H Prakash has been working as an auto driver since 1993. Before that year, he had been working in a pan shop. Financial difficulties made him shift his occupation. In this interview of Lunch Box, he shares stories from his long journey driving a rented autorickshaw and the interesting food items he has been able to enjoy in the midst.
“As an auto driver, we don’t always have the money to eat outside and sometimes, when we do have money, we don’t feel like eating!” he says. He starts his morning with coffee at the house and has breakfast at around 10.30, where ever possible. “If it is outside, the total bill could come up to INR 47; 30 for rice, 10 for vada and 7 for coffee.” Lunch on the way can cost up to INR 50, with some more money going towards a couple more coffee/tea in the day.
“Life is difficult and this occupation is challenging,” says Sri Ramu, an autorickshaw driver from Bengaluru. “My life has not changed in 14 years.” People in the city prefer to travel in cabs and this has affected the earnings of auto drivers.
In the midst of telling his life story, Sri Ramu mentions food as well. “My earning level is such that I like to limit my breakfast, lunch and dinner to the house,” he says. Every morning, he eats his breakfast at home and for lunch, if he is nearby, he returns home. If not, then he spares no more than INR 25 for the meal, just so that he has the strength to survive the day and to avoid gastric and other related conditions. “Outside of home, lunch usually consists of food from hawkers or from stalls on the footpath, in any area available.”
Sri Ramu can’t help but talk about the present conditions of auto drivers in the city. He laments about the few drivers who waste time just sitting at auto stands and chatting about politics. “But I must acknowledge the role of auto unions in helping and encouraging auto drivers in many cases,” he says.
Saffi usually leaves home around 7 am after having a cup of coffee. He has been working as an autorickshaw driver for 13 years. “For breakfast, I look around for a cheap hotel and sometimes, I don’t even have the time to have any breakfast,” he says. Once the early part of the day has passed, getting cheap food becomes difficult.
Food on wheels is Saffi’s preferred spot for lunch in the afternoon; he usually spends INR 25 for a meal consisting of pickle, papad, rice and sambar. “At a few places, people serve food with love and care without wanting to cheat their customers; I go to those same few places.” He is particular about not caring for or demanding great taste every single time from every single place. “When there is a hike in vegetable prices, how can the people selling food on the footpath provide us proper food that too at a nominal rate? Our daily earnings are meagre, so we make do with what we get.”
Saffi also doesn’t eat non-vegetarian food from outside as he is concerned about the cleanliness with which the sellers handle the meats.