Q: What is Yellow and Black, flies fast with a loud buzzing noise and leaves you with a sting every time you interact with it?
A: Anywhere else in the world it would be a Bee but in Chennai, it is our very own Auto!
Yes, I am talking about the pretty yellow specks that dot the cities beautiful landscape without which (pardon the poet in me) – Chennai will be a flower sans its Pollen.
The Auto rickshaw has rather forced itself over the years as an integral part of Chennai’s cultural identity and heritage. Apart from being immortalized in the movies by the biggest Icons in the Tamil Industry, it is the Auto and Auto driver’s ability to interact and affect almost every Chennai’ite on a regular basis that has made it so special. The very fact that the Chennai auto has survived all these years despite contradicting every possible reason for its existence is truly phenomenal!
- The Auto was never built for speed but yet our determined friends take off first from any traffic signal and fly around the city at such unbelievable speeds that it puts the Monaco grand prix to shame.
- The Auto was only built for 3 + 1 persons but the Guinness Records for the maximum number of people squeezed into a tiny space has been broken time and again by our Maverick Auto drivers.
- The Auto was built for reasonably priced personal transportation yet Tariff charges shoot up faster than T.R’s temper in a press conference (How ca u say? Don’t say Sorry!)
But despite being such a stubborn, notorious yet vial part of our cities functional and cultural machinery, the city, apart from its movie Industry has failed to promote this valuable asset as part of its folklore. That reflects upon the fact that the Auto and its Design has hardly evolved over the years except for the odd CNG variant and new mudguard or dashboard alterations.
I say that it’s time for the Chennai Auto to make a bold statement. It’s time that the Auto reflected through its shape, style and characteristics the very reasons why it has attained such an important place in Chennai’s story.
I want the Chennai Auto to tell a story to anybody who hops into one and amaze them along their journey.
I want our cities Autos to look and provide the experience that shall do justice to its uniqueness!
Ans so I began to wonder what a wonderful ambassador of the tourist sector an Auto would make if used cleverly and creatively?
Thus started my quest for the Story of the Real Chennai Auto! How will it look? What features will it have?
My Design instincts immediately started to pour onto a sheet of paper one fine day but I held myself back within minutes and slowly put the pencil down. I grudgingly accepted that the people who would do complete justice as Designers of our Auto would be none other than the auto drivers themselves. After all, what is an Auto without its drivers? I convinced myself to only play the role of a mentor- a glorified guide who shall provide the necessary sparks to my team of Designers while constantly refining and optimizing the Research, Ideation & Design Conceptualization Process.
But I had one small problem- I did not have any Designers.
You see, it was very difficult for me to approach the auto drivers with a motive such as ‘Designing a concept Auto’. Many suspected me to be a spy for their Auto Owners, trying to find out if they would waste their time with such mindless distractions rather than make money! It took me over a week of frantic search and busy networking before I hit the jackpot! I met Mr.Guna a.k.a Gunasekaran at an Auto stand in Thiruvanmiyur. The moment I met him and his buddies, I knew this project was in safe hands. Ladies and Gentlemen, without further adieu, I take great pride in introducing my team of Designers to you:
Guna– Design Head
Pardon the Picture. Guna is extremely shy and hates publicity. This is the only pose he would strike when I wanted to sketch him. He wouldn’t allow any another sketch or photo of himself to be posted in this blog.
Guna is a 35 year old Auto driver from Chennai. He was born and raised in Central Chennai. With an educational background of 8th standard pass and an impressive two years as a lorry cleaner, Guna swears he has been an auto driver for over 15 years in Chennai. He recently bought his own auto through a bank loan after years of driving for someone else. Apart from his wife and three young kids, he also loves the very many Tasmac Wine shops around town. He is politically active judging by his Auto decorations but seems to change loyalty according to whichever party is in power. I however do suspect him to be a closet ‘Political Rajinikanth’ supporter (keep dreaming, I wanted to tell him) The constant ‘switching’ seems to go beyond his political affiliations as he comes across as a guy who changes his mind ever so often about everything! Ah, a natural designer isn’t he? He is also a self confessed LTTE sympathizer and is not very fond of Hindi. He sports a funky tattoo of a person who vaguely resembles MGR and also in a way resembles George Bush- He has no idea when he got it! With an ever present Bubbly, Hilarious and pleasingly Grouchy demeanour about him, it was a pleasure to work with Guna on this project.
Kabali– Senior Designer
He is your typical new age Auto Driver. A mix of the old block infused with a lot of today’s youth. He has been commandeering an auto for less than 3 years now. Being an ardent Ajith Kumar (Thala) fan, he owns 4 expensive cell phones and very many lady friends judging by his romantic conversations. He proved invaluable in lending a fresh perspective on the Chennai auto and its next level.
Apart from the two main Designers there were three other Design Consultants namely Paul Raj, Manikandan and Senthil who greatly helped us in the initial brainstorming, market research and consumer feedback processes of the design.
In my next Blog post I shall explain the Design process that we carried out as a team with some valuable insights into Guna’s sketching skills! Trust me when I say that it was one wild ride which ultimately brought out a wonderful concept in the end. Please do visit again in a few days to see the Real Chennai Auto!!