Until recently, my 4-year-old son, Rahul, had just one ambition in life: to become a mail man. It seemed like an exciting career, stopping at someone’s house, dropping off the mail and hopping over a fence to escape a snarling dog.
But after visiting India recently, Rahul has come to his senses and decided to pursue a safer and more rewarding occupation: auto driver.
Yes, he wants to drive an auto-rickshaw, one of those three-wheeled vehicles that serve as mini-taxis throughout India. He wants to cruise around the city, blowing his horn constantly, and charging suckers like me twice the regular fare.
I haven’t had the heart to tell him that he’s going to have a tough time becoming an auto driver, that unless he works hard and stays focused, he’ll never make it through auto-driving school. Here are just some of the courses my son would need to take to become a certified auto driver:
1. Introduction to Auto Driving. This course teaches you the basic principles of driving an auto, such as starting the vehicle, making it go forward, and saying with a straight face, “Meter not working.”
2. Intermediate Auto Driving. In this course, you will learn how to use your hands, not just to steer the vehicle and press the horn, but also to rub them together gleefully whenever you spot a tourist. Also taught in this course: how to use your hands to signal to other drivers that you think they’re idiots.
3. Advanced Auto Driving. This course teaches you advanced techniques, such as how to make a U-turn on a one-way street, how to spot a tourist from a mile away, and how to turn a 2-km ride into an All-India Tour. You will learn useful English phrases, such as “Don’t worry, you not pay much. Usual rate only” and “No, no, we not going in circles. This is different temple. All looking the same!”
4. Meter Management. This course teaches you how to manipulate your meter to maximize your earnings. You will learn how to turn it on and off, how to make it go faster, and how to say “meter not working” in 28 languages.
5. Fuel Management. In this course, you will learn various ways to improve fuel economy, such as giving preference to skinny customers, turning off your engine when you’re stuck in traffic, and using your hands as paddles during a monsoon rain. You will also learn how to reduce wind resistance through the highly effective technique of tailgating.
6. Negotiation Techniques. You will learn how to size up each potential customer and determine how much money they would be willing to part with. You will learn to start with a very high figure and then reduce it by a third or half, depending on how much steam comes out of your customer’s ears.
7. Health and Fitness. This course will teach you how to survive all the fumes and smells from the road, as well as from the back seat. It will also teach you how to breathe effectively, especially when you’re transporting a family of 14.
8. Auto Decoration. You’ll learn how to decorate your auto with pictures of movie stars and gods, as well as movie stars who act like gods. This will make it easier to pray for more business: “My wife wants some new jewelry and my son wants a new cricket bat. Please bring me a rich tourist, dear Salman.”