… 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.
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.