The “tuk-tuk” is an onomatopoeic term used by tourists to describe the humble three wheeler public transport all over Asia and Africa. But for us in India, it is the auto. Unfortunately, in Sri Lanka, when I would ask for an “auto” the blank looks would then prompt me to correct myself and say “tuk-tuk”. I could not bring myself to call them that however prevalent a term it might have been.
Being the most ubiquitous mode of travel, the tuk-tuk is a vehicle where one spends considerable amount of time – whether it is from the bus stand to the hotel or contracting one for a full tour of a place. Now, the key variable here, therefore, is the tuk-tuk driver. This is where the similarity with Bombay auto rickshaw drivers and Sri Lankan tuk tuk drivers end.
I was guided to a good hotel by one; I got off at Anuradhapura with the bravado of an unplanned backpacker. As I was walking around trying to remember names of budget hotels from Lonely Planet (to save money I had noted them down in a Google Docs but it never struck me to get my mobile connection activated), this chap tuk tuks along offering to take me to a nice place. Years of Indianness generated the usual distrust and suspicion. But it was scorching hot and I was happy to get in and sit in the vehicle. The chap took me to a place on the lake. After taking a look, I decided to take the room. And I didn’t regret it. I ended up spending 5 days there, 3 days more than earlier planned.
|Tuk tuk to Mihintale and back From Sri Lanka Holiday|
I was taken on a tour of Mihintale by another. 17 kilometres away from Anuradhapura, Mihintale is the spot where Prince Mahinda, the son of Ashoka, introduced Buddhism to the then Sinhala king. The drive took was for 30 minutes. I fixed with a tuk tuk driver to take me and bring me back. During this trip, the driver kept a nice conversation running with me covering topics on my trip, India, Buddhism, the Sinhala New Year (which was 2 days later) and every few metres would point out something interesting to me.
Like this, there were tuk tuk drivers every where. These were people who took a lot of effort and pride in their work. Unlike in India where the “aukat” of an autorickshaw driver can be a point of humiliation, not so here. People had visiting cards made with email addresses and phone numbers so that one could call them any time any where. Once a fare had been fixed, there was no alteration. No rude retorts Dillistyle “sir ji, dikkat hai, 40 nahi, 60 dena hoga” (honourable sir, we have issues, the fare will be Rs 60 not Rs 40 as mentioned earlier – all this in a rude tone).
|From Sri Lanka Holiday|
The autos, multi-coloured and decorated, had their own dignity, one automatically treated them as equals.
|From Sri Lanka Holiday|
Now, if only some of our autorickshaw drivers developed a similar temperament and sensitivity to their citizens. And vice versa.