An autorickshaw (tuk-tuk) is a three-wheeled vehicle with a motor similar to a lawn mower. The driver (autowalla) sits in front and curses the thing to start it. Up to three passengers can sit in back, unless the tuk-tuk has been enlarged to accommodate another wooden bench. The typical tuk-tuk is topped with tattered canvas, and some have side curtains for use during monsoons.

Although most tuk-tuks have meters, they are never used. “Broken” is the universal understanding. In a land where bartering is an art form, people have no use for pre-set fares.

Now, thanks to a modern bus system, tuk-tuks are banned from the train station so busses can idle while passengers board for a pre-set fare. (Slip the driver a few extra rupees and you get a seat.)

The bus fares (minus the informal seat tax) are reputed to be less than tuk-tuk fares. But that is before intense haggling is added to the equation. The tuk-tuk passenger can ride smugly, assured that the beleaguered autowalla’s near-death family and bedfast granny will starve on the fare that does not cover the cost of petrol. The autowalla hides his snickers with a woeful expression. Beneath the drama, both autowalla and passenger know the deal is fair.

The autowallas do not have a defeated, flat tire attitude about the bus station ban. They are attacking the buses, the bus drivers, and shouting at would-be bus passengers. The police, who have starving families and bedfast grannies of their own, observe the riots over tea and newspapers while tallying up their bribes from the autowallas.

Clearly, the police are the winners in this on-going fracas. Perhaps they bribed the authorities to institute the bus station ban.

Soon, I will return to the land of automatic tolls. How boring. I cannot haggle with a transponder. I will hear no more tales of bedfast grannies. I will not be able to bribe my way out of traffic tickets. And, when I board a bus, the seats reserved for seniors will be occupied by i-Pod connected teens who are more difficult to move than the India/Pakistan border and will have no understanding, whatsoever, of The Bribe until they get a handle on politics.


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