The following article appeared in my Sunday column 'Un Intended' in the New Indian Express.
Pregnant Autos With Superpowers
If traffic is an indicator of the culture of a place, we in Hyderabad have evolved distinctly in this area. Today, few places in the world can match our traffic. Though better experienced than written about, certain aspects of our traffic must be dwelt on for the sake of documentation. Apart from monstrous trucks, bullying buses, rascally autos and silky smooth two wheelers, one segment of the Hyderabadi traffic that strikes fear in the Hyderabadi heart is the pregnant auto. Yes, normal auto rickshaws also strike fear in your heart, but that’s nothing compared to what pregnant autos can do to you.
Pregnant autos are normal autos with the supernatural capability to expand in such a grotesque way that they can accommodate eight passengers in their insides. In the front seat (there is only one), three passengers cling to the driver’s collar and shirt sleeves, who in turn clings to the steering. In the backseat, packed tighter than lovers from the Roman era, are four to five men and women, huddled closer than they would ever be with their spouses, making up for any shortfall in their romantic lives in the short distances to their destinations. Imagine this auto, packed with some eight to nine humans, heads, legs and hands sticking out at odd angles, flying at top speed heading uncontrollably at you like some drunken bull that has broken out of a bull ring. It is a sight that strikes cold fear into any heart and makes many non-believers believe in God. Obviously, these autos can ply only on roads where no law exists because no law would allow such things in public places.
Some thought that pregnant autos were the incarnation of some Goddess and almost started a new cult. Only upon a closer look did they realize that the heads and limbs in the auto belonged to a happy bunch of passengers. But there is yet another supernatural aspect to these autos. Pregnant autos are invisible to traffic cops. The poor cops can spot your seat belts, your pollution certificates, your mobile phones but they can never spot these pregnant autos as they careen at speeds not less than 100 mph, weaving in and out of traffic, picking up and dropping whole bodies or parts of passengers, balancing on two wheels precariously as they negotiate turns and braking to a complete halt when required. The whole world can see them, feel them, but traffic cops cannot. No wonder the pregnant autos of Hyderabad are the scariest proposition since the Ramsay Brothers. It is like having a tipsy James Bond drive Noah’s Ark.
Pregnant autos are a special feature of our Hyderabadi culture, and need to be preserved. However, I doubt if we can take this any longer. Everytime a pregnant auto appears, people on the road lose a few years of their life out of sheer stress. Yes, pregnant autos can be used productively for society to inflict third degree torture on hardened criminals or to frighten little children to drink milk, but overall they serve little purpose except increase the number of heart patients. I suggest that our traffic cops be given special powers and special glasses instantly (or glasses with special powers) to spot these pregnant autos and stop them from scaring the daylights out of everyone. As it is we have regular autos to worry about and now these. Maybe, like tigers and other wild animals that are dangerous but still need to be preserved, they could be kept in special enclosures. I don’t mind paying to go and watch them on a safari!