Archive for 1992

episode 27 kader usman mujawar

Posted in bombay, hindi, podcast, taxi, taxi story with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 13, June 2011 by meterdown

My Aunt was on a cruise that docked in Bombay for a day or two. We were to meet at Green Gate at Ballard Estate and I was to come aboard to see what a cruise ship looks like inside. This never happened because of a labyrinth of Catch-22 permission and permit loops that took us to various offices until we finally gave up and sat at Samovar, chatting.  We took a taxi to Yellow Gate that then took her inside to the embarkation place of her soon to be leaving boat. Outside of Yellow Gate I looked around and there was Kader Usman Mujawar in his taxi. He is from Maharashtra, from Karad, and he came here when he was 18, as an 8th class pass, looking to find a job in a Mill or the Fiat factory, but ironically, instead, he has been driving a Fiat taxi for the past 25 years. Click on ‘kader usman mujawar podcast’ link below to stream or right click to download. (25 min 20 sec)

kader usman mujawar podcast

kader usman mujawar: yeh bijnes mila apenko, aur kya

Mujawar Bhai’s son has had difficulty getting employment. ‘When they hear a Mian Bhai name, they tell us kal ao. But don’t put that on the internet, this thing we are discussing.’ After I turned off the recorder, I asked him again for permission to leave that in the recording. He was non-committal, but had not said yes. During the edit I left it in and when i finished, I called him. My Hindi is good, but not good enough to explain on the phone, what the internet actually is and what a podcast actually is and who hears it and what can or can’t happen, to someone who doesn’t participate in this online world. I had Jamid Ali call him to explain and answer any questions. Afterward I called Mujawar Bhai and he said yes, leave it in. He was worried that someone would hear it and he would somehow be in trouble. This is where we are in this place in this city at this time. Here is the truth, a truth that is experienced, and a truth that is known to many. But to say it out into the public sphere, is fraught with unease and  foreboding.  This is a double weight, the weight of the experience and the weight of the silencing.


I’m interested in the journeys that the drivers take through the city. Where were they before I got in their cab. What are the routes they have traced through the city through the day? I love maps and I imagine an interactive map tracing our route layered over our conversation and photos. Our route and our words, entwined and made visible, the verbal tread marks of our interplay.  Photos, video clips, words, streets, locations. Someday maybe. Any ideas are welcome. In the meantime, here is a little outtake of what brought Mujawar Bhai to Yellow Gate. (46 sec)

outtake yellowgate


A few days before I met Mujawar Bhai, I was at Opera House, trying to buy 1/2′ steel colour radium strips that are the base for my steering wheel wrappings, over which I wrap that brightly neon coloured plastic rope that you see on some taxi steering wheels. The shop I go to was out so instead I bought some 1″ naurangi and a cutter to cut it into 1/2″. Even though we were at Yellow Gate, I asked Mujawar Bhai to go to Gans Gali to see if a radiumwala might be there. When we reached, he asked a taxi driver leaning against a taxi. This outtake is the conversation. (1 min 27 sec)

outtake looking for radium

We did go to Saat Raasta but the store was closed. Below is the a strip of the 1.2″ steel colour and the 1″ naurangi and the cutter.

While we were talking and driving, one of those large Pajaro cars that sit so high, came fast at us from a street that entered from our left. It was clearly one of those moves to intimidate us into stopping so it could make its right turn across our path. Mujawar Bhai didn’t even blink. I asked him about it.

outtake bada gadi k dadagiri


Mujawar Bhai was in Bombay in 1992-1993 during the riots. Whenever I ask a driver – and I ask every driver who has been in Bombay that long- all I say is 92-93. They know what I am asking about. It has left a mark, it scathed this city and all you have to name is those years.

outtake 92-93

Look closely, you will see me taking his photo, reflected in his glasses.

The most delightful thing happened. Anish Kothari, who has left comments on the blog and with whom I have corresponded, wrote me an email volunteering to translate the podcast into English. This is  a true gift from him. I have wanted both translation into English and transliteration in Hindi. I asked Anish to write a little paragraph on himself so that people can get to know him and his presence on the internet. This is what he wrote:  ‘Anish recently returned from Mumbai where he had many interesting conversations with taxi and auto drivers. You can read his blog or follow him on Twitter. You can also thank him. I’m thanking him over and over.  Don’t miss his blog. Its very thoughtful and it has some wonderful images. So click here to read the English translation of the podcast. Its nice if you can follow along to the audio so you can hear the nuances of voice.

People who follow these taxi conversations often ask me to broach subjects with the drivers. I’m quite happy to do so because it brings in fresh ideas and openings into the exchanges. One person brought up this white uniform-khakhi uniform division, this differentiator that signals a place in a hierarchy. And then this article.  Sometimes people request questions that transgress the delicate boundaries of congruity and decorum. I am a woman. The driver is a man. The taxi encloses us in a private intimate space with only a seat back between us, breached by my arm and the recorder. We are talking of his life and I am trying to build trust. So when we talk of passengers kissing in the backseat or safe sex, there is a sweet chasteness in the words, as if we are balancing between danger and rectitude. Instead I can post this, a wonderful article by Ally Gator in Timeout where he explores in full those areas I can not.

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 25 idris

Posted in bombay, hindi, migration, podcast, taxi, taxi story, union with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 19, January 2010 by meterdown

I was at TISS for a conference and it was evening. As I walked out to the street,  there were some taxis parked around the taxi stand sign, the drivers leaning against their taxis talking or wiping them down with those soft clothes sold by hawkers at signals, the taxis shining in the light of the street lamps. My cellphone rang and by the time I clicked off, the taxis were gone. I stood watching the traffic surge by when the signal at the corner was green, and enjoying the sudden absense of sound when the signal was red. Rickshaws slowed down in front of me as the drivers and I locked eyes, theirs in that unspoken question – auto chahiye –  and then sped off. A taxi stopped. It was Idris who is from Gujarat and came to the city 30 years ago. This is the 25th episode, which is an occasion of sorts, so in celebration of that and because Idris is engaging and loquacious, its the longest podcast so far. Click on ‘idris podcast’ link below to stream or right click to download. (31 min 40 sec)

idris podcast

idris: kwahish ek hi madam ke bas, uparwala apna imaan ke saath khatma kare

Idris lives in Dharavi. In the podcast we discuss the Dharavi redevelopment plans. In the outtake below we have a difference of opinion about compensation for those that will be project affected. We also have different levels of faith, both in the promises made and in the intentions behind the project. But I don’t live in Dharavi. But he is not in danger of ‘resettlement’.  (2 min 14 sec)

outtake dharavi discussion with differences

Idris owns his flat along with his brothers. They booked and bought it about 8 years ago for Rs1.8L. Today it would be 40L. All the brothers worked for a time in Saudi. If they hadn’t, they probably wouldn’t have been able to buy a flat. Not even in Dharavi eight years ago. Their 570 sq ft piece of solidity. Solidity is difficult to purchase on a worker’s salary. Solidity is difficult to come by here in our Bombay for people whose family home is or was elsewhere. Solidity, a place of one’s own, and in his case, a feeling of safety. (1 min 20 sec)

outtake idris’ flat

Idris thinks that the problem is that our wants have increased. We used to be content with only having two or three sets of clothes. True, today there is more to buy, we want more, and living demands more wrap-around accouterments. But prices have gone up more than our ability to earn. When Idris made rs90/day, ghee cost rs30/kilo. Now he takes home on average rs300/day but ghee costs rs300/kilo. He used to earn 3 kilos a day driving taxi. Now he earns only one. The outtake below talks about the price of real estate in Dharavi and his earnings, then and now. (1 min 5 sec)

outtake rocketing real estate

One night I was coming back from Pune and I got down from the bus in Sion and took a rick back home. We went through Dharavi and I took this video of the street that Idris lives on. Just as we were getting to Idris’ building, at that T junction, a bus pulled up along side, blocking the view. I would like to shoot more of the streets that we journey on as we talk. But I am holding the recorder and even more so, if I turn away from the rhythms of our conversation, I am turning away from the small connections being created.

Idris has four daughters all married and two sons, both of whom are in Saudi working. In this outtake he speaks of his daughters and his sons. (1 min 3 sec)

outtake daughters and sons

I have yet to hear a driver praise the union. You won’t hear it here. (1 min 36 sec)

outtake union and taxi cancellations

Before I get into any taxi, I explain what I am going to do, ask questions, which questions, record, take photos. It isn’t until later as we are rolling along, am I sometimes asked why I am doing it and what will I do with it. This is how the conversation went with Idris. (14 sec)

outtake internet

When I got into the taxi, Idris got a phone call. This is a video of us driving down the Chembur street in evening traffic, one hand on the steering wheel, one hand on the phone.

The cancelled taxis are sold for scrap at Do Tanki in Chor Bazaar. Seva Lal got Rs12,000 and Rafiq got about the same. I was there last week buying old taxi fiat steering wheels. I have been there many times buying wheels, buying old taxi rear view mirrors but I have never seen it so full of parts. The dukan ka seth I buy from (the one with all the radiators in the beige shirt) who deals in old fiat parts said yes, there is lots of maal, lots of parts because of all the cancelled taxis, but there were less buyers also now with so many less fiats on the road. I took this video. The noise you hear in the background is the hammering of cars into parts. This is where the taxis go. (when was the last time you saw a water carrier like this? another once commonplace sight that is slowing becoming absent until you are surprised to see one)

Taxis are in the news again. This time it is because they are now going to be radio dispatched from call centres. The union has agreed. I guess they are trying to keep up with Meru. I am a bit confused as to which ones will be included in this new scheme, the new ‘yellow’ taxis? the new vehicles? and who will run the call centre? Read about it here and here.

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 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 13 junaid

Posted in bombay, hindi, migration, podcast, taxi with tags , , , , , , , , , , on 17, August 2008 by meterdown

Raining in Bombay, finally again after a month long disappearance. It was the monday evening after the Ahmedabad bombings and after a weekend of heavy rains. The city felt wet and still and it glistened in the street lights. I was at Kala Ghoda. The first driver I spoke to flatly refused saying he couldn’t drive in the rain and talk at the same time. I went ahead a few taxis and found Junaid. He is from Gujarat, from the Chiliya community. Many of the drivers had spoken about the Chiliya log, that they were the original taxi drivers when taxis first came to Bombay. Sagir Bhai’s taxi ka seth was Chiliya. The drivers had all praised the them, saying they were honest, jyada baat nahin karte, and kam se kam. But Junaid is 23 and he likes to talk. The smile on his face….you can hear it in his voice. Click on link below to stream or right click to download. (26 min 01 sec)

junaid podcast

Junaid: Kismat mein jitna rehta, itna milta

The dance bars are as much a part of this city as the red buses or kaali-peeli taxis. If a film has a dance bar scene, it signals the setting is Bombay. This outtake is the rest of the conversation about the dance bars Junaid doesn’t frequent. I asked him about the women that danced in the bars. His thoughts intrigue me because they don’t touch on morality, the good or bad of the women. (3 min 50 sec)

outtake bars and bar girls

The next three outtakes are one flow of conversation that due to length, I divided up and are in order from the beginning to end. In Junaid’s village, the girls aren’t married until they are in their late teens or early twenties. But the sagai is arranged years before. Junaid doesn’t think this is right and he explains why. (1 min 42 sec)

outtake jaldi sagai achha nahin

From sagai accha nahin to ladki accha nahin. The ladki is the woman Junaid is engaged to be married to in 8 months. But it isn’t Junaid saying accha nahin. It is his neighbors and his family. His feelings are soft and warm and protective. and determined. (2 min 17 sec)

outtake ladki acchhi nahin

Kismat runs through this podcast. In this outtake Junaid elaborates and embroidered into the fabric of his thoughts is a silken thread of defense of his wife-to-be. (54 sec)

outtake kismat

I ask about the leaving from home and the coming into the city. I ask about what has been left behind and how that left behind is experienced, this continuum of inhabiting here and inhabiting there. Junaid speaks of the Chiliya community in the village and I hear the story of gaon mein aisa hai and traces of sheher mein aisa nahin hota. We all have our stories of adaptation, in large ways and incremental ways, to the complexities of our lives in these times. (1 min 46 sec)

outtake chiliyan gaon mai aisa hai

The men are away working and the villages are full of women raising the children. I have wondered about that, especially about the boy children. I asked Junaid what advice he would give a 12 year old from his village that wanted to come work in Bombay. His answer gives thought to my wondering.

outtake 12 saal ka ladka

I haven’t posted in a long time. I was travelling through Spain and then back overland through Turkey, Syria and then flight to Peshawar and through Pakistan to Wagah, Amritsar and Golden Mail back to Bombay. I didn’t ride in any taxis, but I have this photo of a taxi dashboard in Damascus.

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 11 lal mohammad khan

Posted in accident, bombay, hindi, podcast, taxi, taxi story with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on 18, April 2008 by meterdown

This time I picked with a bit of intent. I had been at Kurla Terminus taking photos of the crowds of people arriving in Bombay on the trains after the long trip from the eastern interiors of UP and Bihar. The area was full of taxis and drivers, trying to get passengers. I decided I would come back and talk to a taxi driver that worked out of the terminus. I used to often work the airport when I drove, not going into the lot to wait my turn but instead driving the lane in front of arrival and stealing tired fliers as they searched for the taxi stand in the confusion of the airport or standing by the exit door for the late nights flights. “Taxi?” “Taxi?” “Where you going?” Lal Mohammad Khan always starts from Kurla Terminus. I forgot to ask him why or any questions about things like that. Because when the conversation turned to his wild youth and then HIV/AIDs and nirodhs and safe sex and then kissing in taxis, it took on its own life. Click on link below to stream or right click to download. (20min 24 sec)

lal mohammad khan podcast

lal mohammad khan: bombay aisa saher hai yahaan jo ek time aajaata isko dusri jaga dil nahin lakta

Streets are cleared of hawkers and thela-walas. Markets are moved to Vashi. Streets are cleared again of hawkers and thela-walas. And again. The push to imagined modernity also pushes the people who work on the streets away, elsewhere. This ripples across the skein of working people connected to them in ways that are not visible. The hidden hardships are felt, and in this case, articulated in this outtake. (1 min 33 sec)

outtake taxi-ka-danda

Kurla Terminus, officially Lokmanya Tilak Terminus, is a rail head in the eastern suburbs for trains coming in from the eastern, and southern parts of India. It is relatively newer. It hadn’t been built when Sagir Bhai arrived in Bombay. Back then, those trains terminated at VT.

We took the Eastern Express highway to Sion and then through Dharavi to the road to BKC that connects to the Western Express Highway. Right at the signal there when we turned left to go towards Bandra, we heard the police whistle and the havaldar jumped out and flagged us down. or so we thought. This is the view from the back of the taxi as I waited for him to come back.

Many of the taxis have florescent lights in them. The image in this blog header is a taxi driver in Mahim at night, with the green light shining from his ceiling. Lal Mohammad Khan’s taxi had a blue light inside and a light on the dashboard that shone out the windscreen, flashing and changing colours: red, blue, yellow

to see it in action and to see Lal Mohammad Khan, watch this video. The young boy who comes into the frame is the bhaji thela-wala ka ladka.

Lal Mohammad Khan’s taxi had some nice decoration.

and seat covers………..

Actually, I had a funny experience at Kurla. The first taxi I got into was with two brothers. They were Bombay Maharashtrian. I thought this would be something different and perhaps interesting, the non-immigrant experience. I had explained I would be recording the conversation and they agreed. Strangely, they insisted on showing me the taxi badge and taxi license. And a rate card that turned out to be some local printer job I think. We had already left the terminus and were winding our way through the lanes of Kurla East to reach the Expressway. I told them I would also be taking their photos and also explained how I would use the material and that they would also have a CD, DVD and hard copies of the photos. They were increasingly uneasy. No photos they said. Or, as a compromise, one brother would talk but the photos would be of the other brother. No photos of the taxi. I said lagta hai ki ap log biswas nahin karte hai issi mamla mein and if so, i will be quite happy to get down from the taxi. They pulled over to the side, I paid the Rs 13 and walked back to Kurla Terminus. There was this taxi with green decoration on the back and Lal Mohammad Khan leaning against the driver door. I explained where I was going and what I wanted to do and showed him the recorder. He smiled and said chelo.

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 10 sagir bhai

Posted in bombay, hindi, migration, podcast, taxi with tags , , , , , , , , , , on 15, March 2008 by meterdown

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.

click here to stream podcast

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sagir bhai
sagir bhai: hum log ne kabhi yeh nahin sochha ke yeh shahar mera nahin hai.

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

license.jpg meter.jpg taxi-back.jpg

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

sagir bhai in the windscreen

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.

ranbir singh

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