In his book The Greatness Guide, Robin Sharma offers a lesson: Talk to Cab Drivers.

When Sharma visited Mumbai, a cab driver told him his family lived by the tenet “Athithi Devo Bhava” – treat guests like God. They may go hungry without a meal but would ensure they treat their guests well. This made an impact on Sharma.

Between 2015 and 2016, I took auto-rickshaws every day to work and return home. In the evening ride back home, I followed Robin Sharma’s suggestion and engaged auto-drivers in conversation. Most of the time, the conversation was just two people chatting and having a pleasant time talking to each other before saying goodbye.

Some conversations, however, stood out. Here are four conversations with auto-drivers that stayed with me.

1 – This Auto-driver Inspired me to Visit the Sholinghar Narasimhar Temple

I had always wanted to visit the Sholinghar Narasimhar temple. It is a three-and-a-half-hour ride from Chennai. There are 1500 steps – the trek fascinated me.

One auto driver was an encyclopedia about the temple – he gave me information about the temple, when to go, what to do at the temple, and how to ward off the monkeys during the 1500-step trek (yes, there are lots of monkeys).

This conversation was a RAK on his part. That very weekend, my wife and I went to Sholinghar inspired by my conversation with him.

We enjoyed the trek, and had a lovely Darshan of Lord Narasimhar.

2 – This Auto-Driver Was Going Through Unspeakable Grief

I ask auto-drivers if they are married and how many children do they have. These are questions I have to be careful to ask people in higher economic stratas. They may choose not to get married. They may decide not to have children. In these cases, they find the questions “Are you married” or “Do you have children” presumptuous.

I don’t have to worry about these considerations with auto drivers. Almost all of them are married and have children. And they are happy to talk about their family. They put bread on the table for their family, and are rightly proud of their hard work. Some of the auto drivers educated their children well, and sent them to engineering colleges, and their children were working in high-paying software jobs. Heart-warming.

The conversation I had with one auto-driver was nothing close to heart-warming, it was gut-wrenching. He had three children.

“My son failed his tenth-standard exams a few years ago, he committed suicide”, the auto-driver told me. I couldn’t get words out of my mouth. He continued, “I have two daughters. They are going through a rough patch in their in-laws’s houses, dowry and such.”

“I have no idea what is going on in my life. It feels like a surreal daze. I wake up each morning and let my body take over and drive the auto”, he confessed.

I offered him heartfelt words of consolation – and got out of the auto with a heavy heart.

When I read the accounts of people’s sufferings, my sufferings were not much at all. I experienced that sensation with this auto driver – my sufferings paled in comparison with his anguish.

Only to forget it promptly and start feeling sorry for me very soon.

3 – This Auto-Driver Wanted to Become a Movie Director

This auto-driver who drove me back home wanted to become a movie director.

He was working as an assistant director to a Tamil movie director who made five movies. I recognized the director’s name – when I was in school, I enjoyed the two movies he directed. His stock failed to rise after that, and he made a few more movies which did not enjoy great success at the box office.

The odds of succeeding were low for this auto driver – when you are working with a successful director, the success rubs off on you. When the director himself is struggling, that doesn’t bode well for you.

But that didn’t deter him – he was going to pursue his chances of becoming a director.

Good for him! It is certainly better to try and not succeed than not try at all.

4 – This Auto-driver was a Movie-Studio Technician Who Was Fired Unceremoniously

Another auto driver was a technician in a movie studio.

He was fired unceremoniously. He was bitter. He was talented, but took his firing to heart. He started driving autos to put bread on the table for his family.

2016 was the year I wanted to read 100 non-fiction books – I was brimming with excitement from the positivity I read – law of attraction and all that.

“Your past does not equal your destiny”, I gave him unsolicited advice, “You can choose to leverage your talents, the sky is the limit.”

He was not impressed. “I know I don’t have any hope”, he declared.

I wasn’t giving up easily. “What do you have to lose by pursuing opportunities to leverage your talent? Rejection is a myth”, I beamed.

Nope. He wasn’t convinced.

I wasn’t calling it quits, either. We tussled back and forth. 

Towards the end of the conversation, he told me “Okay, your incessant nagging has got to me, I’ll pursue opportunities to leverage my talents. I don’t lose anything by trying. Thank you.”

We shared a smile and parted ways.

I wouldn’t have the same conversation if I were riding with him today. I wouldn’t dish out unsolicited advice freely. I had no idea about his circumstances and his state of mind. I got lucky that he didn’t take offense.

Yet, people who give unsolicited advices take a risk that may change people’s lives. In Radical Candor, Kim Scott recounts the story where she was taking her dog for a walk. A man stopped her and told her a mistake she was making, which would hurt the dog. Scott was grateful, and corrected her mistake. Scott approved of the man’s advice, as well as the objective way he gave it out. If he had yelled at her saying “You’re doing X – you surely don’t love your dog”, Scott would have been defensive and the conversation would have taken a different tone.

Unsolicited advice that doesn’t attack the other person may work out well. If it doesn’t work out, the blame lies entire on the advice giver, and not on the recipient.

Conversations with Cab drivers and Auto Drivers Can Provide Great Insights

These are just four snippets from conversations with cab drivers.

I recounted my experience with superman Hariram here. If I ever grow up, I’d love to display the patience this auto-driver displayed with his wife.

Speaking to them gave me glimpses into human nature. Some of them were satisfied. Some of them were stressed for money. They were eager to recount their love story whenever they had love marriages. One auto driver and his neighbor were in love for 15 years, but they had a low-key romance before they announced their intentions to their family and are now happily married.

I heartily recommend chatting with auto-drivers and cab drivers – you never know when they will surprise you with unexpected insights.

Image Credit: Napendra Singh on Unsplash