I wear a smartwatch that not only keeps time, but it also works as a health monitor, telling me the steps that I have taken, the length of time that I had not stood up and also a sampling of my pulse rate as the day wears on. As a commercial pilot who spends a lot of his time seated down on long haul flights across continents, the information from the watch, helps me to keep track of my health
Normally the peak heart rate for the day will be achieved during the latter stages of a flight. The heart beat will crescendo during approach to land and then slowly inch towards the realm of normalcy as we taxi in to the airport terminal.
Today however, that was not the case. My peak heart rate was not during the minutes when I was hurtling towards earth at 300km/h in a 245t steel tube. Nope- today was an exception. When I checked back on the handy app that accompanies my watch to see the data, I was not surprised that it peaked while I was on the Mumbai roads, in a auto rickshaw, riding behind a madcap, grinning daredevil of a driver.
It was a routine 24 hours layover in Mumbai after an all night flight. The sun high in the sky cancelled the plans I had for a nap. Instead, I decided to head out to town and asked the hotel for the closest mall to head for lunch, and perhaps a bit of shopping after. Instead of a taxi, the helpful hotel reception had suggested that I take the Mumbai Metro. Due to the traffic, he figured that the train will be a much quicker, pleasant option. The station is located behind the hotel, and when I get to the other side, I should grab an auto- as the maniacal, bastardized mix of a motorcycle and car is commonly called in India. Not being a big fan of the Indian traffic and less so their style of using the horn at any given opportunity, I agreed to his idea and got the names of the relevant stations that I would need.
The Metro in Mumbai is very much like the metro anywhere else on the world. Efficient, sterile, and filled with throngs of humanity with their heads stuck to the front of a mobile device. Getting off the Metro, I headed towards the exit and hailed the first empty auto that I saw. Surprisingly, two other people got on just after I did. A guy, still talking on his mobile in one hand, giving hand signals to the driver with the other and a young woman with thick textbooks in her hands.
Apparently this was the mall auto stand and anyone who wants to go to the mall will take their auto here and share a ride. Sort of the original ‘ride share’ without the app as I see it.
I should have suspected something was not right by the looks of the auto, but by then it was too late. I was boxed in the back seat, three abreast with no way out on my side. In lieu of a door, the auto is open on the left side and barred with metal rods on the right.
Unlike other auto rickshaws, this one was different. It was clean, well looked after and as far as I can tell, fairly new. All these should indicate that either the owner cum driver is someone who takes pride in his source of income, or he is of that species of drivers who pimp their car up to the max, just to then thrash it at the next ‘Far and Furious’ fan club meet.
It was a short ride, perhaps less than 5 minutes, but when it came to the adrenaline rush, it was better than an all day ticket at any theme park! The driver weaved in and out of traffic, skilfully manoeuvring the auto into places that I wouldn’t have imagined possible. It was like he had the ability to travel in time as he instinctively knew when a space would open up and made his move when nothing was apparent.
Meanwhile, the three of us held on to dear life behind him. I realised then, looking at the effort that the he was expanding, the driver wasn’t just trusting his luck. He was actually utilising skills, well practiced, to make his way up the crowded roads. He was aggressive, but he wasn’t reckless. He constantly looked left and right, and to the back as well at times, to make sure there was no unknown traffic coming up to us. I couldn’t help thinking, in another world, this driver would be behind the wheels of a F 1 car, instead of small 2 stroke machine. Not matter that, this chap has found his calling, and the pride and joy that he showed for his profession is something that I envied.
The other passenger, still busy with his phone, signalled his intention to stop halfway to the mall, leaving me with the girl, scowling now, obviously not enjoying the close shaves that we are having. I however had on my dusty face, a grin ear to ear, enjoying the thrilling ride, my senses heightened by being on the cusp of ‘fight or flight’ sensation.
At the entrance to the mall, the girl jumped out, literally threw the fare at the driver and walked off. The crumpled note on the road indicated to me how much I need to pay, 10 rupees, well worth the fee for an amazing ride! I paid the guy my share of the fare, told him to be careful and waved him away as he set off into the Mumbai traffic!