How to avoid being overcharged by a taxi or auto-rickshaw in Delhi, India

नमस्ते Let me approach another of those time-honoured and unavoidable cliches of Delhi (and elsewhere in India) – being overcharged by taxis and auto-rickshaws – by saying that perhaps you don’t really want to stop it completely.

That is, perhaps you should consider it in the terms suggested by its affectionately commonplace name: gora tax. You are asked to pay more because you earn more. It is a pointed example of distribution of wealth and socialism at its most immediate. And you are a socialist at heart, aren’t you?

Auto-rickshaw on the roads of Delhi

That said, there are times when – bearing the above in mind – even the mildest, most generous visitor becomes enraged at such inflation. I’ve been asked to pay double, perhaps triple, the expected fair because it was Sunday; or because I had a small parcel; or because I looked gullible. That grates. When I happen to find myself in such a situation, I say this:

Mai Dilli-wallah hu – mai nahin tourist hu!

Which translates as:

I live in Delhi – I’m not a tourist!

Further translated means – I’m a local! I know what the price should be! Don’t overcharge me! (Note it’s ‘Dilli’ rather than “Delhi’. Saying the latter will have the inverse effect of marking you out more precisely as a tourist than you could imagine.)

My Hindi is delivered with a smile and the confidence of someone who does indeed live here – and is always met with a laugh. I become the figure of fun for a moment, my inexperienced tongue wrapping itself awkwardly around these unfamiliar words. After this, a boundary has been dismantled. It’s not the words as much as the sentiment behind them – a willingness to connect in the language of the country I’m in, outside of my comfort zone – a way of saying ‘I’m trying – can you try too?’

And what’s more, most of the time it works, too – if not for the reasons I intended. नमस्ते

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