Archive for kwaish

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


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 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 8 lallan singh

Posted in bombay, hindi, podcast, taxi with tags , , , , , , on 20, January 2008 by meterdown

I was in Govandi, and it was evening and I realised that I had never talked to a driver starting from the eastern suburbs. So instead of getting on the train I found Lallan Prasad Singh’s taxi and he was the first driver not from UP. He is from Jharkhand. Though his accent is different, his story is not so different and yet of course, it is unique. We speak about the day he left his village, alone, at 16 or 17 years old, just after taking his 10th boards, father and son walking from the village to the station. The facts of migration are daily and commonplace in their repetition; I was 16. I am from a village. I got on a train, alone, to go to a far away iconic city where I don’t know anyone, with just an address of a lodge in my hand, a name with no meaning. What would that feel like? A wrenching of the heart? Terror? A sadness that seems bottomless? And now years later, a story. Click on the player icon to stream. If it buffers too much, click on the file name lallan singh podcast below to stream from WordPress or click on the name Lallan Singh under Podcast Feed in the sidebar to the right. (16 min 27 sec)

lallan singh podcast

Right click here to download

lallan singh
Lallan Singh: aanewala din main nahin gaya tho mera baccha jasakta hai

Lallan Singh said these words above when we were speaking of the changes to Bombay, to Saat Rasta where he worked in a Mill, to Lower Parel and Parel. He has never been inside Phoenix Mills or any of the new malls in Mulund or Malad or anywhere else, though he has dropped passengers at these places. He says he gets happy looking at them. Yet somehow he couldn’t articulate why he never goes in. But he said that even if he doesn’t go inside, someday his son will. This new Bombay might not be his, but it will be his son’s. I don’t know but I am somehow humbled by his words.

Lallan Singh explained why his son is in English medium and his daughters are in Hindi medium. If a daughter is English medium educated, she will need a husband that is equally educated, or better. Then dahej will be Rs. 12L. He can’t afford that so the solution is to lower her potential to match the dahej price he will be able to afford. In this outtake, he further talks about his daughters’ marriage and how is he looking for someone ‘medium’ like he is. (2 min 48 sec)


ganapati and sion subway Sion subway out the front window

Lallan Singh described his coming to Bombay. After he came and settled, his younger brother came, the one who owns the taxi permit. In this outtake he talks more about his brother’s coming to Bombay. (25 sec)


lallan singh2

Where is ghar, where is desh, where is mulak? Lallan Singh was born and lived in Jharkhand and then came to Bombay. In the podcast he answers these questions. But what about his son who was born here and raised here? In this outtake, Lallan Singh tells us what his son says. (36 sec)


front seat

We talked about the day he left the village. But there was more. What about the day he landed in Bombay, a city in which he knew no one. Getting of the train amid the masses at VT. Where did he go? How did he know to go there? In this outtake Lallan Singh speaks of his arrival. (1 min 12 sec)



Lallan Singh has 5 brothers and they are all still one chulla, one joint family. In this age of families that fracture so easily, how do they manage to stay together. In this outtake, he explains.


I keep testing this blog and it seems that the audio files were buffering more and more, more than the podcast feed. Up til now, they were uploaded to a hotlink site. In this posting I have parked the outtake audio files here at WordPress which doesn’t give me a URL for them so the player icon isn’t created, just the link. I hope the speed improves. Let me know if there is a better way to do this on a site.

I am still searching for a translator/transcriber. I might have one and it seems I do have one at the end of February. In the meantime, no Hindi transcript and no Hindi blog. If anyone has a name, please pass it on. Email me or post it in the comments section.

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.