The Telegraph
Sunday , May 4 , 2014
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Decade Decoder

Deoraj Jairaj is a young auto-rickshaw driver, waiting for customers at a congested junction on the southern outskirts of Bangalore, just down the road from Electronics City — the hub where most of India’s information technology majors are headquartered.

The auto-rickshaw driver is one of lakhs of immigrants from rural Karnataka who have made their way to Bangalore for semi-skilled work and who keep India’s Silicon Valley running. He also belongs to a section that became an electoral lobby group like never before in Delhi where auto-rickshaws were used as billboards to support Arvind Kejriwal.

Decade Decoder is an occasional election feature that seeks to bring out through a question-and-answer session whether lives have changed for the better or the worse in the past 10 years

Name: Deoraj Jairaj, 26Originally from: Mandya, one of Bangalore’s neighbouring districts that has traditionally been a stronghold of former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal (Secular) — though this time the Congress’s Ramya is threatening the bastion

Now lives in: The suburban Bangalore neighbourhood of Bommasandra

Occupation: Auto-rickshaw driver.

Do you live alone or with your family?

My parents live with me. I am not married

Did you go to school?

Yes but dropped out of school after Class VIII. But I now attend weekend morning computer classes

Why did you drop out?

My parents weren’t earning enough and I needed to earn

What were you doing in 2004?

Odd jobs for a construction contractor on the outskirts of Bangalore

Do you save more or less, compared to 2004?

I didn’t save at all in 2004. Now despite the fact that I have to support my parents and myself, and though prices have gone up, I save about Rs 4,000 a month. That’s what allows me to take weekend computer classes. And last month, I could afford to take my mother to a private optician for a second opinion after she had a cataract operation

How much do you drive daily?

About 120km on an average.

How much do you earn from customers daily?

About Rs 1,200

What are your principal expenses?

Half the earnings go to the auto-rickshaw contractor, so I earn between Rs 15,000 and Rs 18,000 a month

Do you own a cellphone?

Yes, an MTS handset.

What do you use it for?

Talking to my friends, clicking photos

Which was the last film you saw and when?

Auto Raja (the 2013 Kannada hit about an auto-rickshaw driver who falls in love with an aspiring actress). I’ve seen it five times already — the last time was the past weekend — and I can see it any number of times

Where do you see films?

Occasionally in theatres but mostly on DVDs with friends. One of my friends works in a DVD rental parlour in Bommasandra

What is the single biggest problem in your life?

The police. They harass us every day, demand money to let us park in places where customers seek us out. There are no dedicated auto-rickshaw stands in these places, so I have no option but to pay up

Have you heard of Arvind Kejriwal’s support base among Delhi auto-rickshaw drivers?


Has his party — or any other party — tried something similar in Bangalore?

Yes, the Aam Admi Party people have tried to lobby for our support

What do you think about their lobbying?

I think Kejriwal should have stayed in government in Delhi to fight for ordinary people like auto-rickshaw drivers. But he quit and today, auto-rickshaw drivers in Delhi are where they were six months back. I can’t trust someone who won’t stay the course to fight for me

Has corruption gone down or up in your life?

It has gone up, in my daily life.

Do you have more clothes or less, compared to 2004?

In 2004, I had just one pair of trousers and two old shirts belonging to my father. Now I have four sets of clothes that I have bought with my own money, apart from the brown uniform I wear to work

What do you most look forward to?

In the immediate, I look forward to weekend movie sessions with friends. In the slightly longer term, I hope to get a better job

What kind of job?

Ideally, I want to become a data operator — that’s why I am learning computers. But I am also simultaneously learning from a friend how to drive a car, so that I can drive taxis or private cars instead of auto-rickshaws

Do you run out of money for food towards the end of the month?

No. I manage to save, as I said

Your biggest regret over the past 10 years?

Not completing school

Has life improved or worsened over the past 10 years?

I’m more satisfied with my life now. But I want something no election can give me

What is that? More money?

No. A girlfriend.