BENGALURU: Like Nehru’s birth anniversary has been declared Children’s Day and Dr Radhakrishnan’s Teachers’ Day, Shankar Nag’s is to be Auto Day from now on.
It’s been 34 years since the Shankar Nag-starrer Auto Raja swept the rickshaw drivers off their feet, and 24 since its lead actor passed away in a road accident. Were he alive today, he’d have turned 60 on the 9th of this month.
The actor-director’s wife Arundhati too often travels by auto. Ask her if she has noticed her late husband’s pictures peering at her,and she says with a laugh, “Noticed? It’s in your face, no?”
Twenty-four years is a long time, she admits, and yet he is in the memory of the public, thanks to the autowallahs.
“It’s all spontaneous,” she adds. “And Shankar doesn’t belong exclusively to me, anyone can put up his picture.” And especially if it inspires people to live by better values, why not. All the same, she’s rather relieved that statues of him haven’t been erected. This, perhaps, is a far greater tribute — to be remembered in the mind of the common man, literally.
Even now, talk about Shankar Nag to an auto driver and even as you shout directions over the loud honking and revving of engines, his hearing becomes sharper. Most likely, he will soon join your conversation, and share with you how great Shankar Nag was, how they have met his wife and how auto stands are often marked with an image of him to this day. This is what happens to us when we get into Harish Kumar’s auto.
He says, “People say that it was murder, not an accident that killed him. How would we ever know?” But Harish is sure that ‘if Shankar Nag was there today, he would have been CM now, that’s how much he did for the people’. “He was the one who first wanted a Metro here. It has taken our government this long, and they’re still building it,” he adds.
A Tamilian who hails from Hosur and from a family of auto drivers, it was the mention of Shankar Nag by a fellow auto driver that inspired him to learn Kannada. “I’ve never seen him, but over the past few years, I’ve watched all his movies and even read whatever I could find on him,” he says.
Started by the Peace Auto, an initiative that seeks to bridge the gap between the three-wheeler drivers and their passengers, Auto Day affords the members of this profession some dignity, says founder Anil Shetty.
“I’ve heard people say that if they start driving autos, no girl will want to marry them. And if this is the collective thinking of two lakh drivers and dealers, it’s not healthy. They make up a highly unorganised sector, and this will bring them together,” he explains.
B Dayanand, additional commissioner of police (traffic) whose department has extended support to the idea, agrees with Anil that Shankar Nag is a mascot of sorts and Sudeep being the brand ambassador will help bring harmony between people and auto drivers. “His role in Auto Raja was influential. Using that will help bring in organisation among the community,” he says.
In the film, the actor is seen wearing his uniform, and this has inspired his auto driver fans, who have immortalised him.
“Auto Day is the first time that auto drivers are coming together for a positive cause. Otherwise, it’s only for strikes,” says Raghu, an auto driver who works with Peace Auto and on whose suggestion Shankar Nag’s birthday was selected as the appropriate date for the celebration of Auto Day.
“Earlier, our big celebration would be during Rajyotsava (starting on November 1). Since this too is in November, the festive spirwill last a little longer,” he adds.
Honoured as dedicated and sincere, Shankar Nag, it seems, has inspired these drivers to be honest as well. “Auto Raja changed my life. Someone had left jewellery worth `12 lakh in my auto. I took it to the police station,” says Auto Ramanna, who also goes by the name Junior Shankar Nag. On another occasion, he also returned forgotten `2 lakh cash, he says.
“After that, I’ve heard that another auto driver, who had heard of these incidents, found `5 lakh and returned that too,” he adds. Well, he only hopes that the enthusiasm surrounding his idol lasts for many decades to come, over several Auto Day celebrations.