Amdavad’s autorickshawala who survives on a meter that reads zero is redefining selflessness

12th Apr 2017
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Ahmedabad’s hero does not come dressed in a cape. He wears a khadi kurta and a Gandhi topi. He drives unprivileged Amdavadis free of cost and lets others pay what they are willing. This selfless man’s gift-economy auto has been touching lives for seven long years.

Exuding warmth, Amdavad's very own Uday bhai. (Image credit: MAM Movies)

About six years ago, a man from Delhi reached Ahmedabad. As he got off at the Sabarmati railway station, he lost his wallet and was finding it very difficult to find an autorickshaw willing to drive him free of cost. One driver, Uday bhai, as he would soon come to be known, was watching from a distance, and drove up to the man to ask what the problem was.

Upon hearing the man’s plight, Uday bhai, without a second thought, told the man that he would take him wherever he wanted.Once in the auto, the relieved Dilliwala was up for a surprise. The inside of the auto had colourful Kalamkari murals and a small fan attached to the side; there were newspapers, magazines, a portable light for night time reading, snacks, drinking water, a dustbin, and even an MP3 player with Hindi and Gujarati choice of songs.

When the perplexed man asked Uday bhai what all this was, the Amdavadi autorickshawala dove into his story.

Udaysinh Ramanlal Jadav started his gift economy auto in 2010. His meter would perpetually read zero and each surprised passenger, at the end of the ride, would receive an envelope with a greeting card that read ‘Pay from your heart’ explaining that whatever they wish to pay will be used for the subsequent passenger.

Image credit: MAM Movies

When asked why he does this, his response – for seven years now – would always be “I just want to help people and give them a good experience.” And the simple logic driving his principles was – “If people don’t help each other, then who will?”

Uday bhai’s “Ahmedabad no Autorickshawalo” was inspired by the work done by Manav Sadhna, an NGO that works for the upliftment of the poor. Manav Sadhna used to provide free meals for the underprivileged and Udaysinh had seen people of all casts and religions dining together without any discriminations. Moved by this, he volunteered for them, and finally after two years of contemplation, started his Pay-it-Forward, ‘Ahmedabad no Autorickshawalo’, as a way of helping the society.

A life that instilled humility

Udaysinh grew up in Ahmedabad with four sisters and two brothers. His father was an auto driver himself, and since he needed more assistance to support the large family, Udaysinh dropped out of class 10 to help out. He worked in an auto garage for three years where he earned a meagre Rs 1 for each car/auto wash.

His brother, who was also an auto driver, taught Udaysinh to drive, and slowly Udaysinh made this his profession. It was during this time that he met a ‘doctor sahab’ as he says, his voice brimming with respect, with whom he worked for 12 long years as a sort of masseur assisting with ‘tel malish’ (oil massage). He did, however, continue driving his auto which complemented his earnings from the Doctor.

It was when he met Manav Sadhna’s founder that, as he recalls while in conversation with YourStory, his life took a U-turn.

Selflessness that made Uday bhai Ahmedabad’s hero

When Udaysinh started his gift-economy auto, he was well aware of the fact that he would have to run his household with whatever money was left at the end of the day in his envelope.“My father and wife wished that I stopped this ‘Gandhigiri’,” he recalls.

Some would pay Rs 5 and some would pay Rs 50 – there was no predicting the income, and adding to this instability, Udaysinh would not only refuse money from disabled, poor, and elderly people, but he would also add Rs 1 from his first earnings of the day to his Akshay Patra box, which he would give away to charity.

Uday bhai passing his envelope and the greeting inside. (Image credit: MAM Movies (L), The Better India (R)

When asked if this selflessness was ever financially crippling, he responds pragmatically,

If I wake up every morning thinking, ‘mera kya hoga?’ (What will happen to me?), then nothing will ever happen. If you’re doing some work and there are no challenges, will that even count as useful work? The only thing that matters is your attitude.

This attitude was, however, briefly shaken when he couldn’t pay his son’s school fees, following which his son’s results were withheld. “That day, I really thought a lot about what I do,” he recalls. After consoling his devastated boy, Udaysinh requested the school principle for an extension and with some difficulty, paid the fees.

“Things like this happen sometimes,” he says, his grief-laden voice trailing off before he finds his strength again. “Bas haar nahi manta, kabhi nahi (I don’t give up, ever).”

How one man can change the world

Although it took a little time, it wasn’t before long that Udaysinh’s beliefs and principles became contagious. His three sons were proud and happy when their father made the news several times and received awards such as Red FM’s Bade Dilwale, the Rotary award, and Baroda management award.

His compassion and generosity swayed his wife, who now prepares dhoklas and lassi for the passengers, and his father, who, as Udaysinh fondly says, has now developed the habit of feeding crows. Many other auto drivers, too, motivated by Udaysinh have transformed their autos for a friendlier experience.

The recognition he has received: Baroda Management award (L), from the Rotary club (R)

“I keep motivating people, but I don’t tell them what to do,” he says. But the bhav – the natural instinct to help and serve – that Udaysinh insists on, doesn’t come easily to everyone, he says.

But benevolence has a way of seeping into people’s personalities. Udaysinh recalls one incident where a gentleman left the envelope empty. Unaffected by this, Udaysinh drove on. But seconds later, he received a call from the same man asking him to come back (Udaysinh displays his phone number at the back of the auto). “He said he felt really bad about what he did, so he called me back to pay his share,” he recalls

What the Good Samaritan is up to now

When Udaysinh first started driving his gift economy auto, he recalls that for three months, no one was willing to ride with him. “Because it was colourful and had all those facilities, people thought it would be expensive and would run away.”

But seven years down the line, Udaysinh became Uday bhai and is now known for his generosity. Celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan and Chetan Bhagat have flown to Ahmedabad just to meet him. He gets invited to schools and even to entrepreneur meets to talk about his efforts and motivate them.

Star moments for Uday bhai. He stores some of these memories in his album and some are displayed in his auto.

He now has a van that he calls Sabarmati no Saarthi which is adorned just like his auto and has the same facilities, including clothes for people who need them. But this too, has come at a price. Udaysinh managed to acquire a loan for his van which he now needs to repay.

A loan of Rs 3,50,000 is not a small amount for an autorickshawala dependant on a gift economy. “I just need a little support for my children,” he says. “A bit of donation will make it easier for me.” So that his selflessness doesn’t hamper his dream to serve, an online fundraiser has been organised so that he can repay this heavy loan.

The brand new van. (Image credit: The Better India)

With his khadi kurta and Gandhi topi, Amdavad’s hero has been touching lives for seven years and yet, his conviction to “love all and serve all” hasn’t eroded an inch.

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