station and you will be welcomed by hordes of auto rickshaw drivers exuberant to ferry you to your destination. The enthusiasm however vanishes the moment you try to negotiate about the fare. Now, if at any point in your life you wish to gain first hand tips on extortion, Delhi auto rickshaw drivers are the ones to look upto. Because their pricing policies can give any economist worth his salt a run for his money.
Why I say so? A ride from Lajpat Nagar to Nizammudin costs 50-60 rupees during the day however at 7 in the morning you are asked for 150 rupees for the same. The silver lining to the cloud being, they can adjust for a 100 provided you let someone else travel with you. Plead them for mercy they will give you a cold shoulder, inquire them about the steep hike they will say that’s how they like it in the morning and remind them of their obligation to charge fare as per the meter they point in the direction of a prepaid booth.
A prepaid booth is a Government of Delhi measure to protect passengers from the exploitation of auto drivers who may charge exorbitantly or might take you to a dingy locale. In my two years of Delhi life I have never had the taste of prepaid booths, until recently because I am running on a time crunch in the morning and the long queues at the booth are a disheartening sight after an overnight journey. On this unfortunate day, when I had extra time in hand and was in a stingy disposition I marched towards the Prepaid Booth and patiently waited in the queue. Let’s set the scene a little, three booths and only one of them is functioning to cater thousands of passengers, in the background a mechanized voice is continuously instructing the passengers to hire an auto from the booth only and surrounding you are dozens of policemen at service every step. At the counter I pay the fare and a guy hands me a slip with an auto’s number scrawled on it retaining a counterfoil with him. For the next ten minutes I
anxiously hunt for the auto allotted to me but no avail and then someone tells me that at the end of this path is a policeman who can help me. This fellow sends me to another policeman who tells me to take the vacant auto in front of me. Relieved, I depart from the station but right at the exit the driver has a change of heart and asks me to reconsider the location because he is more comfortable in going to Khan Market and when my disbelief became apparent in my words and gaze he asked me to find another auto. Furiously I walk back inside the station but the policeman informs me that I will have to wait as they are facing a disequilibrium, that is they do not have autos to match the mounting demand. After some odd fifteen minutes he found an auto for me. By this time my homesickness coupled with fury had entirely turned me sour. Once I reached college, the driver told me that the distance was father than what I was charged for at the booth, hence I should pay him a few bucks extra. On my blunt refusal, he told me that it is for shrewd people like me that his job has been completely ripped off of any joy. That I am a flat liar who must have given a nearer location at the booth so that I can save some money.
I don’t know if it was the time that I lost or the hostility that I earned out of this experience, but I no longer have an appetite to be served by the prepaid booth again. What completely flummoxes me is that dozens of policemen at the station can not ensure that the drivers use the meters, rather they come up with an independent mechanism as a solution which itself transforms into a problem.
P.S. As I write this I am traveling in Rajdhani and their food has given me inspiration for a sequel to this post. And why exactly have they stopped serving coffee 😐