Saturday, February 19, 2011

Of Taxiwallahs

You know how excited I was about my trip down south. Bubbling over with happiness, in fact. Despite that, I began our holiday in a profoundly sad frame of mind.
The reason? The cab we had hired to take us from a friend's house to the railway station. It was one of the super-efficient, super-convenient radio taxis. We booked online, our cab was waiting for us 15 minutes before schedule, and we reached our destination in time for coffee and a leisurely settling in. The cab was superlative. The man behind the wheel? Noticeable because of his invisibility.
, I am used to the drivers’ personalities colouring the vehicle. The conversations, the music, the assorted deities and film stars stuck on the windshield. With the radio taxi, it was all different. We did not have a single conversation with our driver. When we entered the taxi, he pressed a button and a recorded voice welcomed us in. When we exited it, the same recorded voice thanked us, told us the fare, and reminded us to collect our change. No banter about the weather, no comments on politics, no enquiries about our journey, no philosophizing about how to end climate change.
I think I can guess the reason. The cab was directed towards an urban, globally travelled market. The driver was a young man from the banks of the Ganga. From the Dark, as Adiga calls it. He was necessary to manipulate the controls, but heaven forbid that his rustic odour taint the sterilized interior of the car. I imagined the training sessions, the emphasis on denying his identity. And that depressed me beyond belief.
It is soul-deadening to suppress all that makes you the person you are. It is not possible to kill just a part of one's character- Everything dies. It reinforces the feeling that you are not good enough. It is sickening, depressing, and a world that requires this is a sad place. Seeing other people as humans rather than machines might be good for their esteem; it is essential to my sanity. There are days on end when my only human interaction outside the office is the local sabziwallah. What would I do if he tried to suppress himself? The shoe-maker scolds me for protesting when he mends my shoes using different colours for each. What would I do without that laughter filled argument?

I lost my wallet in Pune. Seeing me hunt for it up and down the street, an autowallah stopped me. "Don't be afraid. Tell me where you live, I'll drop you home." He spoke in rural marathi, and his accent would have been unacceptable to a radio-taxi chain. Thankfully, not needing to suppress his words also allowed his kindness and generosity to exist.


Anonymous said...

I so completely agree with you! One of the reasons I love to travel is to experience exactly what you have described as being eradicated by the "radio taxis". This seems very sad and I understand your depression over it. Long live "live" and helpful taxi drivers!


Banno said...

Oh god, where would all our stories come from? If people stopped talking, because they were not 'right' enough?

I hate this emphasis on the right accents, the right vocabulary, which is all wrong, anyway.

Mabel said...

Aw I totally loved this story! And I miss the marathi accent. Thanks for the juicy email I still need to reply to it :) Good to have you back!

nadi said...

this is a very very very important phenomenon you have talked about.

and the writing!
"Noticeable because of his invisibility"

chicu said...

important, yes. but also very sad, no?

दीपा पाठक said...

Every time i read your blog i love you more. Happy marriage anniversary to both of you...(der se hee sahi:))