Archive for taxi

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

Advertisements

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

update

Posted in bombay, taxi, taxi story with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on 29, December 2009 by meterdown

Have some wonderful news. Meter Down won for best IndiPodcast blog in the Indibloggies awards. Huge thank-you to all who voted.  The award is for all the kaali-peeli bombay taxi drivers and their stories of their lives and our city. Unki mehrbani se Meter Down ka jeet. All the winners in all the categories posted here.

Heros Gallery


Talking about kaali-peeli, in the last episode, Mohammad Khan, I link to a DNA article about painting the taxis yellow as some kind of upliftment to our city. In todays HT is an article about the same thing. It is supposed to be all completed in phases by June 2010. The article states that they want to give the taxis a distinctive look. Right now they are only iconic – one of the icons of this city. Say kaali-peeli and everyone knows you mean the taxis. Kaali-peeli entered the vernacular of this city decades ago. Read it and weep.

peeli not kaali peeeli HT 29 dec

Am working on the edit for the next episode. Idris. 25th episode. Watch this space.


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 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)

outtake_1992_1993

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)

outtake_stealing_too_much

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)

outtake_work_philosophy

design2design2design2front wind screen

metervkholder

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.

outtake_directions_to_navi_bombay

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 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

mill-hands

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