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Like Formula One, but with rickshaws

The stands were packed. Autorickshaw drivers were the majority, with family, neighbours and a few curious locals occupying a few other seats. The place was the Go Karting track at Powai, northeast Mumbai, often said to resemble downtown New York.

An English song was playing as five autos lined up for the first semi-final of the day at 5 pm. The conductor of the races was a forceful man who screamed in English and Hindi. "Commanders, Marshals, Volunteers -- clear the tracks. Pit stop one, OK, Pit stop two, OK, Pit stop three, OK." The pit stop volunteers signalled back. One last word with the track Marshals, and the race was on.

The rickshaws raced along the curves, cheered by frenzied friends of those driving them. The music was loud, the crowd foot-tapping, and the volunteers swaying. The braked at the first pit stop, a needle they had to thread. And on they went, the crowd going mad in tow.

The second pit stop was for samosas and water. When one poor fellow forgot the water, a volunteer called him back. Another friend who tried to help with the helmet was taken off the floor. They raced and chased each other from one stop to the next, stopping once more for a sticker to be put on their vehicles. Then, the finish line loomed. And one auto had reached the finals.

Text and Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar

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