10 episodes. 10 stories. This story started one evening coming out of Bombay Hospital visiting a friend from Ujjain who was here for his second operation on a broken leg. There was a line of cabs and for some reason I kept walking to the one far down the road. It was Sagir Bhai. He is full of stories and full of a sense of belonging to this city. We rode through the night and I heard his story as a young 16 year old who just failed his 10th Board Exams, running away from home, to Bombay, without even a change of clothes or an address. Just the wisp of knowledge that between 7am and 8am at a place called Maratha Mandir, he might find his sagaawalas. He found them, and like Sevalal, became a tailor and a sampler at Saat-Raasta and then a taxi driver. And now 24 years after getting off the 66 bus from Dadar Terminus at the petrol pump across from Bombay Central, he speaks of Raj Thackeray, of 1992, of 26 July, of film shoots, of his life then and now and to come.
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The streets are dotted with Meru cabs. They stick out like pastel interlopers amidst the black and yellow taxis and in their blandness, catch my eyes. They seem to exist in the interstices of private and public vehicle. I have yet to talk to a Meru driver but often imagine what that conversation would be like, especially if accompanied by Sagir Bhai or Sevalal or, if I could find him again, Babu. How many kaali-peeli drivers have gone over to Meru? According to this outtake, probably not many because of the required papers needed for submission. Have you ever tried to shift a ration card from your native place to Bombay? But also according to this outtake, perhaps many drivers, like many passengers, would like to drive around in an air-conditioned taxi in April, in May, in the rains or in that hot October month. Yet what will happen to kaali-peeli? And what will it mean to roji-roti if they are made to disappear. Perhaps its more than we think. This is a long outtake but wonderful.(4 min 3 sec)
click here for outtake —-> Meeru taxi and kaali-peeli
Everyone told Sagir Bhai not to drive a taxi but he didn’t listen. He wanted to drive. So 11 years of taxi driving later, what advice would he give a young man just arriving in Bombay? And would that young man listen? Do we heed advice? I didnt. No regrets. (1 min 22 sec)
click here for outtake —–> Taxi mat chelao
People ask me if drivers ever refuse to be recorded. No, none has refused but there were two drivers that were so reticent I didnt use the material. One was a Gujarati driver and the other was the 10th driver I recorded, an older Sion-Koliwada Sadarji, Ranbir Singh, born here in Bombay.
Actually, Hari Lal Yadav was my third conversation. My first was Shankar Jaiswal from Jaunpur, UP, done exactly one year ago. The traffic noise is overwhelming in parts of that conversation because I didn’t know to set the mic sense in the recorder from omni-directional to uni-direction. I am clearly nervous and thus over-animated. He is wonderfully forthcoming. Perhaps I can clean it up and post it some day. The second was with the Gujarati driver. He is so reticent your can hear the sweat forming on my upper lip as I try to engage.
One year. 10 lives shared. I love these stories, these accumulating histories of the drivers in the city around them, the city around us.
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