Wednesday, February 25, 2004

An unlikely meme

Autorickshaws are ubiquitous in Bangalore traffic. Despite all the efforts of the cops to mark off areas to be auto-free, it’s a losing battle at best. And autodrivers have a superb reputation of being rash and generally responsible for accidents and traffic jams. Another reputation that clings to autos concerns the pollution they generate. Too many autodrivers try to save a bit of money by mixing petrol with kerosene. This strategy might be cheaper but is sure as hell more polluting. In the past couple of years, there have been strong moves by various organizations to get them to convert their engines to run on Liquefied Petroleum Gas, and this may have helped in reducing the smoke levels emitted by the autos.
Autos are also decorated in their own peculiar style. Usually they have a painting at the back. These paintings range from filmstars to peaceful landscapes- just about anything that the drivers like. This post by Deepak sums up the auto art form. But usually there’s also a saying or statement (usually in Kannada) written above the paintings. Some of them are (rudely paraphrasing): “mother’s blessing”, “Love is poison”, you know, things of this sort. But lately I have been noticing more numbers of pollution related sayings such as “Black smoke, the lungs choke” (this one in English), “smoke less family is a happy family” etc.
The one that takes the cake is a request: “please don’t pollute the air,” (written in English). For some reason, this one is enormously popular. I have seen innumerable autos bearing this message. So I hypothesized that this particular message is a meme that has spread widely among the autodrivers. The advantages are apparent. Instead of being at the receiving end of the antipollution bandwagon, the autodriver neatly turns the tables and aims it at the rest of society. It implies that the driver in question is virtuously doing all he can to prevent pollution and now it’s the rest of society’s turn. I don’t mind being greeted by this message every time I’m stuck in traffic behind an autorickshaw, but what really gets my goat is that many times, the auto in question is blithely, hypocritically spewing out black smoke.