MUMBAI IS HOME to nearly 20 million people, but none are as ubiquitous—and as faceless—as the city’s auto-rickshaw drivers. There are so many autos in Mumbai now that they exceed all order and management, and even the drivers have difficulty estimating their numbers. Some drivers I met thought there might be 100,000 rickshaws in all, while some put the figure at 300,000. One young and somewhat starstruck driver, Imran Ali of Dahisar, said “Karodonhonge” (there must be millions).
In Mumbai’s extensive, ever-expanding suburbs, beyond the boundaries of the island city (where they have never been allowed to ply) the auto-rickshaws are to be found on every street and corner. The puttering of their engines is the most familiar sound on Mumbai’s streets; their happy-go-lucky near-right-angle swerves are the most striking moves in the city’s sweaty, hustling traffic; and even they are turned in for the night they can be counted on the roadside in the hundreds.
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