MANALI ROHINESH is waging a class war with the callous and exploitative cab drivers in Mumbai city. Hop on to find out why.
The cabbie who pulled up alongside poked his head out through the window and exclaimed to my cab driver: "I had this customer right now who accused me of cheating him and charging him above the normal rate; so I told him that you big business people cheat all the time and I don't hear you complain about it then!" There is true bonding happening at traffic lights these days. Some of them last for a good 5-8 minutes. While stewing behind the wheels, cabbies talk among themselves. The above was just one such exchange of many I've sat through.
Breach Candy area is a shopping district in Mumbai with heavy traffic and footfalls. Cabbies make more money out of the tourists who shop there. Fine. But why is it that they have to double-park in what is a two-lane road to begin with? There are certain points between Breach Candy and Mahalaxmi, where vehicles are allowed to take U-turns, and cabs will be parked exactly at that point. So a guy has to turn, back up and turn again. Meanwhile, he has triggered a traffic jam in both lanes, while the cab driver just sits back and watches. I mean, have they decided to deliberately contribute to road rage?
They talk about us (their passengers) all the time. So, whenever I get the opportunity, I don't hesitate to tell them what I think of them. When I see a cabbie reversing on a one-way street just as the signal turns green and cars peal out like racehorses, going the other way, it's pay-back time for me! I cluck and say, "Tum taxi driver log andhe or gadhe bhi ho." (You cab drivers are blind as well as donkeys!). I don't enjoy ticking off people but many cab drivers are a law unto themselves. Each one feels he is the uncrowned king of the road and I'll back this up with incidents.
I've had to go to Lokhandwala Complex in Andheri once and took a cab from Worli. It cost me around Rs 150. You should have seen the driver - he was all politeness personified and actually asked me if I wanted him to wait for me. I said okay as long as he didn't keep the meter running while I was gone. When I finished the work I had come there for, he was still hovering around the building gate. He saw me and gallantly opened the door for me -- a first for a cab drivers! All this, because I gave him a good Rs 300 business that day. I know this sounds callous but it's true. It's all about money because later in the same week when I wanted to go from Worli to Prabhadevi (which costs Rs 30 max), this same cabbie said "nahi jayega".
Phoenix Mills/Big Bazaar has a huge, free parking area. So most people bring their own cars but try taking a cab from there. There is more arrogance at this cab stand than all of Mumbai combined! The cabbies here will loll around and lech, but tell them you want to go somewhere and they hail a fellow cabbie who happens to be passing by. I am sure some of those guys will move out only if you tell them you want to go to the Moon!
I know cabbies who don't take people because it's just minimum fare for them. I also know cabbies who don't take people to certain residential areas because practically everyone has cars, so again no return fares for them. I've known some drivers who take you only if you plan a round trip.
They sure have high expectations. I realize they are not driving around the mean streets of Mumbai for charity purposes, but do they deliver high, good or even passable service?
* Do they assist old people in and out of cabs? I don't expect Sir Walter Raleighs to pop out of cabs but they could show basic decency and sensitivity.
* Do they assist people with luggage? Hardly. If it is in the trunk of the car, then they get out and go around and open the trunk of the cab and stand back and watch.
* Do they drive carefully? I recall sitting in a cab, behind a slow-moving fiat car. And I remember the cabbie muttering that because of such people, cab drivers were getting into trouble with the public. Go figure!
* Do they care about other people's cars? I mean they pull in and out of everyone's way, So a nick here, a scrape there, who cares. After all they are rich people, they can afford to patch up the damage - or may be even buy a new car! But "hum log garib hai" (we are poor). So you leverage your poverty to behave any way you like with other people's property. Is that the latest shortcut to becoming rich or what?
* Do they have any sense of road behaviour? If a passenger wants to get down and she says, I want to get down here, it's taken literally. The man brakes on the spot, double-parks and causes bumper damage 2 miles behind him!
Then, there are the kerb crawlers. Anyone, who has ever sat in a car (or a cab) will know what I'm talking about. They will drive at a tortoise's pace 20-30 metres from the kerb, when the entire road is about 50 metres wide. You should see it when two cabbies are crawling together, abreast. That is when "the road belongs to my baap" attitude comes in. Sorry guys, it doesn't.
Someone should tell them that the rich car owners (whom they so despise or envy) are the ones who pay higher taxes. Not all of them are cheats and into tax evasion. So treat your fellow drivers with respect and courtesy.
I've yet to hear of an instance when a cab driver was not paid, cheated or robbed by a passenger but the reverse has happened, plenty of times. Few cab drivers are honest enough to return belongings left in their cab and those few stand out. Cabbies are always paid, that's the bottomline. I once got into a cab on a familiar route (so I knew the fare amount) and then when I got home, the cabbie realized he hadn't put on the meter, so technically I could have just got out and left - I didn't owe him a dime but I did pay him.
I've known only two exceptions so far. Out of them, one spoke to me in English! He was an elderly man who was so down and out on his luck that he had to drive a cab when most people his age were retiring. Anyone would have truly warmed up to him. Another one is someone who normally waits at a cab stand outside the ICICI Bank at Bandra- Kurla Complex. My friend (who worked at ICICI Bank) told me that he always waited for him, no matter how delayed he got. In fact, he would go up to the reception desk and leave a message. My friend told me that on most days, when he got delayed and left office after 11.00 pm, he would just crash out in the back seat and was woken up by the cabbie once he got home. He had no fear of being robbed, assaulted or worse. That is called trust.
All of us, have, at one time or the other, been cheesed off a cabbie who refused to transport you when you were in a hurry to go somewhere. Well, anyone outraged by a cabbie's refusal, can tell him what I once told another driver: "Colaba nahi jayega? Theek hai, phir bhad may jao!" (Won't go to Colaba? Fine, go to hell instead)
BY MANALI ROHINESH