Krishna runs the Auroville Transport service.
I have had many pleasant journeys in his taxis so I was looking forward to meeting him at 3 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon. He was exactly on time and when I commented on this he said, “Well, that is the first duty of a taxi man, isn't it?”
He is a charming 37 year old Tamil man, who in between the constant ringing of his cell phone, tells me how the taxi service had developed. “Basically, like everything in Auroville, it grew from absolutely nothing and took years to become what it is now.”
Krishna himself comes from Kuyilapalayam and was in the first batch of boys that Andre took as boarders in New Creation. He remembers living with Andre's family in a keet hut when New Creation was a desert with a few palm trees. “The land had been used for farming and there was a pump house and a couple of huts. Andre's first school was in Fraternity, later we moved to New Creation.”
Krishna left the school when he was 15 and Andre got him into Aureka engineering works for evening classes where he learnt basic technical skills. A few years later he was working in a small company called Technica making water sprinklers. Though it grew into a unit which employed 100 workers, eventually it developed problems and had to be closed down. Krishna went back to New Creation to look for other work.
“There were now fifty children at New Creation school and they used to borrow a van from Aurelec to drive them around. One day someone told me about a very old van that was ‘totally junk' lying around somewhere, so I did some tinkering work on it, put in a new engine and had a pucca vehicle.” At that time a bullock cart used to go to Pondicherrry every day to get supplies for Pour Tous. Krishna quickly saw that his new van could speed things up so he replaced the bullocks with his van. “I would go and get the supplies in the morning and deliver the baskets in the afternoon; and this went on for about five years.”
At that time, if Aurovilians needed a taxi they would have to phone Rajaram in Pondy. He was the only taxi man and had only one taxi. One day Andre said to Krishna , “Why don't we start our own taxi service?” It seemed an obvious idea but of course there was no money to buy a car. A few days later a friend told Krishna of an old Ambassador car abandoned under a cashew tree. “So we hauled it out with a rope tied to the van, and quickly got it in good condition. Luckily, I had learnt mechanics so I could do these things,” says Krishna .
“People soon began to call us to take them to Pondy for a visit to the Ashram or a hospital, and we became very busy. It was a service that was much appreciated.” Krishna taught two others, Joseph and Ramalingan, to drive, plus some New Creation boys used to help. “And all this with one car!” says Krishna .
One day as they were giving Emil a lift, the car broke down….again. “Is this old thing the only car you have!?” he asked in disbelief. “How much would a new car cost?” They told him – about two and a half lakh rupees, and he bought us a car with the provision that he could use it for himself when he wanted to. They now had two cars and many customers, but no office; and Krishna was finding it very difficult to run the business. Boys were helping him but they were neither reliable nor committed. He had also just got married to Lakshmi, who had been at the boarding school with him. “I went to Andre in despair saying it was all too much for me,” recalls Krishna . “There were always breakdowns or accidents; it seemed to take up my whole life. But Andre was always there to give me a boost when I needed it. I remember him saying, “ Krishna , I am always with you and we will succeed.”
Eventually a small office was secured at the entrance to New Creation, and by now, the taxi-service became even busier, with airport trips to Chennai. “At first, these often turned into nightmares with emergency midnight calls, with people waiting at the airport and very stressed taxi men.”
Auroville Fund gave Krishna a loan and they now have a fleet of nine cars of their own and manage ten ‘outside cars' which give a percentage of their profits to Auroville. “We employ thirty drivers and staff and as you can imagine, this is a big project to run.” With this increase in size, their office has also moved from outside New Creation school, to up on the road outside New Creation Corner restaurant. “It was getting too close to the children and becoming dangerous for everyone. But now we have to pay quite high rent as it is privately-owned land.”
Krishna 's dream is to have a large area on Auroville land with a proper car park, a place where the drivers can sleep in comfort, and a service area complete with a vehicle washing service and bike and car repair workshop. “I have been trying to get land for ten years now and I don't know why it hasn't happened.” He believes that it is very necessary for Auroville to have these services in one convenient location. “Now I have to go into Pondy maybe ten times a week to get spares; it is terribly time consuming and frustrating.”
He also dreams of having a free taxi service for older people who have given so much to Auroville. “I would like to take them shopping or into Pondy without thinking of costs. And at some stage I would like to have some lady drivers.”
Lakshmi, Krishna 's wife tells me that she is supportive of her husband's dreams but is concerned about his health. “He has started to get asthma as he spends so much time on the polluted East Coast road.” Also his dedication to the job leaves little time for family or friends. “Friends say they haven't seen him around for years, and can get him only on the phone. He can never attend the school programmes of our two daughters.
“There are other issues to this profession,” continues Lakshmi. “ Krishna feels deeply responsible to his clients, he tries to never let them down. He is always on call and the cell phone never stops ringing. He dreads calls in the middle of the night as it could mean an accident and he will have to sort it out. He tells me, “I am carrying the lives of other people.” Every morning he prays to the Mother that there won't be an accident on the road.”
I asked him about his clients. Were there any problems or difficulties with them? “The main difficulty”, he told me, “Is the language problem. Some passengers are Korean or Chinese and don't know any English. They can get confused with the booking dates and times, how much things cost, which is left or right, what is stop or start. If anything bad happens they tend to blame the driver as they don't understand our traffic problems with delays for all sorts of Indian reasons. They do not understand the traffic has doubled in five years yet the roads remain the same size. We have to share them with cows and bicycles and children and drunkards; it is very difficult for our drivers and they have to concentrate a lot which is exhausting.”
I asked him about his drivers. “I try to train them well as they are unfamiliar with what a Western customer expects. I show them how to open the car door for the passengers, help them with their luggage, ask for permission to put the radio on and pay attention to their requests for driving too fast or too slow. Once a month we discuss any complaints we may have received. I am always trying to raise their standards. A difficulty now is when clients ask for a particular driver, because the one they had last time could speak English and knew where all the shops were in Chennai.
The Chikungunya disease has caused us many problems as many drivers have been off sick. They can't drive for quite a long time as their joints are affected. Festivals and holidays are a big headache for me as drivers insist they spend time with their families and yet that is the time when we are busiest.”
Krishna looks around the New Creation Taxi stand and smiles. The drivers are quietly polishing their white taxis under the big trees. “Yes, it often is a big headache but I love my work. I don't treat it like a business but as a service for Auroville. After all, we are one big family and these cars belong to all of us and of course, Mother. I consider it a privilege to be part of this service.”