A day in the life of a Bangalore autowallah. Well, sort of.

Hat tip to Michael Thompson on directing me to the video.

From Xaver Xylophon, a graphic designer/animator from Europe, a very cute video of an auto rickshaw driver’s day in Bangalore, where I now reside.

Fun to watch and it offers lots of interesting tidbits on this facet of the transport system in major India cities (and elsewhere in the world, from Kenya to Thailand).

The artist certainly goes beyond the one-off Mario Kart-esque caricature of the rickshaw. He includes a dispute over a meter-fare, a break-down fixed by jugaad, a nap, the menagerie of passengers and even some downtime.

Still, a few things are missing from the video that are part of the routine for many an autowallah. I’m not trying to be hypercritical, but it’s important to recognize reality, particularly as these three-wheelers play a large role in keeping urban transport from completely collapsing.

To start, the road traffic itself seems almost pleasant. I’m sure the artist knows how choked Bangalore roads are and I imagine the true picture would be difficult to animate. In reality, autos are becoming increasingly less visible amid the crush of cars that is overtaking most Indian cities.

We could have easily seen more of the exploitative, entitled passenger. A fare dispute is rarely resolved without some yelling. Of course, the reverse also often happens; in what is often an almost adversarial system here in Bangalore (and elsewhere), autowallahs do sometimes try to take passengers for as much as they can; many rarely go by meter so easily.

Other supporting characters deserve screen time: The police officer expecting a bribe; the upper-class, elitist bada sahib honking and shouting incessantly from behind the wheel; the chowkidar of the new building/complex scaring off the driver; the other autowallahs who are sometimes hostile to strangers who venture too far from their usual territory; even the firang cyclist (me) adding to the confusion of the rode.

Above all, we are missing the owner of the auto exacting a pound of flesh (exorbitant rent, inflated repair charges, etc.) from the driver. Though it’s true that some rickshaws are owner-operated (this varies by city) and some drivers are unionized or otherwise protected, in many instances, the vehicle is owned by an investor whose profit comes from exploiting the labor class.

Again, the video is really quite wonderful, but ultimately the daily path of the autowallah involves dodging (or coping) with plenty of class conflict and exploitation, in addition to potholes, streetdogs and breakdowns.

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Food sovereignty in her back “yard”

Urban development + food security

Today is World Food Day, a day noted by food sovereignty+security+justice organizations from the U.N. FAO down to the smallest community co-op. It’s one of these international “days” when we’re all supposed to pay attention to the plight of the millions upon millions of people across the world (and yes, in the U.S., too) whose lives are poorer for their lack of ready access to good, healthy food.

Of course, in the U.S., most of us, myself included, let such days pass without notice. And in reality, a “day” of recognition is a rather artificial way of tackling a problem.

But nonetheless, the grad school hippy in me finds the exercise worthwhile. So I’ve been pondering the above photo, of a mother from Kibera, a sprawling slum of Nairobi. I met her October 15, 2009, when I spent a few weeks in Kenya talking to people about water and environment and health (and also lions and zebras). That’s her youngest on her back, her family’s clothes on the line, and importantly, her primary source of fresh greens growing out of a gunny sack on the ground behind her.

The soil in Kibera is compacted and often toxic from waste/chemical leeching. And space is at a premium, so any kind of local ag has to adapt. Yet in back “yards” across the slum people have taken to growing basic roots and greens in makeshift gardens.

In the face of a globalizing world food system that delivers grocery stores full of processed foodstuffs to us in the Global North, here a marginalized peasantry (displaced to megacities) still manages to respond with their own alternatives. Contained within this picture is a powerful and yet humbling critique of industrialized food that we who have plenty need to hear.

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