Less than a month ago, auto driver Ghasamfar Ali K., picked up a passenger in Bengaluru at 8.30 p.m. and drove her to her destination.
Just another journey, as far as he was concerned. Except, by the next morning, he had become a social media celebrity. In less than a week, people were recognising him on the street. And last weekend, the same passenger travelled from her hometown in Chennai to Bengaluru, turning up unexpectedly at his home to say 'thank you.'
Back in Chennai, the passenger, Ranjani Shanker, a marketing consultant and musician, talks about how that seemingly ordinary journey made an impact on not just her, but thousands of people across the country. In Bengaluru for a short holiday, she found herself stranded in the city at night. “I needed to go to Kanakpura Road, about 38 km away, and I just could not get a cab." She finally tried the Ola Auto app on her phone and Ghasamfar Ali accepted the ride.
Before he began driving, however, he warned her that a large part of the route would be through deserted roads. “He said, “the light is very low and it will be lonely — I need to tell you that. But don't worry." Despite being nervous, she decided to get into his auto anyway, instructing him to stick to a route she picked via Google Maps. “About 15 minutes into the ride, the roads got dark. I was worried — but he kept checking on me, saying 'Are you ok, madam? Don't worry'."
When she reached Kanakpura, where a friend was to pick her up, she jumped out of the auto in relief. “It was not a city road, but at least there were tea shops, and some light." However, her friend was delayed — stuck in traffic. “Ghasamfar then insisted on waiting with me for 20 minutes till my friend arrived. And it was those 20 minutes that made me write that Facebook post."
She wrote the story as soon as she got back to her hotel that night. “I'll be honest — I did have a feeling it would be popular, but I did not expect it to become the sensation it did." In an hour, there were 400 Likes. By morning, there were 2,000. “I was like, whoa, I've never seen so many Likes on a post," Ranjani laughs. “Then 4,000, 5,000… now it's at 17,500." With almost 2,800 shares. But that's not all. It's also gone viral on a number of online news sites.
Why did this post get so popular? “That's something I've been thinking about," Ranjani says, “I feel it's the lack of positive news that's made it stand out. We hear so many negative stories — especially about cab and auto drivers. Men who are rude, who are offensive and dangerous." She talks about how women, in particular, related to her post. “I think women understand that fear of a dark, lonely road, because they've all felt it."
Meanwhile, Ghasamfar has been making waves in Bengaluru. Says Ranjini, “He's a local hero now: he's been on radio stations, three newspaper articles and television. The local Commissioner of Police also felicitated him and posted the picture on their Facebook page."
Ola finally got wind of the story and wanted to reward Ghasamfar. “They decided to pay off his autorickshaw loan. And they called to ask me if I'd like to join in and surprise him at his home," says Ranjini.
She agreed enthusiastically, and Ola flew her to Bengaluru last weekend. “He was so surprised when I walked into his house!" She says, “My family was insistent that I give him something as well, as a token of our appreciation and respect." So she gave him a watch, after which he introduced her to his wife and five-year-old son.
Ranjani then says with a smile, “As we were all sitting together and drinking tea, he said, “Madamji, I don't even know why I'm famous. I hear it's because of Facebook. I know what Facebook is… But what is a 'Like'?"