An intriguing ride

An intriguing ride

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An intriguing ride

Innovative: Samson with his auto

What does an auto driver do in between rides? Catch up on sleep, smoke, or sip chai over the day’s vernacular newspaper? Well, this auto driver has a different take on his spare time — he checks his mail, reads up on science, updates his own personal website,  www.tuktastic.com — and even explores online options to make money! This man is perhaps the first cabbie or auto rickshaw driver on the globe to have his own personal website. But then, Samson is not your average autowala. This enterprising auto rickshaw driver has taken the online road to success.

Samson uses the net to build up an international clientele. And to think that we imagined personal websites to be the prerogative of the rich and the famous! “When you are in Chennai it would be my pleasure to be at your service. I can be found outside the Taj Coromandel Hotel, please just walk down the ramp to the street and ask for Samson! I can also be contacted by phone or text message on +919 840 842724 at any time or email me at samson@tuktastic.com” reads out the message on Samson’s website.
In fact, Samson also makes the site a tourist’s virtual hangout by putting up on the site information on places to visit in and around the city, places for eating and drinking, shopping, etc. To top it all, it is an interactive website and he invites ‘happy customers’ to upload on the site, their photos with him and their comments on his service. “This does put in perspective the extent of internet penetration in the state,” says Prof Kalyanakrishnan, former head, department of computer sciences, IIT, Madras.  
Samson speaks passable English, which is interspersed with phrases like ‘google it’, ‘erased from the site’, ‘message me’ and so on. Never mind that he flunked exams and quit school before completing his primary grades. “I had always wanted to know more about the world and would prefer to explore the city — bathe in the Chetpet lake, walk on the Marina beach or head to the airport to watch planes take off, rather than go to school,” recalls Samson. Eventually, he ran away from home and took the first train he saw, which happened to be heading to Salem, a town in Tamil Nadu. There he found a job as a waiter. After a fortnight, he wrote to his father and his father took him back home, and Samson never attended school again. 

Samson also speaks a smattering of French, German and Russian, besides some decent English, which he picked up from the tourists he drove around the city. Later, he bought a Tamil-English dictionary and taught himself to read English. “When I mouth ‘Vu Ale Vu?’ meaning ‘Where are you going?’ to Frenchmen strolling on the streets, they invariably grind to a halt, like an auto on brake, and I am assured of a customer,” grins Samson. “And I like to offer more,” he says.

Making customers happy
For instance, when a Danish tourist operator wanted to be dropped at the Marina beach, Samson entertained him with a tourists’ guide narrative of the St Thomas Church, the Vivekananda House and the other sights of Chennai along the way. “He ended up wanting to visit those places too, and though it was just a Rs 300-worth ride, he tipped me Rs 3000, though I asked him just for Rs 300,” shares Samson. Impressed by Samson’s service over the years, now, this Danish national partly finances the education of Samson’s three children. “It is all about making customers happy,” he says. Well, Samson probably has up his khaki sleeve more knowledge and experience than that endowed by a masters’ in business administration. 

The same attitude reverberates through the Goodwill Auto Drivers’ Association, that Samson and some fellow auto-drivers formed at Rutland Gate Road in Chennai, which is a lane just across the road from the Taj Coramandel. “We have a code which disallows our members to arrive at the stand drunk, and against the use of foul language,” says Samson’s friend Kalimuthu, for whom Samson had created an e-mail address too. These guys shelled in Rs 2000 each during the launch of the association and donated bicycles to four physically challenged persons!

But how did this auto driver come to have his own website? “It isn’t so strange”, he says, reading this writer’s mind. Since Samson’s auto stand is opposite the Taj, he ends up servicing foreigners most of the time. His glib talk and punctuality brought him many repeat customers, one of whom happened to be a Japanese lady, Stao Mutchucity, who often wanted to be driven to internet cafes. It was the year 1999.

“I asked her what the Internet was and she explained that it was a way of instant communication with people far away. I asked her if I too could communicate with my clients who had gone back to their countries, and she created an e-mail ID for me,” narrates Samson.

Five years later, when another of his faithful customers — Chris Pew of British Airways wanted his visiting cards done, Samson, as always, guided him to a printer. Samson noticed a website address on the card and asked Chris, “Can I have a website too?” A smile rose on Chris’s face and hey presto, www.tuktastic.com was born, with the generous support of Chris. 

Now, Samson has moved on further ahead on the virtual road, and has created www.netwayadvertise.com, a site devoted to advertisements. “For Rs 500 per year, people can advertise on my site and I can get the advertisement uploaded in 48 hours,” he promises in his laid-back style.   

To cap it all, he nonchalantly belts out another thunderbolt. “I have researched ancient texts and hit upon a way of doing away with petrol or diesel and making vehicles run on water. To create machinery for that, I want legitimate sponsors to contact me.” Well?! 

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