Why I Still Swear By Auto Rickshaws

Those who know me, know me as the fiercely stubborn woman has refused to learn driving (I actually did, just never got my license) and relies on public transport for her daily commute – buses and local trains in Bombay, buses, rickshaws and 6-seaters (yes I used them too) in Pune and rickshaws in Bangalore.

The reasons are many, but the most important one  is that I will not be responsible for adding one more pollution emitting, badly driven vehicle to our already messed up roads. That is also one of the reasons I continue to resist the Olas, Ubers and Merus of the world.

Coming back home this afternoon in a rickshaw, I found myself surrounded by taxis at a particularly long signal. There were at least 10 taxis, each running the air-conditioning and ferrying just 1 person (but of course!). The 120 seconds I had to wait there were unbearable, as waves of heat emanating from the air-conditioned cars hit me from all around. The rickshaw driver cursed softly under his breath and launched into a litany of how these cabs were not only stealing their business, but making it so difficult for them to navigate the roads, for they are almost always aggressive drivers who want to make as many trips as possible and bully the tiny rickshaws out of the way by sheer force of honking, speeding and pushing the smaller vehicles to the side.

Of all the cabs I’ve taken, I have few memories of a good driver. Most of them didn’t wait for the signal to turn green and of course they weren’t respecting any lane discipline rules. Let’s not even talk about the speed at which they drove. So here we are, constantly cursing the rickshaw drivers for being bad drivers, not respecting traffic rules, refusing to go to certain destinations and asking for more than the meter rate. Most people I know refuse to commute by auto citing these reasons and they hail the newly arrived cabs as the lifeline connecting Bangaloreans to their workplace, enabling the economy to push forward by ferrying thousands of hapless citizens from point A to point B seamlessly.

And yet, cab drivers regularly drive rashly with no respect for traffic rules, contribute to the increasing congestion of roads and air pollution, resort to surge pricing during peak hours, often refuse a fare when the destination is inconvenient, call multiple times for directions despite the fact that they are equipped with GPS devices and have been known to stalk, molest and rape female passengers. And you still think that they are a solution to the problems created by the auto-rickshaws?

Image Credits: Sketch India
Image Credits: Sketch India

Call me stubborn, but I’m still going to walk out of my house tomorrow morning, up to the main road and hail down a rickshaw which will cost me 60% of what an Ola Mini does. The auto driver will not have my phone number and won’t know where I stay. I won’t have to spend my already busy morning talking to cab drivers and giving directions. I will definitely not be thinking of sharing a cab with a bunch of strangers to economise during surge hours. And should the auto driver get weird, my yell for help will be easily heard.

So till our cities actually implement a real public transport system with buses and metros plying regularly and connecting the different corners of the city (quel rêve), I shall continue to be thankful to the little cockroaches providing a convenient and reasonably cost effective way for me to get to work.

Nesting in Bangalore – Part III

We recently moved (again) – the desire to live in a nicer apartment, far outweighs the hassle of dealing with the agents of Bangalore, their weird accents and their absolute failure to understand our requirements, not to mention the greed of the landlords! This time we were very lucky – we found an apartment without the help of an agent (no, that site promising freedom from brokers did not help) and the most wonderful landlords who didn’t just agree to a reduced security deposit, but also agreed to let us move before we paid it!

So now we are in a lovely apartment, but the woes never end, do they? Once you’ve found that perfect house, comes the next source of stress. Furniture, drapes, accessories to fill those empty corners.  It should be relatively easy to find all this in a big city like Bangalore. But it isn’t.

We spent weeks browsing home décor magazines for ideas, scouring e-commerce sites and visiting home décor stores, before we finally started putting together our little nest. It wasn’t easy.

  • Pinterest and Instagram filled my head with lofty but impractical ideas for an Indian home.
  • Magazines often focus only on those with much bigger budgets than ours and thus rarely offer any solutions.
  • E-commerce is really a hit-and-miss experience in India.
  • Visiting over a dozen stores and not finding anything that suits your design senses is the most frustrating experience.

It’s been three months and it’s still a work in progress – one piece at a time. What better way to illustrate my favourite French proverb, “petit à petit, l’oiseau fait son nid” (little by little, the bird makes its nest)?

And then a couple of weeks ago, I met the co-founder of Home Canvas, an online home décor discovery and styling guide, for some discussions about their social media strategy. As he narrated the ideas behind the platform and spoke about this cool new feature they are going to launch soon, I had to fight the urge to get up and envelop him in a bear hug…the Home Canvas Mag could potentially solve the mammoth problem of sourcing the right pieces for your home with a few simple clicks.

Imagine a platform that puts together design ideas, cool products and the best addresses to solve your home décor problems. A collection that has been curated by experts who understand the needs of a home in Bangalore and have an in-depth knowledge of the local market. A site that combines latest trends and classic must-haves and allows you to build your dream home without running helter-skelter from website to store to market. Yes, that’s what Home Canvas Mag promises to do. Could it get better than that?

My only grouse with the co-founders of Home Canvas – why didn’t they create the Home Canvas Mag earlier?

Previous posts in this series:

  1. Nesting in Bangalore – Part II
  2. Nesting in Bangalore

R.I.P Schnapps

A dashing young man with golden locks, he made many hearts melt when he laid his head on their knee, asking to be petted. Schnapps. Our third dog, but the one who taught me what it means to have a dog as a pet.

I grew up with dogs. Our first dog, Tikka came home before me and we grew up together. A graceful dog, My memories of Tika are fuzzy and mostly nurtured by what my family remembers. She grew up much before me of course and passed away at the age of 10 because of a cancerous tumour.

ShrivastavaDogs

Frisky, who bounded into our life when I was 9, had a greater impact on my life. With her, I discovered how naughty and full of energy puppies can be and how a dog grows to become the most loyal companion one could desire. But I missed out on much of her life too, seeing her only in the evenings when I returned from school and later college.

Schnapps waltzed into our life in summer of 2003, a tiny ball of fur who wormed his way into the hearts of everyone he met. There were very few people who could resist his charm. A dog with a personality, he was pronounced “too human” very early in life.

Schnapps loved fruits and vegetables, especially cucumbers and melons. We used to often joke that if given a choice between a cucumber and a leg of chicken, he would choose the former! Almost everybody remembers Schnapps jumping in the air, like he was on a trampoline, in excitement and anticipation of a melon treat! A pampered brat, he started his day with bread dipped in cream fed to him patiently by my mother. Asking him to sleep on the ground or make place for a human on his favoured place at home, the diwan, was sure to earn you a sullen look. He looked down at all dogs (and most humans) in disdain and was the most royal dog of our family. A trip in the car meant that he sat up in front and if it was a long trip he curled up under the dashboard!  He accompanied us everywhere, content to stay back in the car, sure that we’d come back soon but refused to stay back at home. My father and brother were never able to give our car to the valet for Schnapps was always there, irrespective of where we went! We tried in vain to teach him to sit behind but failed abysmally and soon learnt to make place for him up front.

Schnapps
Despite his arrogant demeanour he was a softy and very attached to each one of us in his own way. When my father passed away in 2006, Schnapps waited at the door every evening for him to return. The first time my mother traveled after my father’s death, Schnapps didn’t eat for several days. A smart cookie, he always knew when anybody was upset and was always there offering comfort and gazing at us with worried eyes asking us to snap out of it.

He became a rather quiet dog in his later years, though bread and cream and cucumbers remained a favourite till his last days. I wasn’t there to say goodbye to him, haunted by the look on Frisky’s face when she went on her last trip in the car. I didn’t have the courage to see him weak and a mere shadow of himself and said goodbye to him, all by myself alone in my apartment several hundred kilometres away.

RIP Schnapps. Thank you for all the happiness you brought into our life and all the cherished memories.

Nesting in Bangalore – Part II

Not quite the nomad yet, though I feel like one after having moved from Bombay to Pune to Bangalore in the last ten years and lived in 4 different homes. Having stayed in one house for the first 24 years of my life, house hunting is quite an adventure for me. House hunting in Bangalore with my budget constraints (I am a teacher first and the IT salary doesn’t apply to me yet) and wish list is much more than an adventure. It’s an unending quest.

House Hunting To start off, the description on all the various websites almost never matches the reality. The agents’ idea of “very nice, beautiful house with very good woodwork” usually never means “very nice, beautiful house with very good woodwork.” 9 out of 10 times it means an old, dirty house with no ventilation, very little natural light, located at the end of a street, which is very difficult to access. I’ve seen houses at the end of narrow lanes (car parking of course is out of the question) with staircases that are barely wide enough for me to pass through, leave alone a slightly broader person or my suitcase! Note that I’m not even talking about my furniture. As for the woodwork, it is usually in very interesting colors and rarely worth the price it’s supposed to fetch.

So after seeing 10 such houses and feeling despair rise up to choke my throat, tears welling up at the back of my eyes at the sight of these miserable dwellings that masquerade as nice apartments, the agent is explained in slow (and often loud) English that I need a better apartment in a better area. Budget is negotiable.

Next round – he shows some more apartments. This time, usually the first floor of an existing bungalow. The old landlords decided to supplement their pension with some undeclared rent and so they called the cheapest architect and got one extra floor (or two) built above their house. The houses are slightly better, the staircases slightly wider. A smile threatens to appear on my face when the questions start: “You are Hindu? Married? Vegetarian? Work hours? You don’t have guests, no?” Ummmm…maybe we should give this another shot tomorrow, agent saab?

And then it comes, “In your budget, only this is available.” Sigh. Should have seen that coming! Unwillingly, I ask him how much I will have to increase my budget. I say 8000, they say 12,000. I say 12,000 they say 15,000. I say 15,000 they say 25,000. It’s never ending. I’ve been through it each time. Whatever my budget at that point, I always need to increase it by a few thousands. With a heavy heart, I concede to a life of lesser shopping, fewer weekend jaunts and monthly savings.  He finally starts showing nice houses. Not perfect, but nice. I can actually tick off at least 7 of the points on my wish list.

And then comes the final blow – “Deposit is 10 months, not negotiable.” #$%^&* ! 10 months deposit? To line the landlord’s pockets some more while my own savings go flying through the roof?

Crestfallen, I walk out. Call me if you find something else in my budget with a negotiable deposit, ok?

And so we begin all over again.

P.S I must admit though, that it’s not as bleak as I make it sound. My first two attempts at finding an apartment in Bangalore ended within a week with something just slightly out of my budget and quite close to what I was seeking at that point of time. Here’s a sneak peek into my little nest