Sunday, December 06, 2009


Venugopal’s auto has lovebirds, a gold fish, a mini-library and a phone kiosk. The man himself defies every stereotype associated with your normal auto driver, and is especially obliging to senior citizens and the disabled

To an average Bangalorean, an encounter with a nice auto driver is as rare as sighting a Manatee. That’s why 40-year-old B V Venugopal comes as a revelation. He’s the ever smiling, cheerful type and takes extra effort to ensure that your spine doesn’t need a shock absorber. Apart from this, he offers discounts to senior citizens and to disabled and blind people.
Moreover, he has done up his auto that makes a ride in it a unique and pleasurable experience. His auto has lovebirds and a gold fish to keep you company during the ride, along with books and a coin booth in case you run out of currency for your mobile phone. “I began driving an auto about three years ago after watching the Kannada movie Auto Shankar. I was a film operator then. But once I saw that movie, there was no stopping me,” he says. He bought himself an auto and began renovating it. “Unless you give the customer something unique and different to take back home, you don’t make an impact,” says this SSLC pass out!
A ride in his auto explains the difference beautifully. As you get in, you notice none of the torn seats that are a trademark of most autos. Covered in red velvet, the seat cover goes perfectly well with the decor.
You have potted plants behind you, and photos of great Kannada writers and poets. There is literature on almost every subject in a book rack on your right. The annoying honking is kept at bay by the two lovebirds in front of you — Director and Pinky — who give you the feeling of sitting under a tree. The hypnotic movement of the gold fish in front of Venu almost gives you a Zen-like experience as the green leaves of the money plant calm your eyes! Try getting him to speed over 40 kms and he categorically refuses. “I have birds and a fish and need to ensure that they don’t suffer,” he says.
But there is more to this autodriver than just decorating his vehicle. This Rajyotsava, he decided to help those in need. He started with a 10 per cent discount for senior citizens. “When I began driving the auto, I had installed an extra step so it is convenient for them to climb into the auto. But then I realised that not many have a lot of money and even Rs 10 made a huge difference to them. So this Rajyotsava, I began giving a 10 per cent discount to senior citizens, 50 per cent discount to the disabled and a free ride to the blind,” he says. So far, Venugopal has helped about 25 people, many of whom are senior citizens.
But how does he manage his finances? After all he has a wife, two sons and elderly parents to look after. “I start my day either at 9.30 in the morning or 4 in the evening and drive for eight hours. Even with all the discounts, I make about Rs 350 everyday. I don’t drink or smoke so that money is more than enough for my family. Also, when people see the work that I do, they themselves offer me an extra tip,” he says.
For many of us who depend on the three-wheeled devil to commute, it is a ride straight to hell, what with the loud mouth haggling, the tampered meters and, not least, the men in khaki hell bent on ripping you off. And just when you thought that only expletives describe the brotherhood of auto drivers, here is a man who pleasantly contradicts all the stereotype. “It is not that hard. All you have to do is simply take them wherever they ask you to take them and be nice. That is all that goes into making them like you,” is Venugopal’s advice to the rest of his clan.


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