Mohammad Kasab is from Hyderabad, actually Secunderabad. He came here when he was 10, or 12 years old, telling his parents he and his friends were going to Bombay for a few days. That was 42 years ago. He says he is Bombay kai now. His wife was born here, his children were born here. He is the first driver from the South, and the first driver from a city, not a village. All migrations are the same, in that we are from one place and we leave it and go to another place. We spend our lives sliding back and forth along the continuum of place and home and belonging. Yet each migration is unique in where and why we left, and where we went and what we left behind, what we kept with us, what sticks to us and what falls away. Mohammad Kasab tells us his story and a lot about taxi driving. Click on ‘mohammad kasab podcast’ link below to stream or right click to download or click under podcast feed in column on right side. (24 min 7 sec)
mohammad kasab: roti milta upaar wala aasaan hain bahut
I was down at Lohar Chawl and then walked the line of taxis parked facing toward Mohammad Ali Rd, opposite from Crawford Market to find a taxi. That is where I found Mohammad Kasab sitting in his taxi in the middle of the line, in the middle of the day. I asked him what his day had been like, where his passengers has taken him around the city. In this outtake he tells me. (1 min 16 sec)
The photos below are of the Crawford Market road as we started, and turning the corner onto Mohammad Ali Rd as we drove under the flyover.
During the ride I had him stop at Ghaans Gali in Agripada. I have spent much time there, looking for radiumwallas, buying a meter, talking to taxi drivers. This time I wanted to buy more of the brightly coloured rexine mudflaps seen hanging behind the wheels of taxis and rickshaws. Ghaans Gali is where taxis go to get fixed; garage after garage and long lines of taxis, black and yellow stretching down the lane, dappled in the shade of the trees. Along with the garages are the parts and supply shops, the painters, the fender unbenders, the meter calibrators, the decoration sellers, the chaiwalas and the drivers in their khakhi uniforms, at once relaxing and anxious to get back on the road. There are more of these places throughout Bombay, though Ghaans Gali is one of the main ones in town. In this outtake Mohammad Kasab names another main one. I know why he says it. Its near his home. (28 sec)
Mohammad Kasab at Ghaans Gali:
In the podcast we talk about the Mills and their absence and the new city that is emerging in that space. Passing Dadar he talks about another absence, the Dadar wholesale market that has been pushed out of the city boundary, across the river and into Vashi. Byculla Market, Crawford Market and Dadar Market…..all once wholesale, now the next link down in the chain, each losing bits of their vibrancy and altering the routes of taxi drivers who trace the changes as they ferry the passengers who follow the goods. (1 min 9 sec)
I sit leaning forward in the back seat, draping my arm over the drivers seat with my small digital recorder in my hand, holding it in front of the driver’s mouth. The first time I tried recording, I sat in the front seat. At each signal we stopped, someone, in a car, in a taxi, yelled over to us, asking what was going on. Sitting at these long signals there is nothing to do but look around or watch the decrementing LED counter – 84-83-82-81-80…….. until its your turn. So people notice my forward pitch, my outstretched arm, a handheld small white object. We were idling at the Mahim Church signal, waiting to turn right onto the causeway. The beggar came begging and then the Cool Cab driver next to us noticed something different in the kaali-peeli next to him. (44 sec)
How many of us are in a job that we know we will do until we stop working? I always know that there will be another job at another place and probably, and usually hopefully, another type of work. Many of the drivers had various jobs before driving. And the younger ones have ideas, dreams of getting out of the taxi into something else… a shop, a hotel, maybe someone’s private driver and a few have plans of going ‘out’ to drive trucks somewhere else. I called Subash Chand a few months after our conversation. His phone was disconnected. Maybe his plan to go to Saudi came into being. The older drivers see this as their last job, the one they will do until they can’t do it, or anything, any more. In this outtake, Mohammad Kasab describes that time. (29 sec)
26 November attacks didn’t loom largely in our conversation. You can hear that in the podcast. Even with a name like Kasab. Which I didn’t want to bring up because..I’m not sure. It didn’t feel like a flow within the conversation perhaps because the attacks didn’t loom large. I did ask him if he took out the taxi the day after the attacks had started. Even now I am not sure if he didn’t or if he did but stayed only in Kurla, Sion, Matunga areas. Listen to the outtake. What do you think? (42 sec)
In the podcast, Mohammad Kasab talks about the move to clean up Bombay, to remove the dirtiness. I speak of a ‘word class city’ narrative being imposed on the spatiality and landscape of our city. Are we speaking about the same thing and each experiencing it and naming it within our own context? Mohammad Kasab likes clean roads and the removal of jopad-pattis and shantys from the streets. From Mohammad Ali Rd/Baba Amdedkar Rd. we went through Byculla to Saat Rasta to E. Moses. As we turned right onto Tulsi Pipe, he points out how clean the road is since all the shantys have been removed. Since I am holding the recorder in one hand, I am not able to take photos along the routes. Even more, to pull out a camera would signal a disengagement from his words, a turning away from the intimacy of the conversation; it is their stories that are the essence and the substance and the meaning. I returned to this spot a few days later and took these pictures of that stretch. The bus stop with the Slumdog Millionaire advertising poster in the place of where there used to be slums is not some intended heavy irony. It is how it is.
I am not seeing an increasing number of Meru taxis. That might have to do with permits. I wonder with the cancellation of the 8,000+ fiats whether the owners who can’t afford a loan for a new vehicle will lease the permit to Meru and more pastel generics will fill the cityscape. Despite the lure of comfortable AC, the kaali-peeli drivers chafe at the structured naukri type relationship and the terms of employment. As Mohammad Kasab closes with in the podcast, “kisko bhi paisa dena ka, kiska bhi chelaana ka”. In the outtake he talks about Meru terms but then explains who pays for kaali-peeli fender-benders. All you samanjdar drivers out on the Bombay roads, remember this. (1 min 36 sec)
and what of my my mudflaps from Ghaans Gali? Here they are…………..
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