Thursday, April 24, 2014

Those yellow ambassadors!



Taxis are sexy…
… and taxi drivers, sexier

As a kid when I would hear that particular folk tale about the little boy who tried to reach the moon but could not and it saddened him terribly to realise that the moon was something beyond his reach, I would, in my mind, always replace the moon with taxis.


Truth 1: I would replace the moon with taxis not just when I was a kid but till the time I ever lived in Bombay.

Truth 2: The folk tale that I mentioned above does not exist. I just made it up. Do not waste time going around googling it.

Truth 3: Editing text when in italics is the most difficult thing ever.

The reason why taxis were beyond my reach is because in the suburban Bombay that I grew up, middle class families did not travel in taxis. No, not when there were buses, autos and trains available at every corner of the streets. (Not the trains, silly. Buses, well almost.) Rather walking was the most preferred mode of transport.

So imagine my joy when I got to Kolkata to realise that travelling in taxis was seriously no big deal. I actually had people convincing me that it was okay to travel in taxis. ‘EVERYONE does’, they said as I gaped at them, my eyes shining bright. And then there was no looking back. I started believing that taxis was the only reason why destiny had brought me to Kolkata.

And thus began my love with the lovely yellow Kolkata taxis and the taxi drivers.

Yes, taxi drivers.

As my taxi rides increased I realised that while I am not too much of a conversationalist, it does not hold true with taxi drivers. I love talking to them.

People who know me know that I do not indulge into talks about politics. But the other day I spent the entire half hour of the journey discussing politics. It began with the driver complaining about how life has become difficult for them due to TMC and ended with a discussion on the pros and cons of AAP and Modi.

It was only yesterday that the Taxi driver, as we crossed Jaan Bazaar Market started telling me about how he had picked up bhindi (okra) (I used to call it ladies’ fingers till I got to know that it is also called okra. I prefer calling it okra now because it sounds like Orko and that reminds me of He-Man and that kind of gives me energy to eat okra) Yeah, weird! 

So the driver got around telling me how he had got bhindi for Rs. 15 a kilo and how elated he was about it. He then told me that bhindi is his most favourite thing on earth. His wife tries to make bhindi for him whenever possible and he can eat an entire thala-ful of rice with just the bhindi ka sabji.

The passion with which he spoke about bhindi was just brilliant. I thought to myself that even if I had shown half the amount of passion for my writing, Indians today would have be fiercely debating on facebook  about me, my books and the movies made from those books. I would be going around giving sermons on women empowerment. Anyway.

The nice guy also shared his favourite bhindi recipe with me. I shall try it someday.

I have had drivers cribbing to me about the rush in front of alcohol shops before a dry day. I have had drivers asking me how the newspaper industry works and why they prefer a certain newspaper over another. Weather discussions have been extremely frequent. One driver also almost invited me over to his sons wedding.

I have also been scolded by taxi drivers.

 This was one winter morning. I left for work and got into a taxi. Five minutes later the taxi driver asked, “Aapne koi garam kapde kyon nahi pehene hai?”

“Itni bhi koi thand nahi hai,” I replied.

And then he started reprimanding me. He totally ticked me off for not realising that being a hero and trying to bare the cold will lead to weakened bones as I grow old. He went on about how I should have my head covered with a shawl and wear sweaters. I was quite worried that he might stop the taxi and buy me a pair of socks. I would have actually loved that. He didn't.

When I got off, he again turned around and said, “kal yaad se sweater pehen lijiyega.” I obediently nodded my head, paid the fare and walked off.

So there, conversations with taxi drivers have always been great fun. And if the drivers are not great conversationalists themselves then there are those numerable times when I have sung along with them to the songs aired on the radio. Chorus singing with taxi drivers is fun. You should really try that some day. They might even give you a discount on the fare for all you know. No, I have never got a discount. I do know that someday I will.

But amidst all the conversations and fun moments that I have shared with taxi drivers, there is one rendezvous with a taxi driver that had my heart taken away. 

I was just a few months old in the city then.

SSM and I were returning from the airport after a late night flight. We called for a pre-paid taxi. When the taxi arrived at the gate, the driver got off and helped us with our bags. We had taken the bypass route. It was pretty late and the exhaustion of our journey had made us pretty quiet. 

Mid-way we heard a song being played on a loudspeaker. The song was – Ganga boicho keno

SSM, out of habit, immediately asked me, “Bolo, whose song is this?”

Before I could reply, the driver answered with a lot of confidence, “Dr. Bhupen Hazarika. Song released in 1971”

SSM and I stared at each other, astounded.

Once we reached, the driver got off along with us, took all out luggage out and carried it to the lift. Only after he did that, did he take the fare from us.

And when I thanked him, he gave a slight bow and replied in perfect English, “I was just doing my duty, ma’am. It was my pleasure.”

I stared at him with amazement as he walked back to the taxi.

And that was the moment I fell in love with the city.

***

There have been many lovely taxi rides and each taxi ride has made me love the city even more. Almost never have I felt threatened by a taxi driver. And the yellow ambassadors will be the most prominent picture in the collage of Kolkata that I have in my mind.

Someday I might just elope with a taxi driver. JLT.


36 comments:

  1. all i want to do now is run back to the city n jump on a yellow cab n reach where ever u r, to give u a beeeg hug for this lovely post! :)

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    1. :D Thank you and a tight hug too.

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  2. Now I just want to go back to Kolkata just now! So well written, as always , Didi ! :)

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  3. Ah. Ah. Ah. Did you have to make me so homesick?

    But then, beautiful writing, Diptee.

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  4. Oh The last time I took a cab was in Mumbai...we dont have it here in Kerala... I want...rains and cabs :D

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    1. Who does not want rains and cab. :)

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  5. Like you have good memories with taxi drivers in Kolkata, I had brilliant experiences with auto-annas in Tamil Nadu! I used to sit beside him in front as everyone else would cramp in the backseat. Then we'll begin debating on topics like why higher education is important, why people drink and drive, why we should or should not have girlfriends, how he is trying to get his son/daughter into a med school and also how his wife might be leaving him soon for a local fisherman.. I had phone numbers of 4-5 auto annas in my cellphone, texting them in case we needed his services in case of emergencies. They were God-sent in many cases when somebody needed emergency health care at the CMC hospital in Vellore.. also, our train to back home usually being in the dead of the night, a message in the evening would ease our journey to the railway station. Fantastic lot! :)

    And a fantastic read, Diptee di!

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    1. There. I can totally related to that too.

      Thanks. :)

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  6. Lovely read. I wish their behaviour could be half as lovely as the writing. Honestly, even I have truck loads of funny memories with cab drivers. When travelling alone i make it a point I sit next to them and chat away to glory.
    @Someday I might just elope with a taxi driver - Ditto! And he would be no one other than Sir Robert De Niro. :)

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  7. You made me nostalgic. I have spent 4 years in Kolkata and these yellow cabs are a part of lot of my good memories. BTW, Bhupen Hazarika is an Assamese singer and that song's original version was "Budha Luit" sand for the Brahmaputra river. He later translated into other Indian languages and replaced Luit with Ganga. I am an Assamese you see!!

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    1. Thanks for dropping in, Natasha.

      I know, I have heard the original Assamese version and it is just as beautiful. :)

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    2. Hey Diptee! I have nominated you for the Liebster Award. Checkout my blog NatashazWords for details. I hope you will accept it.

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  8. Enjoyed the piece! The best part of this was the content! Really appreciate the way you happened to write these simple yet robust lines! :)
    Yellow is no more a dirty fellow! :P

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    1. :) Thank you so much, Ramasish. And welcome to my blog.

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  9. Umm.. Okay... I have been staring at this comment box for 10 minutes now, still trying to pick the words and failing badly, so I guess I will just hit the Publish button with whatever I wrote...

    I too blabber around shamelessly with anybody and everybody including auto drivers, cab drivers, bus conductors, shopkeepers, fuchka-walas (One fuchka wala offered me his number and gave me discount of fuchkas :P). So, I think I am allowed to say that I can relate to this one and I cannot say how much I loved the piece... :)

    Such a recipe it was! bhindi ki sabzi with a little laughter and bewilderment and ending with warmth... Keep dipping those tea leaves... I am not a big tea-fan, but I am on the verge of becoming one (metaphorically)...

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    1. Welcome to my blog and thank you so much. :)

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  10. So nicely expressed Diptee..yellow cabs and Kolkata..I love my city... :-)

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    1. I love my city too, Maniparna. Thanks a ton. Hope to see you on my blog again. :)

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  11. Oh Diptee di...only you can make me fall in love with my city..after I spent an entire afternoon, cursing my luck for being stuck here....
    I am going to take a taxi with you somewhere, just to witness your interaction with the taxi driver, firsthand. :))
    Sorry for commenting so late. I've been caught up.

    Looking forward to more of your posts!
    Lots of love <3

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  12. Extremely passionately written. What amazes me that you being born and brought up in a completely different city with a different culture has fallen in love with this city and love it more than a lot of us who are both and brought up in Kolkata. Take a bow lady.

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    1. It is the city, she has made me fall in love with her. :)

      Thank you.

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  13. U can re write sindbad stories some day..:)

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    1. That is some compliment!. Thanks.

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  14. Beautifully written. Enjoyed.

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  15. I read this post a couple of weeks ago and I couldn't find time to comment.. Apologize for the delay.

    Your writing really took me back to my childhood days where I traveled to almost all places in Kolkata through taxis. The taxi drivers are indeed cool and a couple of those whom i met were totally interesting! One day, we had to reach Sealdah to catch a train to Jalpaiguri and we got stuck in the traffic (Kolkata's traffic is so horrible!!). The taxi guy somehow managed to beat the traffic and took us to the station on time.. They knew how to handle that traffic and I was totally amazed by that!

    Quite an interesting post this is! Looking forward to read more from you, Diptee!

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    1. Thanks, Ashwin. Yes, the taxi drivers here are fun!

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  16. This just made me super nostalgic! Greatly written. Although my most common interactions with taxi drivers have been "dada jaben" - "na, khali firte hobe" plus the whole - don't talk to strangers they might be cheledhora speech that I have recived from my parents and gradparents, your piece has inspired me take a chance next time around!

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    1. :) Do try striking a conversation next time.

      And welcome to my blog.

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  17. ki bhishon bhalo laglo ... Very recently I had a taxi driver dictate me his experience of cooking butter chicken, the recipe he used and how any day fish and Bengali style chicken is far far better ... r o onek onek memories acche ... One taught me the Babughat to Howrah steamer route, a much cheaper, faster and regular way ... r o onek kotha achhe ... thanks for penning down your memories, makes me feel happy about being in Kolkata in this land far far away from my home

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