Auto-ride lessons in negotiations.

Through my auto journey today, we come across several signals. Each with its own kind of beggars. The usual suspects. We meet a cripple, a mother with a son, eunuchs. Each have their own negotiation strategies that they use, inspiring a different evasion strategy from me.
Aap ko yeh bura lagwayenge. Kuch logon ko dhamkayenge. Aisa hi toh chalta hai (they’ll make you feel bad. some of them will threaten you. this is just how it works), the autowale-uncle says. Leads to a fascinating conversation with him about the politics of begging, the dynamics of guilt and privilege as he sees from his driver seat. There’s certain kinds of passengers who would pay, he tells me. Out of guilt, pity, generosity and also spite. And some who would look to him for help. Some who would be downright rude.
What is your stand on begging, I ask him. He starts by telling me how people who refuse to pay him Rs. 20 at night might pay Rs. 100 to an eunuch out of fear. I laugh and give him an unsolicited lecture about how sometimes it really is impossible to negotiate with both groups. He agrees. And then tells me in all seriousness that all of this is at the end about what one think deserves to be paid for, and what deserves more pity, and thus more help. You’d pay the shirtless cripple in coins; the eunuchs start negotiating at a Rs. 500, he points out.

The conversation turns to one about opportunities. If begging really is the only option. And who am I as a auto-affording citizen to comment on their opportunities, I mumble. Kisi ke chehre pe nahi likha hota unhone Kaise din dekhe hai (it isn’t written on anyone’s face what kind of days they have gone through), he tells me. Woh minute ke signal mein, aapko jo lagta hai, usi soch se paise dete ho. Agar aap ki shaadi nahi ho rahi, Aap chakke ki duaon ki bhi keemat karoge. Agar aap job karti ma hain, shaayad bacche ko dekhkar jyaada taras khaoge. (In that minute-long signal, each one makes snap decisions about what they are willing to pay. If you aren’t able to get married, you will value even the blessings of the eunuch. If you are a working mother, you would feel more empathy for the kids that beg)” We speak about the assumed hierarchies of what is considered under-privileged, and what, deserving.

We arrive at my destination. I pay him in notes of Rs. 10; there is a gap of Rs.5 that neither of us have the change for. We look around for shops to get change, while I search frantically through my purse. He knows that I’m late because of the last 2 phonecalls through the trip that he heard. I tell him to keep the change. “Rehne dijiye (let it be)”, he tells me instead. “Aur agli baar langde ko de dena (next time, give it to a cripple)”. Smiles. Waves. Leaves (Me thinking.)

Jayati Doshi
29th May, 2016. 1.30 pm


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