episode 23 mahadev singh

Posted in bombay, hindi, migration, podcast, taxi, taxi story with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on 1, November 2009 by meterdown

Kala Ghoda. The rains had disappeared. Eid had been celebrated. Dusserah also. There was a taxi and in it Mahadev Singh. When he left Jharkhand 20 years ago as a 20-year old youth, it was Bihar he left. He came with friends who were cooks in homes on Malabar Hill. He didn’t like cooking. He has been driving a taxi for 10 years. This is his story. Click on ‘mahadev singh podcast’ link below to stream or right click to download. (26 min 21 sec)

mahadev singh podcast

mahadev singh

mahadev singh: idhar aye ek baar toh phir idhar se jaane ke dil nahin karta

What I heard, what came through, was the ambivalence experienced in the midst of change. A change to taxi driving, a city changing around him. Passengers picked the new vehicles to ride in. No one wants to ride in a fiat anymore. But as we spoke about the fiats, they became the desired, they have room for legs, room for luggage. Poised on the point of change, teetering between what was and what is becoming, what will be lost and what is being gained, Mahadev Singh spoke from both sides. We can contain these feelings, the simultaneous good and the simultaneous bad.

road in front of mantralaya1 road in front of mantralaya2 road in front of mantralaya3

I spoke to my first Meru driver. It was his 4th day driving. He was an older man who had driven kaali-peeli all his life. He owned three taxis that he rents out. He said he wanted to see what it was like to drive this fleet taxi. But he didn’t hold much stock in it. He was going to give it a month test. He liked the A/C but he thought in the end he could make as much money driving less hours in his own taxi. There was an article in the Wall Street Journal about kaali-peeli drivers attacking Meru drivers because of the competition and loss of business. Though I have never heard about it, I guess it has happened. Man does bite dog sometimes. But I have asked every driver about Meru and have never heard any hostility. They seem to feel that there are enough fares for everyone, that enough people won’t pay extra, or can’t pay extra for the comfort of A/C or the convenience of electronic meters.  I admit though, I haven’t asked the Meru drivers their side of the story.

calendar and text ceiling cloth nimbu mircha side medallion

Mahadev Singh lives in a flat, in Mahalakshmi, with running water and a bathroom . The rent is Rs3000/mo which is the price of the maintenance the owners have to pay. This is a flat in a new building erected on the site of demolished jopad-patti and his landlords are rehabilitated jopad-patti dwellers. I have another friend who lived in a run down broken room in a rundown broken building that got torn down by a builder and from that she was given a nice flat with a kitchen and a bathroom in a nice building full of supportive rehabilitated neighbors at a maintenance she can afford. These stories aren’t all bad. But there aren’t enough good ones. More people don’t get flats or though the flat are free, the maintenance is too high to afford or the flats are too far away to make it to work or they get trundled off to transit camps from where they never leave or they can’t prove they are eligible for a new flat, they can’t prove they exist. Lately Dharavi redevelopment land grab has been in the new daily here, here and here for instance.

mahadev sign smiling

This is the only outtake. Because traffic was light, because we took the sealink, the raw audio was much shorter than usual. I cut this out of the podcast mostly because it came at the end, and the ending is too abrupt. Nothing lingers. I knew the answer to this question, which is why I asked it. Patrilocality. The daughter leaves her home and belongs to another family elsewhere.  How can you give you daughter her inheritance of your land if she belongs to another family somewhere else? In its stead is dahej, rakhi, maamera/maayra/naanero, these cultural strategies for passing inheritance to daughters but end up devaluing their births. (34 sec)

outtake inheritance

meter meter side arm steering wheel and hand

My friend Kannu wants to put his son, Divesh, in a boarding school like Mahadev Singh has done with his son. Kannu lives in Bombay and makes his money as a maharaj, cooking for various families. His village is 45 kms from Udaipur on the Chittorgarh-Udaipur road. He himself is an 8th class fail. He says boy children are too difficult to discipline and the women in the household anyway are too busy. I think about all the fathers in distant cities and wonder about this migration where men leave their families and spend decades away earning the money that farming no longer provides.

taxi side taxi back streamer taxi leaving

I think Mahadev Singh is right about the sealink. Rs30 is just about the right price where people would take it instead of inching along and jockeying for position amidst the pollution and honking in the Cadell Rd/LJ Rd traffic. Rs50 is just over that amount that most people will pay. People who have cars that is, people who are used to paying for petrol. I have only taken the sealink in taxis to augment this blog with more photos and videos and scenes of Bombay from out in the water, the city from a distance.

sealink toll booth2 sealink toll booth

mahadev singh3 mahadev singh2

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


episode 22 vijay kumar

Posted in bombay, hindi, podcast, taxi, taxi story, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 25, August 2009 by meterdown

I was wandering August Kranti Maidan on a day that teetered on the edge of downpour – clouds massing above and the heat pressing down, heavy with the weight of humidity. A nicely decorated fiat taxi was parked on the side of the road, facing toward Kemps Corner. It was Vijay Kumar’s, Vijay Kumar Srivastava’s, born in Bombay from UP migrants.  This podcast is a Bombay story told by a Class 3 drop-out who has poured his sweat into the labouring jobs that build this city and keep it vital. He calls Bombay home but he doesn’t see his place in the future city. Click on ‘vijay kumar podcast’ link below to stream or right click to download. (24 min 35 sec)

vijay kumar podcast

vijay kumar

vijay kumar: garib adami ko chahiye ke apna haq kissi ko nahin deve

Vijay Kumar’s Bombay story continues. Here he talks about 1992-1993. He slept on the footpaths at Worli because the room his parents lived in was too small for all of them. What he says is what I often hear, that it was the manipulations of the politicians, that it was garib log who lost their life’s work, that the city became more visibly disjoined as Muslims moved together for safety, that his social orbit is eroded by what happened. The sound quality of this outtake is a bit bad at the beginning. It’s the wind blowing into the recorder. But later in the outtake, when the wind noise stops, you can hear the rain. (2 min 11 sec)


flashing heart insideflashing heart

Vijay Kumar tells us that he is from Bombay and tells us why Bombay and why not UP. And then he brings up Raj Thackarey and the lafda. And recites to us all his Bombay based documentation and that he speaks perfect Marathi and so he says, he should be OK. It is as if he has internalised a checklist of authenticity, imposed from an outside source, that since he thinks he fulfills it, his inner sense of home and belonging to our city is safe. Safe in the sense that if this lafda starts again, he won’t have to leave. But the anxiety is there, voiced in the recitation of the checklist, in the need to justify his claim of belonging.

I was not born in Bombay. I do not speak Marathi. Bombay is my home. There is no dissonance in these sentences.

Everyone is used to a bit of corruption. Usually it is tolerated if what one pays for gets done. Less so if it is already within the realm of the day-to-day duties. Such as paying for have one’s papers processed faster is OK, but paying just to have them processed is not OK. Any everyone ‘knows’ that politicians are corrupt and eat our money, but if they also deliver, this too is borne. But how much is too much stealing? Vijay Kumar draws his line. (26 sec)


vijay kumar in rear viewvijak kumar rear view me clicking

Vijay Kumar sees a future city in which he has no place. Sion and Bandra will be joined – the Dharavi reclamation project – the cleaving together with BKC – and folded into Bombay which will inhabited by only an upper class of people. There will be Malls, shiny new taxis, big flat complexes. There will not be thelawalas, jopadi, or much of an informal sector, which is the hustle and rozi-roti for poorer people. The work, the work that demands labour, will be done by a class of people living outside of Bombay city, who will travel in and then travel back out. Looking at the Virar fast at 6:30pm, with people hanging from the footboards, the windows, the top, we are almost there. I would have thought he had also internalised the floating discourse of a Bombay imaginary or maybe he had accepted with the cold strands of logic, a reality bearing down on him. But then he says – garib adami ko chahiye ke apni haq kissi ko nahin deve. Which haq is that? To live in our city? Yeh hai apni haq.

The outtake below is his philosophy on work and some stories from his private life. (2 min 53 sec)


design2design2design2front wind screen


We turned right at Kemps Corner onto Peddar Rd and drove past Haji Ali. At the next signal, right after National Sports Club, the signal that you can turn right into for the back galli into Nehru Centre, the car next to us asked for directions. Listen to this outtake and you tell me, where exactly did he mean to turn right to get to where they were going? Pooch pooch ka jana.


vijay kumar in taxi2ganapati fan and hanumandohickydesign

Below is a point&shoot video of the flashing heart, of Vijay Kumar and my dog Josh, barking in the background.

vijay kumar5vijay kumar4vijay kumar3

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

episode 21 ram sanvar

Posted in bombay, hindi, migration, podcast, taxi, taxi story with tags , , , , , , , , , , on 11, July 2009 by meterdown

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 podcast

ram sanwar

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.

petrol pump3 petrol pump2

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.

mill gatemill gate office

mill chimney mill chimney street

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.

mill floor

mill woman2 mill woman


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)

outtake kitne bhaiyya log mill main

taxi dashboard2taxi dashboard

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)

outtake taxi safety today and hifi taxis

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.

taxi backmeter2

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)

outtake UP women and working

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.

sealink towers1sealink towers2

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

episode 20 seva lal revisited

Posted in bombay, hindi, podcast, taxi, taxi story with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on 11, June 2009 by meterdown

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 revisted podcast

seva lal revisited

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)

outake paid leave

sethani ka ghar sethani ka ghar2

lane to seva lals room

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.

seva lal and taxi line

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 and passerby sevalal phone seva lal3

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)

outtake ladki and jamai

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)

outtake successful marriage

bombay today…….

new taxi passenger

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

episode 19 rafiq

Posted in bombay, hindi, podcast, taxi, taxi story with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 20, April 2009 by meterdown

I was in Fort at the Paper Mart on Cawasji Patel St. buying printer ink, which meant I went to Yazdani for chai and brun-maska which meant I went to Strand.  It was late afternoon, just before the office goers spring free and the taxis were lined up along DN Rd. I saw an Omni kaali-peeli taxi parked in the line of waiting taxis along the curb, a driver gazing out.  It was Rafiq and he has lived in in Jijamata Nagar, Worli his whole life. His taxi had been cancelled because it was 25 years old. He has had this new one for a month. He says it is more comfortable to drive and he doesn’t get as tired but he describes the loan as atyachar, taxi ka atyachar, and Bombay as a confuse nagari. Click on ‘rafiq podcast’ link below to stream or right click to download. (26 min 15 sec)

rafiq podcast


rafiq: chelti jab tak chelana ka. ankh band hogaya tho anari

I apologise for the sound quality. I had forgotten to set the mic sense to uni-directional so I’ve picked up all the ambient sound in full. Plus, the back seat of the Omni is so far back, I had to sit on the hump on the floor behind the front seats and stick my arm through the opening between the driver and passenger seats. I kept sliding off the hump and my arm kept getting lower and lower as I got tired of holding it up. Though it did help create an intimacy in the shared hardship, I prefer the fiat, and the unbroken backseat to hang over.

inside meter taxi-inside-back-seat

More and more new kaali-peeli taxis catch the eye, moving through the montage of Bombay streets. The kaali-peeli blends into the known but the shape, the size, that difference, registers. The cityscape will slowly change as each month, each year, a few more new taxis appear in small increments within the total. Visually measuring the difference is like visually measuring the growth of a tree, until one day you realise the tree is big and there are no more fiats on the road. But the atyachar continues for the drivers. (57 sec)

outtake aur atyachar kya hai

New vehicle sightings:

aniket omni fiat meru

maruti taxi cng maruti in traffic

Worli. Kalbadevi. Bombay Central. Mahim. I think if I were ever gone from here, hearing the names of the city spaces would make me teary. Nostalgia for that which I haven’t left, yearning for where I already am. In this outtake Rafiq tells me where today’s dhandha has taken him. Mapping the city in the naming of places, reciting Bombay. (1 min 48 sec)

outtake aaj ka dhandha

vt and fiat2

Rafiq must pay Rs. 5,000/mo to the bank or they tow away his livelihood. That is Rs 2,500 for interest and Rs 2,500 on the capital. Or they tow away his livelihood.  He can’t be more than 2 weeks late on the payment. Or they tow away his livelihood. He can’t go home until he has earned Rs. 700. And yet he keeps his children in fee-based English medium schools. And postpones the day he can stop renting and buy his own room in Nallasopara until he pays of his loan. In 5 years. 60 weeks. I asked him about his day off. (52 sec)

outtake no chutti

rafiq in sideview

Rafiq is an SSC pass. Maybe 17 years ago, an SSC pass could hope to get a job. He hoped, but no job. For two months after his old fiat was cancelled, he was anari, doing a bit of refrigerator work, working contract at Jet Airways for Rs 5,000/mo. I asked him if he ever considered becoming a Meru Taxi driver, riding around in AC. From his answers, I wonder who they do find to drive for them. (1 min 19 sec)

outtake meru ka naukri

rafiq in taxi rafiq taxi side view

taxi front taxi back

Rafiq had many stories, especially about taking people in emergencies to hospitals. The Navi Nagar story is a favourite. But underlying it is the story of the service that taxi drivers do for us, rickshaw drivers do for us, that in our expectations, our  class bias perhaps, or in our panic, we might not notice. The family didn’t have the neighbors help carry the woman down to the taxi. They yelled down 9 stories – hey taxiwala bhaiya, give us a hand. The Kamathipura story is also a hospital story. The third story is about returning things left in the taxi. Rafiq says of all these things, upaarwala barkat se achha.

outtake navynagar story (55 sec)

outtake kamathipura story (32 sec)

outtake returning samaan left in taxi (2 min 1 sec)

The litte beeps you hear in the podcast? Its the electronic meter. Each new vehicle has an electronic meter that shows the actual amount you have to pay. No more 13x multipliers. No more fare cards. No more reaching out the passenger side window to rotate the meter down, or up. And no more photos of decorated meters. Plus an added feature. In the front of the taxi, facing the street is will be a red light that shines if the taxi is available, the virtual meter up. (or is it the other way?)

meter and radio meter indicator front

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

episode 18 kadeer

Posted in bombay, hindi, podcast, taxi, taxi story with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 4, March 2009 by meterdown

Back at Crawford Market. I had walked from VT, searching for one of the new taxis, an omni, an alto, the new kaali-peelis. They are beginning to appear on the streets as the over 25 year old taxis are cancelled. I couldnt find any so again walking the taxi line and I saw a taxi with an array of tigers on the back windscreen. Ahh, Shiv Sena I thought. This might be an interesting conversation. The driver agreed to recording our conversation. When I got in I saw the decorations on the dashboard and the front windscreen and had a moment of dissonance.  Kadeer started the engine and I started the recorder.  He talks much faster than he drives. Click on ‘kadeer podcast’ link below to stream or right click to download or click kadeer under podcast feed in column on right side. (23 min 28 sec)

kadeer podcast


kadeer: mera niyaat achcha karna ke liya sochta

I took a photo of his Shiv Sena card but the camera couldn’t focus through the opaque, foggy plastic protector. Kadeer isn’t very different from the netas who switch parties, not because of a change in beliefs but because of some personal advancement. Or the political parties that partner up with yesterday’s opposition to better the equation to stay in or gain power. Kadeer isn’t switching between parties and Kadeer isn’t trying to gain power. Just trying to keep it steady.


Cultural terrorism has  ratcheted up its violence. Roving groups of vigilantes are attacking women for entering male spaces and enacting in public, male acts such as drinking alcohol. Or these same men, wearing western clothes, attack women for wearing western jeans.  or being alone on the streets at night. This violence against women by individuals is just part of the trajectory that extends out of actions by the State. In Bombay they went after the bar girls and closed the bars. Women sitting together outside, on a bench, by the sea, in a car, after midnight are told to go home by police roaming the streets on their bikes or in their qualises or those big dark blue vans with the yellow stripes. Couples are harassed and arrested for public displays of affection in parks or at the water’s edge by the sea. This outtake talks about the Bandra-Worli sealink and then the police at reclamation lovers’ lane. (1 min 22 sec)

outtake sealink & lovers lane

sealink from hinduja almost 3 years ago

I am being prosaic if I write about the cyclical nature of Bombay road work. The machines that appear as soon as the rains stop to dig up the road that was dug up and finished last year, well after the rains started. We were struck in traffic on the Mahim end of the Western Highway, below the western line trains are running and the Mithi River and the green of the mangroves. The workers were doing something on that part of the road where the highway is getting ready to end, widening or patching or digging and most of the lanes were closed down. As we nudged our way into the bottleneck, this was our conversation. He calls it a gandi baat. (36 sec)

outtake gandi baat

kadeer5 kadeer4

What is the middle class? Is it that large majority that neither lives in a jopadpatti or a luxury flat, driven around in a mercedes? Are the highly paid IT workers middle class and the BMC primary school teacher who rides second class from Bhayander or Dombivili both middle class? Were the mill workers middle class? Kadeer locates himself firmly within the middle class which he then defines. The bada class he says can’t sleep at night. They have big tensions. Chotta class has smaller tensions. I don’t think its a matter of the height of the fall or the weight of the money but rather the precipitousness of the consequences. Maybe the poor don’t spend on a luxury like neend ki goli. (2 min 3 sec)

outtake middle class neend ki goli slumdog


As we wound around the bylanes of Bandra, avoiding the road work between Lilavati and Baristas, Kadeer started talking about playing housie and the different places on which night he goes to.  It took me a few days into the edit to understand that housie is bingo. Am i right? I loved his description. (33 sec)

outtake housie

These photos are of Crawford Market and the street in front of it. Kadeer was just pulling out of the taxi line and I was shooting through the window. Look lovingly at Crawford Market. Once again it is poised on the tip of a decision; is the whole structure Heritage Grade I or just part of the facade and the tower? Will it remain as we see it or will some large looming cement and glass edifice rise from its centre and wrap around and devour it?

crawford market crawford market3

crawford market2 street scene

A plethora of TV stations come to us through cable. In these days of 24 hours news stations, in all languages, competing for many of the same segments, its hard to separate the fact from the fantastical sometimes especialy since often they are presented as the same thing. In this outtake Kadeer recounts what he saw on the news and then his favourite programme on his favourite channel. (52 sec)

outtake discovery channel

In the photos of the dashboard above, there is a newpapers rolled and stuck behind the decorations. It carries news of and for the diaspora and it has a special section for overseas, outside of India, assignments.  Kadeer wants to get out of the taxi, get out of India and make some money. A migrant in waiting.


We all have our stories of trudging through the rain and waist high water the day of the flood on 26 July. I was in Lower Parel, at work. My neighbor was near Mahalakshmi Station. We met on Tulsi Pipe and walked to Bandra. What i remember the most, even more than the thigh high water that filled my ground floor house, is the people who lived in the jopadpattis that lined Tulsi Pipe Rd at that time. The streets were flooded, their shanties were flooded yet they piled whatever they could find to demarcate the open drainage holes and various ditches in the road and stood out in the rain that night, to warn us, the multitudes wading thru the waters, so no one would fall in. This is not a spirit of Bombay story necessarily, though it could be written up and prismed that way. I wonder where they went after their jopadi were torn down.  Here is Kadeer’s story. (50 sec)

outtake 26 july flood

meter and tiger

meter3 meter2

Kadeer bought the taxi from another driver seven months ago. That driver took out a loan and Kadeer pays him monthly on the loan terms. Rs 4,000/mo. If he drives 6 days a week, that is about Rs170/per day that he has to earn to pay the loan. This is actually better than if he were a driver leasing a taxi where the first Rs/200 per day would be for the owner. In this outtake Kadeer talks about the union and the loan. (49 sec)

outtake union and loan

front close front

Taxis have been in the news lately. There was an article about permits and how the state government is thinking of making this system of agreements legal. I had no idea that it wasn’t. In the podcast with Kadeer, with Sebi, with Junaid they all speak about the permit system.  Here is a Times of India article on the legalising of the “rampant illegal transfers“.  Here is another Times of India article explaining the number of cancelled taxis and the terms for getting new vehicles. And what about the 25 year old taxis that are still driving around? DNA explains what actions are being taken to stop them in their tracks here.

and after the news, a shameless plug.

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

episode 17 mohammad kasab

Posted in bombay, hindi, migration, podcast, taxi, taxi story, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on 2, February 2009 by meterdown

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 podcast

mohammad kasab

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)

outtake aaj ka dhanda

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.

crawford market rd mohammad ali rd corner

mohammad ali rd mohammad ali rd 2

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)

outtake ghaans gali

ghaans-gali ghaans gali2 ghaans gali3

Mohammad Kasab at Ghaans Gali:

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)

outtake dadar market

key meter rack

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)

outtake at the signal

mohammad kasab in the rearview

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)

outtake kab tak taxi chelayga

mohammad kasab2 mohammad kasab3

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)

outtake nov 26 taxi

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.

tulsi pipe footpath looking north tulsi pipe footpath looking south tulsi pipe footpath from a distance


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)

outtake meru and more

ya baba makhdoom taxi back mk

and what of my my mudflaps from Ghaans Gali? Here they are…………..

mudflap parrotmudflap starmudflap stop

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