I was in Fort at the Paper Mart on Cawasji Patel St. buying printer ink, which meant I went to Yazdani for chai and brun-maska which meant I went to Strand. It was late afternoon, just before the office goers spring free and the taxis were lined up along DN Rd. I saw an Omni kaali-peeli taxi parked in the line of waiting taxis along the curb, a driver gazing out. It was Rafiq and he has lived in in Jijamata Nagar, Worli his whole life. His taxi had been cancelled because it was 25 years old. He has had this new one for a month. He says it is more comfortable to drive and he doesn’t get as tired but he describes the loan as atyachar, taxi ka atyachar, and Bombay as a confuse nagari. Click on ‘rafiq podcast’ link below to stream or right click to download. (26 min 15 sec)
rafiq: chelti jab tak chelana ka. ankh band hogaya tho anari
I apologise for the sound quality. I had forgotten to set the mic sense to uni-directional so I’ve picked up all the ambient sound in full. Plus, the back seat of the Omni is so far back, I had to sit on the hump on the floor behind the front seats and stick my arm through the opening between the driver and passenger seats. I kept sliding off the hump and my arm kept getting lower and lower as I got tired of holding it up. Though it did help create an intimacy in the shared hardship, I prefer the fiat, and the unbroken backseat to hang over.
More and more new kaali-peeli taxis catch the eye, moving through the montage of Bombay streets. The kaali-peeli blends into the known but the shape, the size, that difference, registers. The cityscape will slowly change as each month, each year, a few more new taxis appear in small increments within the total. Visually measuring the difference is like visually measuring the growth of a tree, until one day you realise the tree is big and there are no more fiats on the road. But the atyachar continues for the drivers. (57 sec)
New vehicle sightings:
Worli. Kalbadevi. Bombay Central. Mahim. I think if I were ever gone from here, hearing the names of the city spaces would make me teary. Nostalgia for that which I haven’t left, yearning for where I already am. In this outtake Rafiq tells me where today’s dhandha has taken him. Mapping the city in the naming of places, reciting Bombay. (1 min 48 sec)
Rafiq must pay Rs. 5,000/mo to the bank or they tow away his livelihood. That is Rs 2,500 for interest and Rs 2,500 on the capital. Or they tow away his livelihood. He can’t be more than 2 weeks late on the payment. Or they tow away his livelihood. He can’t go home until he has earned Rs. 700. And yet he keeps his children in fee-based English medium schools. And postpones the day he can stop renting and buy his own room in Nallasopara until he pays of his loan. In 5 years. 60 weeks. I asked him about his day off. (52 sec)
Rafiq is an SSC pass. Maybe 17 years ago, an SSC pass could hope to get a job. He hoped, but no job. For two months after his old fiat was cancelled, he was anari, doing a bit of refrigerator work, working contract at Jet Airways for Rs 5,000/mo. I asked him if he ever considered becoming a Meru Taxi driver, riding around in AC. From his answers, I wonder who they do find to drive for them. (1 min 19 sec)
Rafiq had many stories, especially about taking people in emergencies to hospitals. The Navi Nagar story is a favourite. But underlying it is the story of the service that taxi drivers do for us, rickshaw drivers do for us, that in our expectations, our class bias perhaps, or in our panic, we might not notice. The family didn’t have the neighbors help carry the woman down to the taxi. They yelled down 9 stories – hey taxiwala bhaiya, give us a hand. The Kamathipura story is also a hospital story. The third story is about returning things left in the taxi. Rafiq says of all these things, upaarwala barkat se achha.
outtake navynagar story (55 sec)
outtake kamathipura story (32 sec)
outtake returning samaan left in taxi (2 min 1 sec)
The litte beeps you hear in the podcast? Its the electronic meter. Each new vehicle has an electronic meter that shows the actual amount you have to pay. No more 13x multipliers. No more fare cards. No more reaching out the passenger side window to rotate the meter down, or up. And no more photos of decorated meters. Plus an added feature. In the front of the taxi, facing the street is will be a red light that shines if the taxi is available, the virtual meter up. (or is it the other way?)
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