Archive for kaali-peeli

episode 28 tanaji

Posted in bombay, hindi, podcast, taxi, taxi story with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 16, April 2012 by meterdown

It admittedly was awhile ago. After the last bomb blast. My work travel continues to deplete both my time and that extra amount of energy it takes to create. When i’m depleted, I’d rather just read. Mind feed. I was at Fort, getting printer ink and since the store is almost next to Yazdani’s, brun-maska and chai, and since Strand is near by, a browse for sustenance. And a purchase or two. I realize that a few of these conversations have started from this point. Sheshnath Tripathi. Rafiq. But this time it is Tanaji. He is Maharashtrian, from around Kolhapur. We went past VT and up Mohammad Ali Road flyover. We were deep into conversation as he openly shared about his life and arrival, when, somewhere after the Byculla flyover, I noticed that the telltale red light on the recorder wasn’t on. Somehow I hadn’t pushed start hard enough or perhaps I had pushed it twice. I turned it on and the conversation starts with this already established comfort and participation in, together, recovering this lost ground so we can continue our conversation. Click on ‘tanaji podcast’ link below to stream or right click to download. (35 min 40 sec)

tanaji podcast

tanaji: meriku bombay bahut pyara hai

This was a frisky conversation. It maybe because of the way it started, with the misfire. We became accomplices in recreating the energy  that wasn’t recorded at the beginning. Capital punishment, Kasab, Osama Bin Laden, the response of the USA, love marriage, the natal family’s responsibility towards an unhappy or endangered married daughter. Tanaji and I don’t agree on anything but the discussion is thoughtful and friendly. I had no ready answer for the point he made that keeping political prisoners, or terrorists, in jail creates the vulnerability to hijacks or kidnappings where the prisoner is the barter. Here is the answer: This is no justification for capital punishment.

   

Tanaji is a 12th pass, HSC. He came to Bombay with the hope of a good job. But his real dream was to become a mechanic and open a garage. He took a course and got a certificate. He tried to open his garage, he found a place, but there was no money so success nahin hopaya. He can fix engines, he can fix cars. He says that if he had a garage or two today his life would be different. He might not have to be in a taxi. He might have a small flat of his own. The ‘haves’ in this country, say that their success was earned on merit and their honest sweat. Metaphorical sweat to be sure. It is hard to work up a sweat between the AC home to the AC car to the AC office, mall, store, restaurant and back. Out at the boundary, away from the pitch, the field looks different. It is full of khaddas and divets and strewn with pebbles and the ball takes these funny hops away, in random directions, this ball of opportunity. It has always seemed to be that amongst the people with privilege, and I include myself, even the most mediocre of us can find success in the world. Not so the rest, even for the most modest of dreams. (1 min 40 sec)

outtake peheli ka kwahish

While we were talking Tanaji got a phone call. It was one of his regular customers that calls to book his taxi sometimes for his morning ride. A short trip in Vile Parle to somewhere in Vile Parle, but it is near Tanaji’s home and it starts his day well. Many of the taxi drivers have these regular customers. Even today, or perhaps even more so today, in this time of Meru and Mega and Easy cabs. (2 min 33 sec)

outtake phone call regular customer

So what about this conversation of ours, especially about our daughters, our endangered daughters returning home. I still think that Tanaji was making a majak with me, he was kidding me, when he said let them burn her. Wait til his daughter, the one who he speaks of so fondly, the one who is so smart and is showing so much promise, leaves his home to join another. Hopefully his patriarchal posturing will melt away. Adjustments are made to the cultural rigidities that attempt to deny women the safety of return.  I only hope that his daughter, unlike so many other dutiful daughters, will realise this instead of enacting upon herself that ultimate act of hopelessness. Or stay silent and suffer, so as not to give tension to her parents, until her susaral log enact that ultimate act upon her.

In this conversation, the taxi union had just called off a strike. The government agreed to take on the idea of increasing fares and the unions. Today both auto and taxi unions are calling for strikes. The taxi union had declared 2 May for the Maharastra wide strike. The government responded by agreeing to form a new taxi trade fare committee as the union had claimed that the old Hakim committee formula was 15 years old and outdated. As of yet, the strike has not be called off. I certainly support their demand for higher fares, both the taxis and the autos. Especially the autos. In my latest round of travels, namely Coimbatore, Cochin, Chennai. Jaipur and Bangalore, our Bombay rickshaws are the cheapest. and rigged meters or not, at least they down the meter and return the change unasked. CNG is going up, food prices are going up, inflation is holding steady at just under double digits (they say). People need to eat. They need not to be making less money than they were last year or last week.

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 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 26 sheshnath tripathi

Posted in bombay, hindi, podcast, taxi, taxi story with tags , , , , , , , , on 9, April 2011 by meterdown

A long time ago I was wandering around Kala Ghoda and in the back lanes of Fort again having brun maska at Yazdani’s and generally being a flaneur in the galis and by-lanes and in Horniman Circle on some hot sweaty Bombay day. It was time to return back home and time to talk to a driver so along came a taxi and i raised my hand and here is a delighted Sheshnath Tripathi. Sheshnath is from Gorakhpur UP and has been in Bombay 20 years and started driving taxi 18 years ago. He went into the transport business, owning taxis and lorrys, but now that it over and he is in debt and back in the taxi, his taxi. He loves the news, reading the news and watching the news and we talk of politics, parties, politicians and civic responsibilities. Click on ‘sheshnath tripathi podcast’ link below to stream or right click to download. (35 min 3 sec)

sheshnath tripathi podcast

sheshnath: anne ke bad yeh samjho ke bhago bhago bhago

It is a given in Bombay that you don’t stop to help an accident victim or involve yourself as a witness to a violence or a crime or anything to do with the police because you will be entangled forever in the court cases or possibly become a suspect yourself. People will look away, they walk away and then maybe stand at a distance and watch. And I’m not counting the famous cases where men didn’t come to the aid of  women who were being sexually assaulted and raped in public, in front of them, in the general car of a train. Sheshnath has a different idea of what it takes to be a citizen, which includes intervention, protection and bearing witness. (55 sec)

outtake citizenship

This next outtake is a long one but its interesting. Organic farmers’ markets have started appearing on weekends in different parts of the city. I have never gone because they felt like an implant from elsewhere that was being grafted onto a city that teemed with markets already. I knew that urea and DAT were used on wheat along with gober composted in a raari. Without urea, the new seed types don’t produce much. What I wasn’t seeing, wasn’t wanting to see, was the extensive use of herbicides and pesticides.  We speak here about farming today, on his 10 bighas and what he grows and what he uses and his reasoning, this tradeoff between a good harvest and using poisons.  Its sad. I love bhatawaa. (4 min 7 sec)

outtake kheti

Shethnath doesn’t like cricket, he doesn’t watch films and here is what he did on Holi. You can see where I am going with this. (47 sec)

outtake holi

Sheshnath first settled in Mulund and then Malad and now he lives in a room in Andheri East, a 10×20 room, with his wife and two children. He speaks of moving back to Gorakhpur but his children are in good schools, good private schools for which he pays tuition that leaves him in this 10×20 room. I imagine that his home in his village is much larger, with a rasoi, a private area room where women sit, a public area room where male visitors sit, an aangan inside and a place to sit outside where people passing come to sit with him for while, or yell a greeting as they pass. The trade-offs of leaving a village and moving to a city like Bombay. You leave behind space and family and community and hopefully in exchange you gain money for the present  and for the future, an education for your children. But the sadness of Sheshnath was that when he had a chance for a home of his own here, he didn’t take it. (1 min 28 sec)

outtake room and rent

All of you in Bombay, when you go out today, of the first 10 taxis you see, how many of them are fiats? I’d say, unless you are at Maratha Mandir, 5 were fiats and 5 were a new vehicle. The inexorable is relentless and changing slowly the city. Sheshnath knows that and though he has 10 years left before his taxi will be cancelled, he is going to buy a new vehicle soon. He says mehsoos hota when passengers get into the new vehicles instead of his fiat. But other changes to kaali-peeli have been proposed: 7-seaters, call centres, GPS. We discuss there. (1 min 53 sec)

outtake new taxi ideas

Taxis have been in the news. On 27 October it was the 100 year anniversary of taxis on the streets of Bombay. DNA wrote an article that, though it didn’t go into the history much, was very nice nonetheless. Other news is quite so laudatory. RTO in it extreme silliness had decided to change the colour  from kaali-peeli to well, they weren’t sure, but in this article it seems that the transport minister, Mr. Vikhe-Patil likes peaches and cream. The final decision however, rests with the MMRTA comprising bureaucrats from the department and officials from the RTO. This makes me very sad, this erasing of kaali-peeli. I can’t seem to work up enough cynicism or jaded worldliness to be able to smile wryly, shake my head sagely and move on.

Here are some happier links. A very nice article in Mid-day on Meter Down with a photo of Jamid Ali and me, and little side bar quotes and photos with Junaid and Anil Chauhan.  It also references a conference at India Cultural Lab called Urban Reimagination, put together by Paresh Sahani at which I spoke about migration and Bombay taxi drivers. The Facebook page has photos and videos. I was also interviewed on the Tiffin Talk show on Dabba Radio that is hosted by Richard Thane. My interview is here and Dabba Radio is here.

Sitting in the back seat reaching over with my little digital recorder while the driver watches the road, negotiating the traffic and talking with me. This is what it looks like.

A short note on why its taken me so long to post here and release a podcast. The nature of my job that pays the rent has intensified and has me traveling quite often, throughout India, for weeks at a time. I’ve been finding it hard to keep up with my heart’s work. I’ve gotten more used to this travel now and it doesn’t leave me so depleted and wanting to just read or see my friends. I’ve already got another conversation to start editing and I’m committed to keep talking to the drivers, blogging and podcasting as best I can.

so, til next time.

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