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: 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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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