Auto-driver Samson is different. He has a website, a legion of happy customers and even turns on the meter. Something that's as rare as wearing pullovers in Chennai.
Ka-ching! Ah, the sweet sound of the auto meter. Something that's as rare as wearing pullovers in Chennai. What's even rarer is riding around town with an auto driver, who has a website of his own. That's Samson for you, a cheerful 38-year-old auto driver, with around 18 years of experience and tuktastic.com to his credit. “My clients from all over the world tell me I am probably the only auto driver in Asia with a website,” he beams.
Parked opposite the Taj Coromandel hotel, Samson has become the hot favourite of tourists, especially those who stay at the hotel. “Even before some of my customers land in Chennai, they call me or send me an email with details about their stay here and book me for those days,” he explains. His website has obviously helped him build contacts. Even before the website happened, Samson had an email id.
A Japanese tourist was so impressed with him that for the entire month that she stayed in the city, she couldn't think of anybody but Samson to take her around. “M'am used to check her emails. I wanted an id too. So she created one for me. It was of great help and I made it a point to check my mails twice a week,” he says.
One day, as he sat at an Internet centre, checking his mails, he stumbled upon an online ad about websites. Being an enterprising person, he decided to have one too. Yet another satisfied customer, Chris Pug, a crew member from British Airways created the site for him as a token of gratitude for his excellent service. Tuktuk, Tuktaxi and many suggestions later, Samson was finally satisfied with Tuktastic. “It sounds like fantastic, an attribute to my auto and service, so this had to be the fitting title,” he smiles.
Tuktastic.com is an interesting website with an introduction to Samson, and links to places to eat, drink, shop, a link that allows one to advertise on his auto and a page dedicated to his auto buddies who step in when a big group of people want to travel. The best thing about them is they are ‘tourist- friendly autos,' and won't fleece you. For example, a ride to Mammallapuram and back in Samson's auto will cost you Rs.700. Of course, you won't have the comforts of an AC. And as Samson says on his website, “It may seem a long way in a tuk-tuk but there is nothing better than cruising down the open roads out of town with the warm breeze on your face.”
So why aren't other autos tourist-friendly as well? Samson shrugs. Then with a smile adds, “Let's not discuss meters.” But I am persistent. He relents. “Very often after dropping a customer, autos aren't allowed to wait at a spot. Chances are that he may not find a sawari and will have to drive around. Fuel is expensive, there are other expenditures and we get paid on a per day basis…,” he explains.
Few of his friends land up there showing him recently clicked photographs and asking for his opinion. Clearly he seems to be a hit with them too. And why not? Especially when he has created email ids for them on his laptop. That's right! “A Dutch client was very happy with me and gifted me the laptop.” And Samson is not just net-savvy, he even talks about Facebook and Twitter, has an id in Orkut and a fairly good command of English. “Conversing with my foreign clients has helped a great deal in improving my language. I only studied till Standard VII, you know? I bought myself a dictionary to learn more words,” he adds.
As we talk he tells me his aim is not to just eat, drink, make merry and die. He wants to do something more. He believes if given a sponsor he can find a way of making vehicles run on water. I raise an eyebrow and he notices it through his rear-view mirror. “It's possible I can try,” he says nonchalantly. His mobile phone beeps again. “Hello sir! Yes, I will come in 20 minutes,” he tells the caller. Yet another client awaiting his service.
So I stop my questions, sit back and bid goodbye to the worries of haggling, as Samson drops me at my destination.