Monday, 8 September 2014

Conversations with a Taxi Driver

Its all my brothers fault.

Like most things in my childhood were (including the loss of my favourite cycle; yes I will never forgive you for that), the events that unfolded today were also my younger  brothers fault (not to be confused with my youngest brother). First he asks me to book train tickets for him to travel to our home in Pune from Mumbai for the weekend. When the IRCTC site renders itself unavailable due to maintenance, I, out of the boundless love I bear my brothers,actually stand in line(who does that nowadays?) to get his reservations done. But I need to drop an application off at VT (CST) station to get his ticket confirmed. And this almost undid my own journey home.

Friday. Churchgate Station. 4:20 pm.  After trying (and failing) to sneak out of office early, I had less than an hour left before my own bus to Pune left from Dadar at 5:15 PM. And I still had to drop the application at VT, then go to Lower Parel and pick up my bags, then somehow get to Dadar and catch my bus. I was trying to figure out if I could make it all, when I remembered that trains,not roads are my domain. So I asked a road expert. A taxi driver.

I hailed a cab outside office. A glance at the Ganpati idol on his dashboard told me I should speak, my mother tongue, Marathi. All the following conversations took place in Marathi, but since ashamedly it is not my strongest language, you will have to endure this post in English.

I explained the logistics and asked him if we can make it? He said, ''We have about an hour, so lets try. If it were not Ganpati season, I could tell you for sure. " I ignore the voice of reason in my head that says I'm not going to make it, and with a sense of hurtling into adventure, I walk into the proverbial rabbit hole.

I'm not usually the types who will chat with a stranger, but discussing logistics, traffic and stoppage time is a good conversation starter. After making our first stop (VT) in pretty good time, he ask me where in Dadar were headed. ''The Shivneri bus stop, heading to Pune", I say. Pune is another conversation starter. He told me about a few jobs he did there, before moving to Mumbai and getting into the business of driving. Told me about a techie he recently drove to Pune.

"So whats better? Working the Mumbai-Pune expressway or a cab within Mumbai" I ask.

''Cab in Mumbai.'' ,he promptly replies. ''Start at 7 AM, finish up at 7 PM, then go home to your family. Expressway might earn you a bit  more, but you are on the road too much. Family is more important."

Wow. My respect for this guy just shot up.

He asks about my job and we talk about extra curriculars. I tell him about sports quota railway jobs, He tells me how his niece could pick and choose her college because of her singing. Then he tells me he sings Marathi Natya Sangeet (musicals).

"Oh! My brother studied that too!"

He tells me how they have drama contests at his work, which give him a chance to leave work early and travel for the contests.

''Work? meaning?'', I ask,confused.

''Madam i actually work in BEST. I'm a bus driver. Been there 10 years. We also have sports and cultural quota. I drive a cab on my weekly off for timepass."

This guy is full of surprises.

He talk about how extra curriculars helped his own kids. Proudly tells me that they both study in an English medium school. Ryan International. He talks about the cost of education. I realise hes not driving a cab on his weekly off for timepass.

"The costs are really  high. But an English medium education is worth it. But they really have to study a lot. They have big fat books that I cant understand. Since my wife and I don't speak good English we cant tutor them at home. so they attend extra tuition. Which is an extra expense. But they are doing well, so its worth it. I don't mind working extra hard for them."

I tell him it will definitely be worth it. I tell him about my grandparents and parents, whose hard work has given my brothers and me the luxury and the joy of choosing off beat professions.

"Madam whats your surname?" he asks me. I give him mine, and I ask his in return. Rajaram Maruti Khedekar he says. How strange it is that we tend to talk about everything else with a person, only to neglect to ask thheir name.

We were only just at Lower Parel picking up my bags. Things were about to get exciting. Picture abhi baki hai.

Now the focus had shifted from the conversation to the transportation. No more school fees and  dramas. It was all business now; routes, signals and ETAs. It was 5:07 PM  when we left Lower Parel. I was now counting on the bus leaving five minutes late as was its habit. Our driver had turned onto a road that was usually open but closed for the Ganpati festival. A policeman stops us on the turn.

"Going for a cricket tournament!"

"Have a 5:15 bus!"

"Please please please"

After a bit of such grovelling the cop lets us go.

By the time we got to Dadar it was 5:24. I rushed out to the enquiry counter leaving my bag (containing my wallet and laptop) in the taxi. I had never done that before. Ever

And I had missed my bus. I had never done that before either! EVER.

Like I said, all my brother's fault.

"Maitri Park!" I said as i got back into the cab! I would have to try and catch the bus at its next stop in Chembur!. Without actually saying it, I had just said,''Follow that bus!!''

So we rushed as much as one can on Mumbai roads, all the way to Maitri Park, and the driver kept saying how fast these new Volvo buses are, and that if we haven't seen it yet we probably wont make it. Amidst all this, I was sitting in the back seat, with a faint smile on my face. I was really enjoying myself. This was all an adventure, and if I missed the bus and had to pay double for another ticket, plus the taxi fare, I wouldn't mind it much.

One signal before Maitri park, we spot the bus! The driver parks in front of the bus, I rush out to make sure the conductor hasn't sold my vacant seat to someone else. Its still vacant, and I am so happy that this adventure had a happy ending. I pay the taxi driver the fare (which was now more than the bus fare to Pune!), thank him for the good time, and get on board.

And  then I remember why I had to take this taxi in the first place. All my brother's fault, and I'm glad it was. Its not everyday you find reasons to smile fondly at the adventures and conversations Mumbai tends to throw at you.