City Life – Ta Ta Thayya in a Thuk Thuk
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Dial a Delhi auto for Bollywood item numbers.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
If you live in Delhi, listen to Bollywood songs, and commute in autos, dial 98734-85313 for Mr Arvind Kumar Mandal. This gentleman lives in a one-room shack in Vasant Kunj-Kishangarh, is a fan of Bollywood item numbers and drives an auto that boasts a ‘deck’ – an MP3 player, complete with a remote control. For Rs 1,200.
You say what’s the big deal?
There are many autos in town fitted with a music system. So?
Well, usually autos have just one speaker and that, too, at the front.
Even if there are two speakers, the sound quality is too low or too screechy. Even if the sound quality is clear, most drivers prefer FM radio channels where there’s less music, more ad-jingles and more RJ-blabber.
Even if there’s that rarity — a cassette/CD player, it would be rare for the bhayya to play your favorite numbers. After all, it is his auto. It will have his music. That might mean suffering the songs of Himesh Reshammiya, a singer who sings through his nose.
But the joyride in Mr Mandal’s auto is hat ke.
He has not one, not two, but three speakers. They are not fitted next to his seat, but at the ‘backside’, with You the Passenger. While maniac depressives can find company in the gloomy songs of Mukesh, Mr Mandal’s favorite singer, others can request for cheery melodies. All Mr Mandal wants is to make his customers happy.
Before becoming an auto driver, Mr Mandal was a ticket collector in a Blueline bus. Before that he was a village boy in Bihar from where he ran away at 16. “Some boys were going to Delhi in Mahananda Express,” he says, “and I joined them without informing my parents.” Much has changed since then. Mr Mandal’s daily income has spiraled from Rs 100 to Rs 700. His favorite actress has changed from Kajol to Rani Mukherjee to presently, Katrina Kaif.
However, when I boarded his auto one morning at South Extension Part II, instead of a Katrina number, Mr Mandal was playing an old Mukesh sob-song. Dost dost na raha, pyar pyar na raha (The friend is no longer the friend; the lover is no longer the lover). By the time we cruised over the AIIMS flyover, my spirits had sunk so low that I requested Mr Mandal either to switch to some other track or just put the damn thing off.
“Which song you want,” Mr Mandal asked smilingly.
“But… you can’t have the songs I like,” I said.
“Tell me which song,” he repeated.
“Ok, I want Pappu can’t dance from Jaane Tu..Ya Jaane Na.”
Soon the auto was swinging past Dilli Haat and my feet were tapping to, well, Pappu can’t dance.
Thanks to Mr Mandal’s collection of around 2,000 songs, I had a ride of my life.
The auto skated down the Safdarjang Airport flyover and my heartbeat hummed to Haule haule from Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. The auto turned right at Tughlaq Marg crossing and my spirits adjusted to the rhythm of Beedi jalai le from Omkara. When the auto was circling around India Gate, both me and Mr Mandal lip-synced to… yes, it’s true… Himesh Reshammiya’s Lut jaaon lut jaaon.
In a city where auto-wallas are often reviled as dishonest and moody, Mr Mandal’s persona objects to such a stereotype. In his 8 years of driving autos, he has usually charged by the meter. (That’s what he told me.) He says that his passengers enjoy the music in his auto and a few even give him a generous tip. “It gladdens me to see them smile,” he says.
Mr Mandal has a big heart, all right, but right now it’s in tatters. He recently broke up with his girl friend. “I’ve lost all faith in the business of love,” he says. No wonder our auto man found a soul mate in the tearjerkers of Mukesh. But no tension. Next time you are with your lover in Mr Mandal’s auto, he will be ever ready to oblige you with Pappu can’t dance. Feel free to tip.
Call Mr Mandal 98734-85313 His Ringtone (at the time of writing this piece) Dil cheer ke dekho, tera nam hai (tear open my heart, it’s your name there)
Mr Mandal’s empire