M. Sateesh Kumar, Occupation: Auto Driver

In the shade of a big rain tree, Sateesh Kumar tells me how much he loves being an auto driver in Chennai. “You get to meet so many people; you’re never stuck in the same place and the money is not bad. I really like my job, even though I’m actually a mechanic. I went to the ITI in Perumbalur, but I chose to come to Chennai and drive an auto. From my village, Peelvadi, there are about 30 auto drivers here and I followed them in 2006. Until then, my life revolved around my village, it’s 12km from Perumbalur. I had not even visited Tiruchi.”

Chennai, naturally, seemed daunting, as crowded as his village was calm. Sateesh missed the open spaces, lakes and good drinking water. But more importantly, he didn’t know his way around. “When I arrived here, I was only familiar with Perambur, (where I took up a house with three other boys), and Parrys, Central and Egmore. But soon, I learnt about the city from my customers and now I know it very well. Today, I can take newcomers around the place; I take tourists to see temples — Parthasarathy Koil, Kapali Koil, Vadapalani Koil; depending on their budget, I take them sightseeing, either to the Marina, Guindy Park or Golden Beach. I recommend eateries — Sangeetha or Saravana Bhavan if they can afford it, or a good, local eatery if they want to eat well for less.”

His three meals a day are had on the move. “Sundays, we cook for ourselves; but it’s when I go home to my village, for a few days every month, that I relax and my mother cooks for me. If I work really hard, I can make Rs. 500 a day; at the end of the month, after my living, eating expenses, I have about Rs. 10,000 left. I save as much as possible and give it to my parents. They farm for a living, growing cotton and corn, and hire help in the village. But returns in agriculture are annual, whereas, in my job, there’s daily income.”

Sateesh’s workday stretches from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and since he belongs to no particular auto-stand, he drives around, looking for work. “Office-goers are primarily my customers; they understand that fuel is more expensive now, only some fuss about fares. In the rainy season, there is plenty of work. Maybe when Metro-Rail comes, long-distance savaris will be hit,” he adds pragmatically.

When he’s not driving around Chennai , Sateesh likes to read and listen to music. “I read newspapers, morning and evening. But what I love most is the biographies of our leaders — Kamaraj, Ambedkar, Gandhi. I want to know more about Tamil Nadu, about India.” Sateesh’s family has visited him once in Chennai. “I brought my parents and sister here, and showed them around. I think the city is a good place to work, to earn a livelihood, but the village is where my life is. I want to raise my family there, and retire there, when I’m 50.” But until then, Sateesh is happy to keep Chennai moving with his auto.

(A weekly column on men and women who make Chennai what it is)