Archive for migration

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

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 24 mohammad khan

Posted in bombay, hindi, migration, podcast, taxi, taxi story, union with tags , , , , , , , , on 3, December 2009 by meterdown

I was in Bhendi Bazaar to buy two more flower painted trucks as I was still caught up in the post-rains house cleanup and organising efforts. I walked up Mohammad Ali Rd in the late-afternoon-almost-evening time of the day when the sun is so low in the sky its rays  no longer light even the tops of the tallest buildings. Parked on the side of the road was Mohammad Mustaqeen Khan. He has been driving taxi for about 24 years. He came to Bombay from UP, a strong 20 year old man from a village, and started out in haath gadi at Do Tanki in Chor Bazaar area.  Twenty-six years later he has bought more land, rebuilt his home, married off 4 children, all from driving taxi. We talk about street level economics, how much he used to make and what it bought, how much he makes now and what it buys. Click on ‘mohammad khan podcast’ link below to stream or right click to download. (25 min 8 sec)

mohammad khan podcast

mohammad khan: panch chhe rupiya mein kitna khasakta tha

Tur dal is Rs115/kilo. Tomater is Rs40/kilo. kanda/piyaz/onion are Rs18/kilo. one small bunch of kothmir/dhaniya is Rs5. Bhindi is Rs80/kilo. a kela/banana is Rs2. So what if cell phone rates have gone down and SMS is cheaper. What are people eating? How are people eating. We used to think of dal/roti as a staple, a fall back, the food of the masses. Or a roti and an onion. The only way to make dal now to keep within a budget is half the dal and double the pani. I was at MTNL the other day and the woman there told me she has stopped having people come home.  In the outtake below Mohammad Khan talks about mangai. (28 sec)

outtake mangai tur ka dal

We went up Ambedkar Rd, over the Byculla Bridge, out Saat Raasta to Moses Rd. You hear me tell him to take Tulsi Pipe. Its a good view and I want to track the changes in the skyline, the ‘progress’ of the buildings emerging from where Jupiter and Elphistone Mills used to be. Below are photos of Ambedkar Rd, just before the Byculla Bridge.

My father always taught me economics by asking how long it takes to earn my do roti. What Mohammad Khan is saying is that he used to eat for 5-6 rupees what today costs Rs 30-35. He earns at the end of the day almost three times as much as he did when he started driving taxi but his costs have gone up much more. If in 10 hours he earned 80 rupees it took him about 40 minutes to earn dinner. If in 10 hours he now earns 250 rupees, its taking him an hour and about 10 minutes to earn dinner. And I didn’t ask him about room rent.

We started talking about 26/11 but the conversation quickly turned to driving a private vehicle. He drove for a man from his village that does bhangaar and has an Ambassador. He was paid Rs600/mo. This is the same amount the Sevalal earns driving a Honda City for the wife of the couple that live in the luxury highrise.  (1 min 15 sec)

outtake driving private

There was an article in DNA with the headline ‘Mumbai Taxis May Soon Turn Yellow’. You can read it here. I haven’t read about it anywhere else but according to the article, the state transport minister Vikhe-Patil announced at a taxi man’s union meeting that he wanted the kaali-peeli taxis to have a make-over, to match this new imaginary city. As he put it, “With the changing skyline of the city and with the introduction of the metro and the monorail, the taxis should also don a new look.” I put that at about the same level of governance and economic upliftment as I do the renaming of the airports. Thinking outside the colour scheme or at least half of it. The taxi union has agreed if the city pays for it..’incentives for the expenditure to be incurred’. Least they could do after not giving any incentives on the expenditures incurred on the new vehicles for cancelled fiats.

More on our city. We decided to take SV Rd instead of Reclamation to avoid that massive jam at Lilavati that happens every evening now that the Sealink traffic empties at high speeds onto that road and impatient drivers commandeer the opposite side of the road, thus backing up traffic in that direction and turning the Lilavati  junction to gridlock.. SV Rd of course isn’t better  and is further exacerbated by the skywalk being built down the middle of the street. He is more hopeful than I am. (18 sec)

outtake bandra west skywalk

I am hopeful too. I love this city.

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 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 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 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