My cellphone rang, showing Seva Lal’s name in the screen. He wanted to know if I knew of any jobs and to give me the news that he was no longer driving his kaali-peeli taxi. It had been cancelled because it was 25 years old and he didn’t have the money to take up a loan, a loan that Rafiq called ‘taxi ki atyachar’. Seva Lal is episode 4, the 4th driver on this blog, the 4th podcast. You can see his taxi and hear his story from September 2007 here. His news made me sad, and even sadder, I don’t know of any jobs. Driver jobs that pay enough to support a family. The impending cancellation of the taxis has been a topic that has run through each and every conversation starting with Hari Lal Yadav, the first driver. And now they are being cancelled and the story continues but now it speaks of how this is being experienced, the weight of a loan, the loss of a livelihood. This is Seva Lal’s story. Click on ‘seva lal revisited podcast’ link below to stream or right click to download. (19 min 19 sec)
seva lal: kwaihish rekhna aur pura karna do alag-alag cheez
People hire drivers, often to take them to and from their offices where they get salaries that have benefits, one of which is paid leave. Another is paid sick leave. Yet, how often is that benefit passed on to the drivers who drive them there, or the cook that feeds them or the bai who keeps the house clean? (1 min 37 sec)
We met on the streets of Lower Parel, I waiting in front of Globe Mill Passage BMC school until he came to fetch me. We wanted to find a quiet place, a shady place to talk. None of the high office buildings around there would let us sit inside their compounds on a bench under a tree. We ended up back in a taxi, his saggeewala’s, parked on the street in a line of taxis where Seva Lal used to park his taxi before it was cancelled.
As with Jamid Ali, we already knew each other so in the place of discovery was a continuing story. The taxi wasn’t moving through the city, he didn’t have to concentrate on driving, we were facing each other in the front seat. All of this alters the rhythm of what is being asked and what is being said. I think the story here is different. Its not only the taxi. It is what happens after taxis get cancelled and the tenuous and shrinking spaces of livelihood. Seva Lal has gone from an autonomous job, an independent owner with a degree of control over any transaction, over his workday, to being an informal employee, a hired servant of someone else and at a 40% drop in earnings. It isn’t the cancellation or the new vehicles, though it is in a way. Why aren’t 25 year old private cars being taken off the road? There must be a way that the burdens of change aren’t disproportionately borne by those who are least equipped to grapple with them.
Seva Lal’s daughter was getting married and he was soon leaving for UP. I asked about the jamai, wondering if he would also be coming to Bombay to make his rozi-roti. and hopefully be closer to her family. UP is so far away when its your daughter leaving your home. (1 min 55 sec)
Below is a video from my point-and-shoot (which has a spot on the lens I think) where Seva Lal shows us his sethani ka ghar, the taxi line where he parked his taxi, his street and the lane to his room, next to the mandir.
In the first conversation with Seva Lal, he spoke about marriage and why his is successful. It touched me then and it has always stayed with me. I wanted to ask him what he had told his children, especially as the marriage of his daughter approaches.(2 min 7 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