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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Meter Jam and my proposal to fix the Auto menace

So, today was Meter Jam day in Bangalore, an attempt to protest against Auto drivers in Bangalore. (For the uninitiated friends of Singapore, you might know them as tuk-tuks.) It is a noble attempt and if I were in town, I would have definitely supported. But there was probably no need for me to do so anyway, since I was in a constant Meter-Jam-State (MTS) all through out my stay there. And the reason for being in MTS was not because I wanted to be in MTS, but simply because it was too demeaning to try and hire an Auto. I shouldn't have to tell my life history and still bargain the hell out of my brains just for doing something as mundane as commute from point A to point B.

I wish every success to Meter Jam, but a part of me feels it won't be successful. Rather than focus on explaining why "a part of me" arrived at that conjecture, let me proceed on to something radical - a theory on how the menace of overcharging and under-plying of Autos might actually be fixed.

Ban Auto-Stands.

And now that I have made you sit up - let me try to explain my thought. The way an Auto driver operates today is to wait for exactly the right fare that he wishes - be it to the right destination or be it the right price, and then waits at an Auto stand or at some crossroad till he gets comfortable enough to go. Now, if he is in a clearly defined Auto Stand (as against de facto stands that crop up in major cross roads), he is also swayed by the idea of standing with other drivers and forming a union-like structure where they can decide to charge as per their wishes.

The big incentive for the driver while waiting is that he is not spending anything except his time, which considering the average earnings of Auto drivers, is not costly, while the returns, in terms of a premium fare is fairly reasonable.

With the proposal I make, Auto drivers cannot stand anywhere, but they will be forced to keep plying empty till they don't find a fare. This way, the cost of not picking the next upcoming fare while waiting for the premium fare is not just the driver's time, but also the cost of running his vehicle in the meanwhile, which is significantly higher.

For the commuters, since the Autos are going to be driving around, there is every possibility they will find an Auto where they want one rather than having to find the nearest standing one. This is definitely a big plus for the commuters, apart from getting Autos who ply at the prescribed fares.

The pertinent question, then, is wouldn't it reduce the overall profit margins of all the drivers in the city and drive them to poverty? No. The simple reason being that once the Autos are willing to come down to plying at the prices set by the city and not demand any more, then more commuters would be happy to use their service instead of replacing it with he next available commute option and hence increasing the overall revenues for the drivers.

What's the source of this thought? Singapore taxis. The cabs in Singapore are not allowed, by law, to stop at any place. They are supposed to be driving around. And then it stuck me that it is a good ecosystem for both the drivers and commuters.

There are many other nice features of the cab ecosystem in Singapore that ensures the good service they provide, but I feel that if Indian city governments can bring about this one change and enforce it, then it has the potential to make a significant difference.

Any thoughts?

[ps: The 3 comments I see so far on this blog are also interesting. If you got a few more minutes, read them as well.]

[pps: After commenting on this blog, Deppe went a wrote a fresh blog which generated a lot of interesting thoughts. Check that out as well.]

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Potatoes and Ravi Bhaiyya

[Author's Note: This blog was originally written in Feb, 2010 on my tech blog by mistake and in the interest of consolidating my general blogs from the tech ones, I am migrating this here. ]

I was at the neighborhood NTUC and the wifey wanted to pick up potatoes. Now, every indian knows that potatoes are a key ingredient in Indian vegetarian cuisine and every time I make a visit to the vegetable store, potatoes are in the list, along with tomatoes and onions, of course. But to my surprise, there were no potatoes, not even one, zilch. That was an absolute shocker. As it is I have been cribbing about the potatoes being super costly in this Island, but not finding one was too much for me, and my wife's culinary future, which was now in uncertain land, to take. So, we threw caution to the winds, and our loyalty to NTUC up into smoke, and decided to hunt for potatoes elsewhere.

We finally found some not-so-good-looking-but-who-cares-for-vanity-in-an-emergency potatoes at a mom and pop store nearby and my wife's heart, which had stopped functioning the moment she saw the potato counter empty at the NTUC, started chirping away nice and easy.

But, once potatoes come into limelight, I have to relate the anecdote of a certain Ravi Bhaiyya. It was the year 1995, and I was still in high school when an unfortunate demise in the family had lead my parents to head to Chennai leaving me in Delhi. But they found Ravi Bhaiyya, who was brother of Omkar Bhaiyya, who was physiotherapist or Sharma Aunty, who was wife of Sharma Uncle, who was a long time friend and senior of my dad. Ravi Bhaiyya had just moved into the capital to pursue a career in theatre and he didn't mind baby sitting me for the time my parents were gone.

My parents assured me that Ravi Bhaiyya could cook and if I helped him out, things should be smooth sailing. Well, it wouldn't have been smooth had it not been for a tiny glitch - Ravi Bhaiyya COULD NOT cook any shit without potato. Seriously. He had to cut in, boil in or mash in potatoes into EVERY single edible thing he had ever created in the insides of anything resembling a kitchen. He could cook the potatoes with anything - tomatoes, onions, eggplant, cauliflower, cabbage and diversify the potatoes with dishes like Kashmiri Aloo, Dum Aloo, Dari wale Aloo and various other incarnations, but never without it. It got so bad that the neighborhood subziwala stopped selling us potatoes in the suspicion that we were hoarding them. Only our innocent faces and smiling demeanor prevented us from getting arrested.

And for somebody who was brought up on the concept of balanced diet and green vegetables and neo shit like that, I just couldn't take the potatoes. Thankfully, Ravi Bhaiyya had a great voice and he practiced his singing every now and then and his beautiful renditions of hindi songs of 60s and 70s, which I totally digged, smoothed me out. Else, I was gonna murder the dude, by stuffing his potatoes into his throat.

From Ravi Bhaiyya's favorite song:

Teri duniya se hoke mazboor chala
main bahut door bahut door bahut door chala 

ps: Ravi Bhaiyya finally succeeded to get into mainstream theatre by the time of our last meeting, which was many years ago, but we have, unfortunately enough, lost touch with each other since. If you happened to know a dude from Bhaliya, who could sing and act well, and could not cook without packing in a few pounds of potato, tell him to read this blog and leave a comment. :-)

Administrative note

All tech posts have now moved to http://tech.shreeni.info or you may subscribe to its RSS feed. In due course, I shall be moving it out completely, so if you follow my tech posts, please shift to following that blog.