It was not long after the attacks here in Bombay. The streets were full again, people rejoining their dailiness but not in the same way. Every day an event, an action, a gesture, that flowed in response to the attacks. On TV, in print, on the street there are noises of darkness; war, retaliation, chants signifying a venomous nationalism, a willingness to abrogate democratic liberties in an apprehensive and erroneous belief that this has something to do with prevention or even safety. And here is Sebi Fernandes in his taxi, talking of aam aadami, watching the television and how ‘feeling hogaya, dukh hogaya’ for the people, and his niece who works in housekeeping in the Oberoi, trapped and hiding over night there, caught in the firing, and his mistrust of the officially reported numbers of dead. Nothing will be solved by war he says, only it is the common man that dies. Jang nahin. Aman chahiye. Click on ‘sebastian fernandes podcast’ link below to stream or right click to download or click on feed in column on right side. (26 min 5 sec)
In the podcast audio, Sebi tells is a wonderful story about an ‘up-to-date’ young woman who gets in at Mahim and on the way to Colaba has him stop at Heera Panna so she can quickly buy something. She disappears and never comes back. He says that he thought she was educated but now he thinks she was just a fraudster. “What is this attitude that she isn’t educated because she was doing fraud” a very close friend asked. My friend is right of course. I wish I had asked Sebi something about that. His answer might have been interesting, especially because he believes that governments lie and cheat and fraud. But then maybe educated means something else to him, something that isn’t conferred with a degree. In the outtake below, Sebi tells another story but this time it is of a robbery, with a revolver, in broad daylight. He seems more surprised by the fraudulent woman than the gun-toting men. Are you? (3 min 52 sec)
Sebi grew up in a family of 10 children, poor, the son of a mill worker who gambled away his earnings. He is a Bombay-born, hard-working man in a city without enough housing that is a siren calling out to everyone the possibilities of opportunity. He says in the podcast audio that Bombay is a city unkind, but not fatal, to the poor. Yet in this outtake, he talks about ‘those people’, the ones who live on the footpaths, who have too many children, who drink too much, who beg for a living instead of working. These representations seem to hover over our city, voiced in all areas, 1 BHKs in Parel, in 2 BHKs in Vesova, in 3 BHKs in Chembur, bungalows in Juhu, luxury apartments atop Malabar Hill, and, yes, in the 1 room chawl of a taxi driver in Dadar West. Perhaps it makes it easier to live amidst the very marginalised, the barely making it, and go about our lives. (4 min 1 sec)
There is a taxi badge that every driver must have to drive taxi. Then there is the taxi permit that allows the taxi to be on the road. Permits are valuable. Without one, the taxi can’t ply. There is much jugaad around permits with the new Meru taxis. What I have never understood is whether the permit is with a person, or the permit is with the vehicle. In this outtake Sebi explains permits. (47 sec)
The taxis over 25 years old are being taken off the road in the next coming months. I keep hearing differing totals. Some say 11,000, some say 8,000, others quote numbers in this range. Each taxi has at least one driver and many have two drivers. That is a large number of drivers without a taxi to drive, without a job. I read an article in today’s paper about this. Not of course from the point-of-view of the drivers, but from the point-of-view of – isn’t it wonderful this progression into a model modern city. The headline caught by eye. It talked about polluting taxis being forced off the road for the betterment of our environment. How dishonest. Two years ago, or perhaps its three now, all the taxis were made to convert to CNG. At a cost to the owners for which many took out loans. Taxis aren’t polluting our city, whether they are 25 years old, or the last model to roll off the Fiat production lines in 1994. In this outtake, Sebi talks about the cancellation of taxis, and what it means for the drivers, of which by he way, he isnt one. (38 sec)
The cancellation of taxis, the appearance of fleet taxis, the everyday problems of working and the conflicts that are born from interaction with the public while being a service and being a business. Unions are supposed to protect us, to serve us and to negotiate in our name with whomever are the powers that be. I always ask the drivers if they are in a union, the whys and why nots and the benefits or not. In New York City, where many of the drivers are South Asian, there is a very strong, very progressive taxi union conceived and headed by an India-born woman named Bhairavi Desai (more here). There is a book about her and the union titled Taxi!: Cabs and Capitalism in New York City by Biju Mathew. I recommend it. So far, most of the drivers in Bombay have not given the unions very high marks. Sebi has thrown away his life time membership card in Nav Jivan, and here he explains why. (3 min 21 sec)
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