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: 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)
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)
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.
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.
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