I was walking down the street near Cumballa Hill just as the sun was starting to be lost behind the buildings to the west. I was looking for a taxi and I saw a beautifully decorated one just a bit further down, parked on the side of the road. Then I saw the dicky was open and the lug wrench was on the ground along with a tire. A person was standing there covered with dirt and grease and sweat. He was so young I thought perhaps he was a worker from a garage. But it was the driver, Anil Chauhan, and he looked forlorn. He is 18 years old and has been driving a taxi for 15 days. He left home in UP 6 years ago, when he was 12 or 13. All these stories we have heard so far have been told from the distance of adulthood and memory. Anil Chauhan is these stories now, he is living it now and its at the beginning. Click on link below to stream or right click to download. (24 min 1 sec)
Anil Chauhan: Mein kuch banoonga jaroor
He couldn’t get the lug nuts to turn. I told him to try standing on the lug wrench. That is what i do, bounce on it with all my weight. I showed him how, but the lug wrench fell off. It was stripped clean and smooth on the inside, and couldn’t hold the corners of the lug nuts. Close by was a taxi that had just dropped off passengers and I sent him to ask the driver for his lug wrench and he came back with it and the driver also. I sat on a small step near the foot path and took photos as the other driver changed the tire. Look at the tire in the last 2 photos. You can see where the rubber has split.
Anil Chauhan’s brother is getting married. Anil got married last year. The older sister is already married. A younger sister is yet to be married. Two sons, two daughters. Two dahej dena and two dahej lena. Does it come out even? Click on the link below. (1 min 55 sec)
This was one of the taxis that has separate driver and passenger seats in the front and in between them a silvery pole from ceiling to floor with lines etched on it that snaking up the length to form diamond patterns. Most taxis dont have them, either the separated seats or the pole. It was also one of those taxis that has mirrors on the ceiling, a larger one over the back seat and a smaller one over the front seat. and a green or blue florescent light between them. Someone told me that they heard that it is in these taxis that lovers can ask a driver to park and walk away for awhile while they enjoy some masti. No driver has confirmed this. In these photos I am shooting up into the mirrors.
In the Dahej outtake above, Anil describes himself as from a choti jaat. I asked him about relations between barra jaat and choti jaat in his village. Listen to his answers. (2 min 37 sec)
Aside from the poles and the mirrors and one of my favourite seat cover patterns, this taxi had my favourite gear shift knobs. I love the the rainbow colours and the plastic rose fully blooming inside. And the grapes hanging from the rear view mirror. At night they flash different colours from the tiny lights inside. Watch the video to see the flashing and even more for a wonderful image of Anil in the rear view mirror.
Villages have large deep wells that the young boys splash around in. Anil said he goes to Juhu Chowpatty to catch the breezes. But has he ever gone swimming in the sea there? (27 sec)
The rear window of Anil’s taxi has Ganapati large holding a diya and hugging a Shiva Lingum. But dont miss the words in english on (our) left rear of the license. No what? Why not?
Anil feels that if one can drive in Bombay, one can drive anywhere. And for him, driving is what will enable him to provide for his family and fulfill his dreams. People have commented that the drivers don’t have very ‘big’ dreams. Some have found that sad. But what better dream is there to fulfill other than being able to provide for one’s family and give your children a better future than your present? Don’t most parents have that dream? What is it then that some people find sad? The difference in increment? (28 sec)
And what about these dreams? A room. A flat. In Bombay our dreams always contain that anxiety of somewhere to live. That particularity of Bombay: the disquiet about a room for one’s own. (1 min 26 sec)
By the time we reached Bandra, it was dark. My point-and-shoot has trouble in low light and I don’t like flash. I was trying different settings. One was a long shutter speed in my shaky hands. But the photo is interesting.
Anil Chauhan was 13 when he left home. He left school after 8th class. He has worked selling fruit, making brushes in a small workshop unit, carrying water on his head and now driving taxi. He has been back and forth from UP to Bombay to UP to Bombay over and over. But what advice would he give to a 13 year old who asked to come with him back to Bombay? (42 sec)
I take their phone numbers and I always give mine. We stay in touch usually. This is Anil’s diary as he looks for a page to write my number.
The intro music in the podcast is the song Boombai Nagari from the movie Taxi 9211, sung by Bappa Lahiri, Merriene , Nisha and Vishal Dadlani.
Music by Vishal Dadlani and Shekar, lyrics by Vishal Dadlani and Dev Kohli