This post was contributed by Jaime Givens via Global Citizen Year.
Tuk Tuk, Auto Rickshaw, Rickshaw, Auto. One of the first things that pop into your mind when you think of a typical, Indian street. They’re (usually) the cheapest way to get around. They’re the most fun to get around in. They’re an essential part of the Indian experience. However, when you don’t speak Hindi and you don’t know city geography well enough to explain where you live, then it’s really hard to hail one. This is a story of the first time I successfully hailed and bartered an Auto home. It was a typical day. I had taken Ubers all day long and I was feeling a hole burning in my pocket. I looked longingly towards all of the auto rickshaws that passed my way but shook my head knowing that I would never be able to do it. Later that same day, the Team Leader in Hyderabad gave some of the fellows tips on saving money on Transportation. Her first recommendation was to make multiple stops on Uber instead of taking a straight shot to the destination, her second was taking Ola or Uber Share, and her third was taking an Auto. I asked her the best approach to hailing and negotiating a price and it all boiled down to speaking Hindi (something that I have no particular talent in). Defeated, I booked an Uber with my friend, Ashley, with the intention of lessening the cost of going home. I planned to book another Uber from Ashley’s house to my home, but something went wrong with the app and I got extremely frustrated and my defeatedness turned into determination. I looked at Ashley and said, “I’m going to try to hail an auto.”
Initially, her face exuded a deep apprehension about my ability to do so, but she said, “Okay, I’ll wait with you while you try to get one.” I knew that the average price from her house to my house in the evening time was around 80 rupees, but I knew I had to low ball first. I waved my hand towards an auto and got one in about 10 seconds. I repeated Pannipurra, Subzi Mandi until he began to understand that my accent distorted his native words. He nodded and I thought to myself that that was much too easy. I squinted my eyes and said the word “rupee” hoping that he would understand I meant “how much”. He must’ve been well versed in foreigners and quickly said 100. My eyes widened with disbelief and I quickly said “Nehi,” the Hindi word for no and “50.” He said something I couldn’t understand in Hindi and I thought it was over. Luckily, there was a naan bread shop owner who was watching the whole interaction and decided he should step in. He said, “hello,” and I asked him if he could translate what the Auto driver was saying. He replied that he wants 100. I showed him my Uber screen and I explained how there was no fathomable way I would pay 100 rupees when it’s only 80, and to ask him if he would do it for 60. I watched him explain in Hindi and the driver was almost disgusted with the request. He looked at me and said 90, 90. I threw my head back and laughed with such confidence like I had endless transportation options. I shook my head no and said “70,” and began to walk in the other direction. The Naan shop owner exclaimed, “Hey, he agreed to 70!” After profusely thanking the shop owner and smiling wider than you can imagine at Ashley, I hopped in the auto and made my way home.
When I got home I told my host mom, I texted my sister and mom, I even texted the entire Hyderabad cohort what I had achieved. You may be thinking, well… it was really the Naan shop owner that really did it, but I would argue that it was my initiative to do so and teamwork that made my hope come to fruition. If I had never tried to hail an Auto I would have never met the shop owner who negotiated for me.
Finding the courage to do something that I had very little confidence in succeeding in and actually succeeding in it was a great feeling, but doing it in India where everything is a little harder made me feel on top of the world.