One of my first projects when I took a break from working, was to document the changes in the bombay sky line as the mills in the center of the city were torn down and massive, looming structures to house the people and leisure and commerce of the new economy emerged in their place. The spatiality, the geography, the culture of the city was being slowly and radically altered. These conversations with the taxi drivers also seek to address this change, amongst other things. How is this experienced, where is their place in it, how it affects their lives and their work, the routes through the city. So when my friend Maura told me about Ram Sanvar Yadav, a mill worker by day and a taxi driver by night, we immediately arranged for me to meet him. This is his story. Click on ‘ram sanvar podcast’ link below to stream or right click to download. (25 min 30 sec)
ram sanwar: jo mehnant karta, jo uparwala dehta, woh milta, wohi sapna
We met at a petrol pump next the New Great Eastern Mills which is where he works. It is a taxi petrol pump, where drivers meet to turn over the taxis to each other at shift change. It was a sunday and many don’t drive that day.Taxis were parked everywhere. It was night and it was finally raining after the very late onset of the monsoon.
He speaks about his Union, the Rashtriya Mill Mazdoor Sangh (RMMS). His is one strand of the story. The RMMS was the only Union recognised by the Mill owners because of the Bombay Industrial Relations Act which ensured there was only one union, and the Congress Party spawned it. The RMMS was highly compromised and had lost the trust of the mill workers. There was another Union, the Girni Kamdar Sangh. And there was Datta Samant. And then there was a strike in 1982. Which has never officially been called off. But the Mills are over. And its not mainly from the strike. One of the best books I have read is called “One Hundred Years One Hundred Voices, the Millworkers of Girangaon: an oral history” by Meena Menon and Neera Adarkar. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Bombay, in labour history, in oral histories, in history, in voices, in cultural studies, in people, in movements and everyone else. Another informative book on the Mills and Bombay is “Ripping the Fabric: the Decline of Mumbai and its Mills” by Darryl D’Monte.
I have spent time at New Great Eastern. The owner has an interest in art and lets an artist I know do her shoots there and she let me come. I returned and took more photos of the plant floor.
The Mill areas of Bombay are thought to be Maharastrian, the Mill Worker culture established by migration from the Konkan coast and the Ghats. But the Mills also brought migrants from UP, from Bihar, from Tamil Nadu, from all around India. I asked Ram Sanvar how many workers from UP there were in the Mills at the beginning. I doubt his answer. (1 min 4 sec)
We speak about the changes we can see. Its easy to spot the new kaali-peeli vehicles, the aqua, tinny-looking Meru taxis. But there have been quieter changes also. Ram Sanvar talks about the changes in his dhandha that have been instituted for the safety of the passengers. (1 min 50 sec)
One of the most interesting things in the podcast was a fleeting mention that i regret I didn’t explore with him. The taxi owners, for instance Seva Lal but others as it has been a running theme throughout, have spoken about the taxi permits. They are crucial to the success or failure of the private fleet taxis and the existence of the kaali-peeli taxis. There is an off-the-books market for these permits. A taxi owner without a permit needs to find a taxi owner with a permit to lease the permit usually for five years. But Ram Sanvar, who has a permit, said that he had to produce a ration card, from Bombay, that is over 15 years old. This severely limits a migrant’s ability to arrive in Bombay, get a taxi-driving permit, buy a taxi and be a taxi owner. I believe that it was set up with that intention, to skewer the opportunity toward a person who is from Bombay and use the system to keep a migrant at an economic disadvantage. But these things don’t work. There are always alternate systems by those with a little bit of hustle to level the playing field.
a video of ram sanvar:
The work in the Mills was gendered of course. Though some women worked there, the worker population was primarily male. And the work that the women did do was lower down on the scale, less valued and less skilled and less paid. but women did work there. It being an industrial work force in one subscribed area, Ram Sanvar saw more women working outside the home and fields than he every had seen in UP. In this outtake, he speaks about the changes that are happening, changes he welcomes, from a past societal practice he sees as mistaken. As he also plans ahead for his daughters. (3 min 20 sec)
We came from Chinchpokli and around through Byculla and out to Worli and got in line at the seaface to get onto the sealink on the last night before they would start collecting the toll. We inched along with all the other vehicles that wanted their last chance at a free ride. It was still raining and everything was clear and glistening and there we were, in the sea, looking at the lights of the city across the water.
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