The number 3 has so much going for it. The thrimoorthis (Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva) and the tricolour immediately come to mind when one thinks about the significance of three. Sitting on a backbench in my class room I had once made a cartoon of God Venkateshwara. The idea was to depict his tri-forked forehead symbol popularly called moornaama and the genetic triplet codon (e.g. AUG coding for methionine). Well, that is how the t-RNA reading frame is supposed to be visualized. Those who grew up living in any Indian city would know a thing or three about autorickshaws. The Indian auto rickshaw is a noisy three-wheeler that functions mostly as a public career and occasionally as a goods vehicle.
The Bajaj auto rickshaw in its earlier avatar had a front engine underneath the driver’s seat and a hand-pulled kick starter. The horn, better known as pom-pom was a beautiful feature. The colour of the rubber-bulb of the horn was the first thing I used to look at before I made a judgment on whether I liked an auto rickshaw or not. Irrespective of how they looked, all of them were noisy. Therefore, one can understand why my loyalties shifted to the quieter cousin of the old auto rickshaw in the mid-1990s. The rear-engined wide seater (with several make-overs over the last 15 years or so) was meant to be silent but alas! The old genes die hard. To say that a modern auto rickshaw is noisy would be quite an understatement.
About 25 years ago, the ancestral auto rickshaw called the tempo was still in vogue. I vividly remember those yellow nosed tempos (usually with stuff and not people) taking deep breaths on their way up the steep roads in suburban Bangalore. The singlet front wheel would usually be slightly tilted due to the sheer weight the beast was put under. The tempo had a larger wheel base and as a result better ground clearance than the modern day auto-rickshaw (be it Bajaj, Ape or TVS). The wheels have remained small and the floor of an auto rickshaw has come closer and closer to the ground level perhaps making the journey less bumpy and more comfortable. If one argues that the auto rickshaw is meant for the elderly then we see that often it is the elderly who still find it difficult to board an auto rickshaw. I am not convinced that evolution would be directional and favour a smaller wheel-base if auto rickshaws were animals. We have somehow managed to stick with three-wheels for an auto rickshaw. Fuel efficiency, economy of space?..…Hmm.
Why do we use a tripod as a stable base for a camera? Why not a tetra-pod? A fundamental principle of geometry tells us that one needs at least three points to make a plane and those three points will always be in the same plane as long as there are just three points. Once you add a fourth point, one starts worrying about their alignment. The tripod sits on the most stable of planes. However, you may have noticed something here. We are discussing a static tripod and not a mobile tri-wheeler. The three point concept is meant to be stationary. Adding wheels to those points made them move but with the slightest of opportunities those wheels will be either stuck or toppled so as to reinvent themselves as stationary points.
Writing poignant slogans on the back-head cover of auto rickshaws is a common practice all over India. Often one finds many grammatical errors in them, yet often they also convey unadulterated gratitude, ambition and sometimes disappointment. Many such immortal phrases make instant philosophers out of auto rickshaw drivers. ‘Rocket Raja’ (King of Rockets) is one such example that conveys a deep understanding what an auto rickshaw is. At a given moment the traveller feels as though he is hustling through at lightning speed (rocket raja) yet he also knows that it is an illusion.