US diplomats turn to auto to live life king-size

Anne Mezon, Ruth Homberg, and Sherin Kitterman with their autorickshaws: Rahul R Pattom

Autorickshaws are so common on Indian roads that hardly anyone would fancy owning a “tuk tuk’ as a status symbol. But for three women diplomats at the US embassy, the three-wheelers mean an entirely distinct thing. The trio has already nailed their diplomatic number plates to the personalized autorickshaws they own.

Anne Mezon, Ruth Homberg, and Sherin Kitterman are proud of their vehicles fitted with fans and blue-tooth devices as they love riding in them through the streets of Delhi for all their needs, including official ‘trips’.

Anne and Ruth own black-colored autos while Sherin, born in the south Indian state of Karnataka and holding US citizenship, loves to flaunt her pink auto-rickshaw.

Mexican ambassador Melba Pria was the one who started the trend when she made a white-colored one her official vehicle. However, the three US diplomats went a step ahead by being behind the wheel whenever they go for a ride in the ‘unique’ Indian vehicle.

It’s Anne Mezon who first shared the reasons for her liking for the rick. Before the India assignment, she was deployed at the US embassy in Pakistan. There she always used to travel in fully covered vehicles, with security being a prime concern.

“I got really bored with such vehicles. As I gazed through the embassy building office, I could see many autos plying on the road. But I hardly got a chance to ride in them due to security reasons. However, things were entirely different when I arrived here. I was really motivated to see one of my colleagues in the Indian office arriving for work in an auto-rickshaw. For the last two years, I travel in my own auto, which I named ‘KITT’,” she says.

Fan, blue tooth
The 1980 hit show ‘Night Rider’ was behind her choosing the name.  There are doors on both sides of the rear portion of her auto where commuters sit. She has also attached a curtail printed with the image of a tiger. A small fan is fitted near the driver’s seat in the front to escape the soaring temperatures of the capital city. The vehicle also boasts of a blue tooth speaker for tuning to music.

Sherin resides in the ‘Motor City’ Detroit in the US, which is the heart of the American automotive industry. She was passionate about vehicles from her childhood days and even flew a two-seat aircraft. A few years ago she joined the US Foreign Services. She arrived in Delhi only recently. At first, she was thinking about owning a bullet. But she changed her decision after getting inspired by Anne and Ruth. And she travels in her own ‘tuk tuk’ for the last six months.

She recalled that she had to wait for some time to get a pink-colored auto. “I spoke to many companies. Then I came to know that pink autos are being readied in Noida under a government scheme to be distributed to women. The officials concerned promised to deliver my auto too with that lot. Finally, I got my dream vehicle after a never-ending wait of three months. The auto can be easily identified by the image of an Indian flag and a US flag depicted on both sides. A sticker of a woman flaunting her muscles with the tagline ‘we can do it’ has been pasted for decoration. However, Sherin rues not many women riding autos can be seen in the city.

Rush for selfies
Ruth takes her fully black auto to wherever she goes since owning the rick. She had made no alteration or additions to her ‘black beauty’. She chose an auto as a comfortable vehicle, most suited for the congested city roads. She rode the three-wheeler for the first time after coming to Delhi.

May it be to official residences of ministers, hotels, or markets, Ruth always travels in her ‘tuk-tuk’ machine. She is happy to turn the driver for her family members and close circle of friends. Her spouse, though, was not fully convinced at first. However, all his fears have vanished and the ‘black beauty’ is now the favourite vehicle of her family, she vouches.

Ruth says she fully knows the ‘diplomacy’ of owning an auto and the psychology while riding it. “When a foreign lady rides an auto, many look on with awe and wonder. They would request a selfie on most occasions. But there was never an unpleasant experience here. Many people used to show hands for hiring while I ride through the city. I really enjoy the sudden change in their facial expression upon realizing that a foreign lady is steering the auto,” she adds.

Anne says she wants to be an inspiration for many. “It’s very much a delight to watch the expressions, especially that of girls when I ride. They get amused at first and then will be in awe of you. They too will soon feel, ‘we can’. This is the greatest pleasure of riding an auto,” a beaming Anne points out.

The horn ‘language’
The trio says they are very much accustomed to the riding habits of the city. “There is a language for sounding horns here. Those in a rush play the horn hard, but those seeking a little space for overtaking use it in a light manner. We can able to follow the language of the horn, especially when you are in the midst of a traffic jam,” Ruth says.

Anne has one experience to share when she was denied entry to a mall as she came riding an auto. She waited on the road in the vehicle for hours, before the security personnel finally agreed to let her in. The trio points out that there needs a change in the mindset of people towards those travelling in an auto and also riding one.

“Here, people riding big vehicles are getting more priority. This is not right. That’s why, at many times, the autos and the people travelling in them are being ignored. This calls for a change in the mindset of people,” Sherin explains.

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