THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: “I started free auto-service during Attukal Pongala 17 years back. It was my confidence in Attukalamma which made me do this. The service began with one auto which was my own and over a period of time it expanded as more people rented out their autos for the purpose and people began sponsoring for the expenses incurred from the two-day free ride,” says Anil Padimuttam, who runs an auto in the Vattiyoorkkavu-Thuravamcode route.
During the pongala season, the free autos are found shuttling from Eastfort to places like Perrorkada and Vattiyoorkavu for the convenience of Attukal devotees. The service, which started with one auto, has now branched out into 27 autos, the drivers of which are willing to contribute their service for free. Their busy schedule starts at 3 am on the previous day of pongala and goes on till late evening the next day.
Auto drivers, who are mostly friends of Anil, get together at his house two days prior to pongala for performing poojas. With folded hands and bowed heads, they pray to the Goddess for keeping them and their vehicles safe for the next two days. They offer jaggery, banana fry and fruits to please the Goddess. Later, they decorate their autos and the three- wheelers get ornamented with ‘Vanamaala’ in five different colours, a bunch of ‘Konna poovu’ and ‘Kozhunth’, the favourite herb of the Goddess. A laminated picture of Amma is placed just above the head light of the auto and the sides of autos have sugarcane and plantain bunches tied to it.
The auto drivers who live on meager salary finds it practically impossible to fill up fuel on their own. But luckily, they always get sponsors who are willing to take up the expenses incurred from the two-day free service.
“Indira medical store at Sasthamangalam, Shivram electricals at Palayam, Ocean books at Statute and Le Paris Hotel at Sasthamangalam are few of the sponsors for this season,” says Anil. The sponsors contribute upto ` 1001 as an offering to Attukalamma. The decorated autos bear the names of the sponsors on their bodies as an acknowledgment of the help.
“There are many who are sarcastic about the whole idea of free auto service. They ask, ‘What is your benefit?’ I say profit is not the motive. I have experienced miracles in my life after placing my problems at the feet of Amma. I am doing this only to thank and hail her,” says Anil.
We ask about the story behind Anil’s devotion which made him take this arduous effort to organise the free auto service. And he says about being able to shift from a rented place to a house of his own and the speedy recovery of his sick father who had been cast off as incurable by hospitals.
Cherishing these blessings, Anil strives to serve devotees of Amma with three more autos in the next season.