I have been writing this peculiar series with conversations with Autowallahs and Cabbies for a decade now across multiple cities. Whenever I feel fleeting, and desperately need a reality check (read a rap on the knuckles) I speak to self made people. I reach out to Autowallahs are an erudite bunch of people who know the value of every rupee they earn. In the course of my year long independent ethnographic research project with the digital subaltern, I have been understanding how Autowallahs talk back to the tech behemoths through the ‘Weapons of the Weak’ method channelising James C Scott’s ethic. My research interlocutor ‘S’, is a self made micro entrepreneur running multiple revenue streams via his auto business. He is in his early thirties, originally from Pandharpur in Maharashtra, moved to Pune in 2002 after college where he studied history. He joined the warehouse division of automotive gear manufacturer as a manual helper rising to the head of the warehouse in 15 years, a salary jump from 1800 rupees to 17000 rupees apart from benefits. He had a team of six staff which included fresh MBAs who were clueless.
He lost his job as the manufacturer moved to the north and ‘S’ wanted to live in Pune with his family.
He moved to the auto business a year and a half back spending about 2 lakh 40 thousand rupees including the auto permit. He had a hard time during the lockdown however he diversified to last mile delivery of parcels for local hardware shops. He tied up with hotels for drops to the airport/railway station. He has totally moved offline, deleting Uber and OLA, keeping Watsapp for sharing Google map locations.
We were having a chat today outside a veterinarians clinic, where he narrated his work philosophy. He considers work sacred, and utilises his avant grade communication skills to build relationships and repeat business. He earns about 1500-2000 rupees per work day, excluding fuel. Years of managerial experience have given him a business which experienced Autowallahs have not achieved after years. He had invested in a car which he had to sell as he was not able to manage both an Auto and Car.
‘S’ tells me that he hates paying rent as his previous employer paid his rent, and lives in the same urban village as me. He tells me that people are working 12 hour shifts at 7 thousand rupees in the clinic that we visited today. This objectivity is stunning as it shatters me in to clarity, and helps me to check my enormous privilege as a writer. Drive creates waves, and there is so much I learn every time I speak to an independent transport entrepreneur, the gig economy veteran called the Autowallah.