Achoos, Kingini, Nanduttan, Kichus, Unnimon. Think these are the names of my cats? Think again. These are the names of autorickshaws or ‘autorshas’ seen racing through our gutters with utmost pride and sassiness through all our districts! This three-wheeled, bone-jolting transport mode has inflicted a sense of Malayali-ness in us, knowingly or unknowingly. We have had no childhood without secretly begging to trade bus rides for auto rides, for the sheer happiness of the embracing the wind on our hair strewn faces. What makes autos so close to our hearts? Let us dig out some of the key points as to why autorickshaws are an integral part of every Malayali.
You can never be this creative in life
Unlike other vehicles, the evolution in the design of an autorickshaw has been like our education system. Changed here and there, now and then but not visible when it’s on the road. But hey, we Malayalis have made epic creations out of autos. This variety is what textile showrooms need to have.
You have never felt royal if you have not been in the look-alike of a ‘kalyana pandal’ auto. Decked up with flower strings, intricate metal works, false ceilings with hanging thread works (that dance with every jump in the gutter), and comfy seat cushions, this is a ride anyone would pay a little extra for. You are a maharaja already if you have been in this at night, for then you would have ridden in a mini disco club with multicolour LEDs flashing in your face.
And talking about disco clubs, remember those autos which come with the almost deafening audio systems? The one which makes you jump out of your skin when it is started and the same one where you couldn’t get out at your stop because the driver chettan couldn’t hear you yelling “Nirthu nirthu ithaan veedu!”. Dolby daw!
And then there are those autos which have stood the test of time. The classic one is probably a 25-year-old one or more with the same seat covers it had when it started. A little tattered here and there, but the comfiest of all because the seats would already have a pre-formed depression in the sponge so all you need to do is fit into one of them. Aah! How customized alle?
The ultimate weather shield
Forget Apex Ultima. I am talking about our very own weather-resistant autorickshaws. Too sunny to ride your scooter? Call an auto. Non-stop rain? Thank God for the rain flaps in an auto. Thunderstorm? Chances of flying off-balance on three wheels -highly impossible.
Also ever heard of anyone throwing up in an auto? Rare right? How can anyone get sick on this floating carpet on wheels? We have all, at least once, checked ourselves out in the side view mirror of the autos to see how we look with our hair flying in the wind. All those times where we secretly thought that we were starring in some movie scene! That, paired up with the glee of having occasional, unexpected jumps is a perfect mix worth living for.
Auto chettanmaar-always the highlight!
Sometimes the reason we remember a particular ‘Appoos or Kingini’ is not because of the ride we had. It’s because of the rider himself! Just like the variety in designs, auto drivers also come in a multitude of mannerisms. There are the ever-so-familiar chatty people with whom you have a soul-to-soul connection, by the time you reach your destination. They start from how they used to live in your area and will go on to teach you that the essence of life lies in its little simplicities!
You have surely had a “Pinne enthina auto edth erngunne?” moment when three autos in a row have declined to respond to your hand signals to stop. Many a time, in our rush to get home before the ‘karimeen pollichath’’ loses its heat, we forget that these people too have a family and that just because they drive an auto, they are not meant to be available all the time.
Had moments where you somehow managed to gasp enough breath to say, “Onnu pathuke pouo chetta?’” because he/she thought that they were on some Formula 1 racing track? Then you might have also had the moment where you say, “Korch speedil poyaalo chetta?” after you realize that appoopans are overtaking you on their cycles!
Been a part of that auto that took school trips? Then you have been stacked under a pile of younger kids like a stack of dominoes. A sudden brake and the smallest kid can be fished out from under the bag pile! Jokes apart, you have also been at the receiving end of treats from the auto uncle who buys you ice lollies or candies on the last day of your annual exams. That is always what your two-month summer break tasted like! The world needs more of these people and their ice lollies.
Those cringy punchlines
Do you think your stalker has given you the worst pick-up line? Then you haven’t seen autorickshaws that make you snicker and say ‘ayye’ at the same time. Know what I mean? Familiar with phrases like ‘Sundarikutty oru missed call?’ or ‘Thakkudu oru hi therumo?’ on the back flap of autos? As teenagers, we have all laughed our heads off at the ‘kozhi’ versions of such autorickshaws. We might probably never understand the goofy intentions behind these acts, but we can’t help admitting that these have brought about a silly smile on our faces while we wade our ways through the enormous sea of motor traffic.
The perfect place to deal with pestering ammayis
None of us are lucky enough to not have ammayis who think the right place for their nose is not on their faces but in the middle of your marital life and your kids’ education. After evading their calls a couple of times, an autorickshaw is the right place to call them back. You can just give them your point and the rest can be dealt with, “ Auto la..onnum kelkunnilla..hello..kelkunnilla..”
For those of you who have not thought about this before please add it to your ‘Aunt M evasion techniques.’ You will never regret this, trust me.
80s, 90s movies without an auto?
What is puttu without the thenga on top? Likewise, autos have been an integral part of almost all the ’80s and ’90s movies. There are even movies where autos have outshone the heroes and bagged their names in the title too. You don’t deserve to be called a Malayali if you have not understood my reference yet. There are many like ‘Kochiraajav’, ‘Autorsha’ etc. But the dad of all autos has always been Sundari. A hint? Sundari sundari onn orungi vaa, naale aanu thaali mangalam. You deserve a high five on your cheek if you are still crinkling your forehead!
So summing up, we all know or maybe have just realized how much autorickshaws have to do with the Malayiness in us; How much this carriage on three wheels has been part of our stories and lives once in a while. The soulful, happy, unexpected conversations in-between “Townil pokuvo” to “Ethrayaay chetta?”
You may own all the luxuries of having a car and a bike and whatnot. But not even a private jet will ever match up to the lusciousness and majesty of a rickety rickshaw ride on Kerala’s roads. I can always vouch for that!
Autorickshaws are crazy, right? Such vivid memories. Do you have one as such? Let us know!