[| Tempo Passengers in Kota | ]
There are many strange ways of making a living—some pleasant and others unpleasant.
Some earn their living at Disney World by blending in queues with the visitors and smiling at every eye contact. The queues can get very long and visitors become tense so these smiles are meant to ease the tension. The visitors are in general hostile to each other because they perceive others in their way to having unhindered fun at the park. I have taken pictures at Disney parks which show the tension people carry within themselves in their effort to enjoy it to the maximum. These smiling faces are a welcome break from the hostility visitors encounter in their pursuit of fun. Unfortunately Disney managers have to pay for these smiles because people wouldn't do a simple thing as smile without being paid!
Then there are people who have a job of loading their rifles and getting on helicopters to shoot buffaloes and brumbies in the Australian Outback. From time to time these simple creatures become pests and a threat so they have to be put down in large numbers like a few hundreds of thousands hence this method of culling. What sort of karma these jobs must earn (apparently the salary is very good) is beyond me but a job is a job!
The aforementioned jobs are international in their magnitude but to me they are still short of the beauty of the job people do in the transport trade in the city of Kota in the state of Rajasthan and in that great country India.
Kota railway station used to be five to six kms from the city centre but now with increasing urban population railway station doesn't seem that far. But this separation meant that there had to be a good transport business in the city of Kota. The main transport used to be tempos. A tempo is a funny looking vehicle. It is a three-wheeler with one steered and powered wheel in the front. There is a steering wheel to advertise its superiority to scooters and auto-rickshaws. I believe there is a gear but I cannot comprehend how it works. When it seems that the driver is changing the gear he simply pulls a rod out and pushes it back in. He does a funny type of twist in the process but only a tempo driver can know how it works. The tempo body is painted black and yellow, it is rather large and can easily accommodate 10-12 people. There are two configuration, in one passengers sit across as in most cars and in another, which is more popular, they sit along the length of the tempo in two rows facing each other. Both the types of tempos have a strange personality and neither the tempo drivers nor the passengers ever like a tempo. The ceiling is rather low. Tall people find it difficult to even sit and during rush hours children are asked to stand. Any child over 7-8 years cannot stand comfortably but the tempo operators bully the poor creatures to go standing. Passenger would sooner put up with any discomfort than incur the wrath of a tempo operator. The tempo chassis is slightly elevated and passengers have to climb in using a step. In times of need 2-3 passengers are made to stand on this step. The tempo body has a skeleton on which a plastic top fits but there are no other enclosures.
I know tempo is an inanimate object but still it transfers its personality to the tempo operators and the combination of tempo and tempowallahs is an object of constant derision and ridicule.
One would think there is no job lower than a tempo driver's job but in the tempo transport trade there is job for which not many are qualified and it is at the heart of the tempo transport industry in Kota. The job is to be a pretend passenger.
In the tempo trade there is very little security. The hatred for the tempo and tempowallahs is forever pushing passengers to look for alternative modes of transport. The tempo business operates much like a bus. You buy your ticket as you crawl in. Once the guy has your money there is no way getting it back. At tempo stands the tempowallahs constantly scream for passengers to crawl into their tempo--several tempos wait for you at any given time, although there is an official tempo queue and they are not supposed to undercut each other but who cares and least of all tempowallahs. Tempos compete with auto-rickshaws and proper buses for trade. You can live with the awkward shape of the tempos, you can tolerate the tempowallah but what drives you insane is that there is no telling when the tempos will leave the stand and if they leave no one can guarantee that they will not anchor again midway to get more passengers. With all its defects tempos do reasonable business and they survive the fierce competition on the back of those humble souls who do the job of passengers. They are not the passengers who pay to crawl in and sit squeezed. These passengers are paid to spread themselves in the tempo and let themselves out quietly.
Almost every tempowallah tries to entice you by saying that their tempo needs one last passenger and if you crawl in, the tempo will start right away. You see that the tempo really is full so you pay your fare, crawl in and make room for yourself. As you are shaking yourself into position, one kindly passenger will gather himself slightly and make room for you. You settle in and tell yourself that it won't be that uncomfortable after all and look forward to reaching your destination. As you are in your thoughts one fellow discretely slides out of the tempo. Now there is one more potential passenger to be snatched from somewhere. You notice this only a few minutes later when you wake up from your thoughts and realise that the tempo hasn't moved. The screaming for another passenger starts and then another fare paying passenger crawls in, room in made for them, another passenger slides out and so it goes. The process depends on your luck but it is most unpredictable.
The passengers who slide out are paid by the tempowallah for keeping the seat warm for you. How would you like to have a job as a paid passenger in a parked tempo? All you have to do is spread yourself so that the tempo appears full and then collect yourself and quietly slide out!
I have paid heavily for this nuisance. I missed a super fast train on which I had a reservation in an AC coach. Instead I had to take the next passenger train, which goes by the grand name of Deharadoon Express, and spend 15 hours sitting in it while I could have done that journey is 7-8 hours in an AC coach.
Tempo industry is a world of its own. Each tempo has 2-3 employees. There is a driver, there is one who takes care of the needs of the driver, and then there is one who collects fares. The driver has to have a seat but to take an extra passenger he will arrange himself so that he occupies area no larger than the tip of a pin. Of course the two helpers travel strictly on the outside either on the step or projecting themselves out from various parts of the tempo while securing a foothold on some poor passenger's foot. Tempo owners must employ top-notch firms to hire a combination of three to work on a tempo. Their compatibility needs to be higher than in any other job or even what husbands and wives need. They have to make a profit. They have to provide a transport and entertain passengers by their chit-chat. They always know the most interesting topics. They reliably predict outcomes of elections not only in India but also in America and other remote places. They know which team is winning in all sporting fixtures. They are full of advise and have a philosophically detached way of looking at all problems of humanity. They know which movie will be a hit and which will flop. They personally know all politicians and provide you with information even CNN cannot give you.
Once the tempo gets going the ride is really enjoyable and educational but it takes more than the driver, the helper, the fare collector, and the fare paying passengers to get the show going. It is the passenger who earns his livelihood by being a passenger who really keeps this amazing show on the road of any time of the day or night. As they say it's a 24-7 type of business being run by a diverse pool of talent with our humble passenger the essential element.
When you go to Kota don't miss this great road show.