The Moral Hollowness of Auto Fare Outrage

June 13, 2012

A while ago, this petition just popped up on my Twitter recommendations: an efficient system to complain against errant auto drivers in Bangalore. I was already having a gloomy day, and this has increased my bile even further. So now I will say this in clear, forceful, and largely impolite terms to all the 1,434 people who’ve already signed and to everyone who’s going to sign in the future: shame on you. Shame on the whole damned lot of you.

The auto driver is an entrepreneur, and a severely handicapped one at that. He’s too small to qualify for decent financing, he can’t run his business without a license (and the number of licenses is capped by the government), and his fares are regulated by the government. Thanks to fares being regulated by committee, they change far too late to reflect fuel prices increases or cost of living increases.

If you’re salaried, would you accept the government setting the maximum salary you could demand from an employer? If you’re a freelancer – writer, doctor, consultant, whatever – would you accept the government setting your maximum billing rate? If you’re an entrepreneur and selling something, would you accept the government setting the maximum price you could charge your customers? If you would, please let me know in the comments why, because I’d love to hear a credible justification for that. And if you wouldn’t, why are you holding auto drivers to a different standard?

You might point out that the licensing conditions mean that the drivers have to stick to the fare, and that all you’re doing is calling for enforcement. Sure. In that case, you have also lost your right to express outrage any time the Mumbai police busts anybody for drinking without a license, or overcrowding a pub, or attending a party where a couple of guests are carrying drugs. After all, that’s against the law too, and the police is just enforcing that.

But we must do something, you cry out, or auto drivers will keep overcharging us.

Here’s the problem: if the something which your petition proposes actually succeeds, it will lead to the limited resources of the police being diverted from clamping down on say, the arseholes who drive on sidewalks or the wrong side of the road, to harassing auto drivers just because you’re unwilling to pay a market clearing price. Moreover, you’re giving the police the idea that you’re just fine with the idea of them harassing independent entrepreneurs, and the government the idea that you’re just fine with the idea of price caps.

But leave that aside. Do you realise what idiots (and I’m being charitable here, I could easily go all Arundhati Roy and use fascists here) you look like when you’re calling the police to enforce a bad law that gives you, living a comfortable middle-class existence, a few extra rupees at the expense of a small entrepreneur without the social security nets that you have? We are rightly outraged if a Vedanta or a Posco takes tribal land, pays the tribals a sum of money far below what it’s worth, and then calls in state government police if they protest. Do you not realise that this is exactly the fucking same thing that you’re calling for?

So if you must do something, here are a few other somethings you can consider that aren’t as ill-advised or morally abhorrent:

  1. Get a better paying job so that you can afford your own car.
  2. Petition for better mass transit options like round-the-clock bus services, more regular bus-services, or an expanded Metro network instead of for police harassment.
  3. Petition for a change in the licensing regime so that there can be autorickshaw fleets the way there are fleet taxis. Why shouldn’t Meru and Easy run autos as well as taxicabs, and maintain a fixed, corporate rate?
  4. And since I’m on a roll here – petition for privatisation and competition in bus operation, so that we have competing bus or minibus operators running defined routes, open to the public.

These somethings have the benefits that they give you alternatives to being ripped off (and the assumption that you are being ripped off in the first place is a questionable one), they make life better for other people as well, and they don’t call for police harassment. Please do break out of your entitled little bubble and consider them.


I Refuse to Make an ‘in a jam’ Joke

September 1, 2008

Hari the Kid has an article in Citizen Matters about how Bangalore’s musicians don’t have any dedicated place to perform where they aren’t dependent on corporate sponsors, or tickets or entry fees from listeners. But this will require the police to give them permission to perform in public spaces:

It had been smooth sailing all along until June 2008, after which the corporate sponsor decided to divest itself from the Sunday Jams, thereby raising questions over their very existence. In the absence of sponsorship on a continued basis, it would not be possible to arrange for a musical venue and a sound system (collecting a token fee for performance from the participating bands being out of question as it would go against the tenets on which this movement was founded).

In order have a place within the city where musicians could perform, without being under corporate mercy, the Sunday Jam movement staged a protest near the MG Road statue on the 13th of August. They wanted their music strip at Cubbon Park back, to make it a place where musicians could gather on a regular basis and perform, just like in the 80s.

(Citizen Matters Bangalore)

I personally feel that the Bangalore administration will be as unreliable as the corporate sponsor, if not more so. After all, this is a city where the police deals with the menace of rising crime by banning live music and dancing. Even if the Bangalore jammers get the Cubbon Park music strip, one complaint from a curmudgeonly thathappa or one protest by Vatal Nagraj types will be all it takes to get the strip yanked away again.

I know these guys don’t want to charge entry fees or tickets, but maybe they should consider doing what Manchester United did in their early history. When they went bankrupt, they held a charity bazaar to raise funds and just went about collecting chanda from their fans to pay off their debts. If the organisers, musicians, and fans got together, chipped in money and set up a formal organisation which could rent places, that could work out. Relying on corporate sponsorship isn’t as risky if the corporation (or co-operative, or trust, or partnership) is your own.

Bangalore Photowalk 2

May 28, 2008

The second Bangalore photowalk will take place on the first of June. Skimpy has the complete details but here’re the salient points:

  1. Date and Time: 1st of June, 7.30 a.m.
  2. Route: Ravindra Kalakshetra to Central Jail

I won’t be there since I’m moving to Bombay (I’m typing this in BIAL’s swanky new departure terminal), but please do go if you’re there in Bangalore. Please RSVP at the post I’ve linked. You may also want to join the Bangalore photowalk yahoogroup.

As is usual for photowalks – nothing is required except a willingness to turn up and walk in the morning. Cameras are axshully optional (though desirable). No specific skill level is required either. Just RSVP please, it’s polite.

The First Bangalore Photowalk

April 18, 2008

After the grand success of the Sennai potowalks, Skimpy is organising the first ever Bangalore photowalk. Details below:

Time and Date: 8 a.m., on Sunday 27 April
Venue: K R Road, from K R Market to Gandhi Bazaar

All are welcome, regardless of city, caste, or camera. You can show up if you have a cameraphone, a DSLR, a point-and-shoot, or even if you just want to hang around and listen to Wimp put fundaes on Bangalore history. This is a photowalk. So there are no admission fees. No entry charges. No registration formalities. However, do leave a comment at this post or Skimpy’s, so that we know if you’re coming or not. It’ll make co-ordinating the walk simpler on Sunday.

How Not to Design an Airport

February 18, 2008

Ramesh Ramanathan is fuming about Bangalore’s new airport being underdesigned and underconnected (via Ajay Shah’s excellent roundup on infrastructure). As is happening far too often these days, Skimpy beat me to blogging about the main topic. However, that just gives me more stuff to discuss. In fact, I’ll make the whole post an outsider-layperson-dummy’s guide to the Bangalore airport, infrastructure design, infrastructure financing, and maybe even special check-in counters. So. Yeah. Let’s do this shit. In Q&A.

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Infy Public School

December 12, 2007

Raiders Lost the Arc, the idiotically titled and idiotically written Outlook cover story on how IT is ruining Bangalore, has been debunked and fisked enough elsewhere on the blogosphere (Churumuri rebuts CNR Rao hereNitin points out what the Outlook story missed here). Sugata Srinivasraju doesn’t ever blame IT junta for ruining infrastructure himself, but he conveniently forgets that infrastructure is the government’s responsibility, not the IT industry’s. When developers try to make infrastructure their own responsibility, as in the Bangalore-Mysore Infrastructure Corridor, the government has gone after them with a hatchet.

However, it’s undeniable that there is an influx of immigrants into Bangalore (me included), and that this is leading to new cultural forms (which still does not translate to a destruction of the old culture and values of the city).  But there’s something interesting about this wave of migration.

Uptil now, whenever there’s been internal migration in India, the migrants have alsways carried their culture along with them and ghettoised themselves. So Gujrati Jains and Marwaris used to set up their own schools and colleges wherever they went. Mumbai has DG Ruparel College and lots of other Gujew colleges (which are mocked regularly in JAM), and even more Gujrati dominated schools. Even Bangalore has a Gujrati medium school near City Market. Other communities don’t migrate as prodigiously as the Gujratis and Marwaris, but they still cluster. So you have Bongs coalescing in Chittaranjan Park in Delhi, Punjews sending their kids to DAV schools all across UP, and Tams setting up Sangam associations in Delhi and Mumbai. And this is before they extend the ghettoization by marrying somebody from the homelands.

But the IT migration to Bangalore (and Pune and other hotspots) is different. The migrants are united by profession, not by community. And while within the overall migrant community they’ll still form sub-clusters based on language and community affiliations, the ghettoisation is not as extreme as it was when Marwari traders flocked to Chikpet and created their own temples and schools there.

So what I’m eagerly waiting to see is what happens when the IT professionals’ kids go to school – and where they go to school. If migrants’ kids and ‘old-Bangaloreans” kids grow up together, the clash of cultures is probably not going to be as acute.

This could of course go all pear shaped if:

  1. New schools don’t come up fast enough to cater to the Bengalooru baby boomlet – this worries me the most.
  2. New schools which do come up price themselves out of reach of the old middle class. Even so, if they do, they’ll price themselves out of reach of a substantial number of IT workers as well, so cultural intermingling would still happen, just in old, cheap schools instead of new, expensive ones. I somewhat doubt this will happen. This is India. People will find the money to educate their kids.
  3. Cultural factors mean schools end up as IT/ non-IT kids ghettos also. I greatly doubt this will happen. Schools compete for students, just as students compete for schools. If the kid is smart, the school isn’t going to care about the parents (at least at the post Class-10 level). And if the school is really good, the parents aren’t going to care much about who the other parents are.

How this plays out is going to be interesting.

My KQA Debut

November 15, 2007

I’ll be conducting my first ever quiz for the Karnataka Quiz Association this Sunday. It’s a ranking open, with a History, Geography, and World Culture theme.

(The World Culture has been thrown in for the sole purpose of letting me sneak in general questions in case I run out of history and geography fundaes).

Before leaving for work this morning, I had 31 questions made, which leaves me with 59 to make by Sunday afternoon. Difficult but doable.

In case you’re in Bangalore, and interested, drop by. The prelims start at 3 p.m., and the finals at 4 p.m. The venue, as is usual, is Daly Hall on Nrupathunga Road.


November 4, 2007

BESCOM is doing some sort of maintenance, and so there isn’t any power at my place until nine or ten o’ clock. Since I have to get a lot of questions for next month’s KQA Ranking open ready, I’ve brought my laptop and datacard to the CMH Road Cafe Coffee Day, and I’m blogging from a cafe for the first time in my life.

Much as I love my Dell laptop, I have to admit that in situations like this, you really wish you had a MacBook. Sitting in a cafe and blogging is pseud, but doing it from a MacBook is the sort of overwhelming pseud-put that is very hard to achieve.

Now, back to making questions.

I Want to be a Young Man in Spats

October 25, 2007

Skimpy claims that monsoonal rains follow the Gregorian solar calendar, while post-monsoonal autumn showers follow the Hindu lunar calendar. Thus, there is always rainfall at the time of Dasara, whenever that might be, while the monsoons always show up in June. Every three years, when the leap month is added to bring the lunar year back into sync with the solar year, this manifests itself as a longer and dryer summer.

The reason I bring this up is that due to the Dasara rains, my trousers have been spattered with mud even before I reached office. As is usual after 10 millimetres of rainfall, Magrath Road is now a dirt track, and the traffic passing over it has left my lower right trouser leg looking like a Jackson Pollock painting – if Jackson Pollock would have used brown.

For a banker of repute, having such indignities visited upon his trousers is intolerable. One cannot convince customers of the virtues of zero-cost options unless one’s trousers are spotless, starched, and straight. The cry goes out: what to do, what to do?

Fortunately, we do not need to come up with new solutions that will impose heavy research and testing costs. The answer lies in our past, and we can reach back and grab it. Ladies and gentlemen: spats.

As the Master wrote:

Spatterdashes was, I believe, their full name, and they were made of white cloth and buttoned round the ankles, partly no doubt to protect the socks from getting dashed with spatter but principally because they lent a sort of gay diablerie to the wearer’s appearance. (link

Remarkable, no? My trousers are protected from spatter, my appearance borrows a gay diablerie, and best of all, I promote Edwardian values:

This is pointed out to me every time a new book of mine dealing with the Drones Club of Jeeves and Bertie is published in England. “Edwardian!” the critics hiss at me. (It is not easy to hiss the word Edwardian, containing as it does no sibilant, but they manage it.)

I will now rant about the importance of Edwardian values. 

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Airport Road

September 8, 2007

I’m glad my Palio isn’t sentient. If it was, it would be miserable. The past week it’s been going to work at 30 kmph on Airport Road, and coming back even slower. It has me to blame for coming home early instead of being a good boy, going to the gym after work, and not coming home until Airport Road is empty.

The Palio just isn’t meant to crawl along Airport Road behind traffic. Autorickshaws, yes. They’re a natural for that sort of job. Indicas too. But the Palio is meant for better things. Like coming down the Airport Road flyover at 80 kmph while Radio Indigo plays ‘Hips don’t lie’ and shooting past an Accent with a ‘It’s not how you drive, it’s where you park’ bumper sticker. Actually, bub, it’s who overtakes you.

The problem with that is that the fast lane is almost never empty enough to overtake black Accents. Usually, it’s occupied by some wanker of an Indicab who’s going at 35 and refuses to move into the middle. Or worse, an Omni, which never accelerates, but manages to come to a dead halt in two seconds. Blast them.

So I need to cut down on the eating out even further, and start saving up for fuel for a road trip. Saturdays have finally been made holidays. The Palio deserves the Bangalore-Chennai highway after what it’s been going through.