Leaving behind their bullet-proof vehicles, four US woman diplomats have taken to the streets of the capital with their "personalised autorickshaws" in their "out-of-the-box" diplomacy style.
Ann L Mason, Ruth Holmberg, Shareen J Kitterman and Jennifer Bywaters love to go around in their black and pink three-wheelers, driving themselves for all their work, including 'official trips'. These diplomats have taken to the common man's commute not just for fun, but also to set an example.
Speaking to ANI, the diplomats shared their experience of learning this distinct mode of transport and how diplomats driving autorickshaws is a rare exception.
"From Detroit to my autorickshaw, I've had a lifelong love of vehicles and so everywhere I've been there's been something special about a vehicle but really none more special in my opinion than an autorickshaw. When I was in Pakistan, before coming to India, I was in armoured vehicles and they were big, beautiful vehicles. But I would always look out on the street and I would see the autorickshaws going by and I always wanted to be in the autorickshaw. So when I got to India and had the opportunity to buy one, I took it immediately," Ann L Mason told ANI.
"For me it was terrifying. Yes, learning to drive the autorickshaw was completely new for me. I had never driven any vehicle with a clutch, never driven a motorcycle, only automatic cars, my whole life," she said when asked about how hard was it to learn, maintain an auto and get a licence.
Asked about her inspiration behind the idea, Ann said that her mother inspired her to take chances and experiment in life.
"My inspiration is my mother, my mother always took chances. She travelled around the world, she was in the Vietnam war and she did so much with her life. And she always taught me to do interesting things and take a chance because one, you might not get another opportunity and two, you never know what you might experience. My daughter also drives the autorickshaw and so am learning from them every day, the interesting things, how they see the world," she added.
Her personalised black autorickshaw has a Bluetooth device and a curtain printed with the image of a tiger. She has taken special care to personalise her autorickshaw, nicknamed KITT, in homage to the 1980s' show Knight Rider.
Shareen J Kitterman, born in the south Indian state of Karnataka and holding US citizenship, flaunts her pink autorickshaw with flower magnets, and said she was inspired by the Mexican ambassador who too had an auto with a driver. She has also tied colourful tassels to both sides of her auto and stuck flags of the United States and India near the windshield.
"When I was in US planning to come to New Delhi, I'd heard about the Mexican ambassador. Ten years ago, she had an auto and she had a driver. That's when I started thinking about it. When I came here, I saw Ann who had an auto, so when I own an auto, I want to drive it. So, that was my whole goal," said Shareen.
Mexican Ambassador Melba Pria was the one who started the trend when she made a white-coloured rick her official vehicle.
“I do understand the Indian way of thinking and functioning, and I also understand the American way. So, one of the simple things I've done in the embassy is a lot of work notices, management notices used to be published in English only and now we publish both in English and Hindi. I think it's my way, and our embassy's way of showing respect for the culture and language of the local staff as well at the host country," she added.
Discovering the hustle and bustle of the city, Ruth Holmberg goes to the market with her 'black beauty' and meets people, which she called her way of diplomacy.
"I enjoy driving the auto very much and I love it when other women see that I am driving it and I like that they see this possibility for them as well. For me, diplomacy is not all that high level. Diplomacy is people meeting people, people getting to know each other, and getting a chance to build relationships and that's what I can do with the auto.
“I meet people every day, on my way from my work, going to the market. I know the vendors in my area, and I know people in the market... they are all excited to see me at the market with the auto. They come and introduce themselves and with that, I am able to build that one on one relationship and I think that is a very important part of diplomacy," said Holmberg from inside her black rickshaw.
Describing her journey, Jennifer Bywaters said that she got to see the good side of the people on the road who helped her and you need to have fun and be brave enough to think out of the box.
"When I got to be in Delhi, I met Ann and after riding in her auto I decided that I needed this vehicle too. I get to see the local perspective, more of the humanity. Some of the people helped me since I started driving the autorickshaw and so I saw the good side of the people in Delhi," said Jennifer.
Accustomed to the ride, she added that the hardest part was navigating around other autorickshaws but learning how to drive itself wasn't difficult.
"Learning wasn't difficult. I am used to driving with a clutch so that part was easy, and the hardest part of driving in Delhi is navigating around animals, bicycles and other autorickshaws. But I would say, have fun and be brave! Think outside the box and you do not need to do things as they have always been done," she added.