Epiphanies while travelling in a cab thanks to what the cabby innocuously happens to say is quite the cliche in movies all around. Next on that list is having conversations with cabbies in a new city to gain some tremendous cultural insight which is a trope which every travel writer and his mum must have used. I’ve always considered myself to be reasonably experienced in self-assessment (what with HR and all) and therefore am willing to pronounce that I’ve never been shy of using cliches myself. So when you have an interesting cab journey, in a city where you’ve now stayed for over a year, which brings back to the surface not new thoughts, but some solid old ones – it does call for an occasion to record them.
Ravindra was particularly chatty Uber driver I met today – on a side note, surely Conversations with Cabbies (I should TM that for future use) has been a huge byproduct of the Uber age? A smart PR manager should actually use this to show how mobile based radio-cab services are actually creating more isolated interactions between two different worlds than ever before. Think about this – as a yuppie (I know it’s a 90’s word but there really is no better substitute) or even DINKY living in an Indian metropolis – you would interact with your maid, your cook, maybe your local kirana delivery boy, if you’re fancy – your drivers and gardeners as well, perhaps your office boy if you’re a nice guy, outside of ‘your kinda people’. The rest would probably be everyone in your world, whom you meet in the rarefied cocoons of your office buildings, penthouses and condominiums. So if you Uber to work everyday (there – it’s become a verb already) you potentially meet two new people from beyond your usual spheres every single day. Wow, I should pitch to the next VC something around CabDrivers of Delhi a la Humans of New York and then release a coffee table book on it not too many moons later 😉
Anyways, back to Ravindra. The more I think about this, the more I realise the story I want to right is not really about Ravindra. I wanted to write one of those cool Me: Him posts, but that would be only transcribing a conversation to paper which has limited application. So the best attempt is to understand Ravindra’s world in all humility. This is a chance to personify a stereotype in flesh and blood.
Ravindra is from Dhaulpur near Gwalior and exceptionally chatty. Ravindra has stayed in Mumbai for a few years before this, however while passing by the ubiquitous tapri near the offices that dot Gurgaon he can’t help but mention how girls here smoke and drink and wear anything they please even at this hour (which is before sunset for the record). Ravindra maintains that this would never happen in his village, which when pressed he says in a good thing. Ravindra isn’t too keen on women working or being seen outside, he feels the shobha of the fairer sex is in being indoors. He agrees that it may not be wrong to be seen outside here – it is the parampara of the place after all but surely not something he thinks is right. Ravindra hears me out when I tell him the girls here have an option to do whatever they want whereas the one’s in his village don’t – has anyone asked them? – but doesn’t seem to be convinced. Oh and not related, but Ravindra generously peppers his speech with expletives.
Ravindra must have traveled from Rajasthan to Mumbai in his late teens. After working in an ice-cream shop and a garment shop (maybe) near a railway station in Mumbai he would do odd jobs picking up stuff across the city in one of those tempos probably unique to this part of the world and therefore still remembers the roads in Mumbai. He learnt driving a four wheeler also from his boss there. Ravindra loves vada pao, he would like to eat one every evening at 7 and then at 11 so that you don’t need to have dinner once you go back to your room. Ravindra loved going to the bars in Mumbai and getting drunk, he doesn’t however see any point in spending money there complaining about how the prices were jacked up. Ravindra then drove a truck across the country for 6 years. This he liked, the freedom to stop at any point of time, eat anywhere he wanted and spend his money, his way. Ravindra didn’t like the food in Orissa, preferring to cook his own food when he drove down to the east coast rather than eat the salty rice which was available there. Ravindra doesn’t agree with me that driving an air conditioned cab is a step up from this. He’s at the mercy of the app which decides when it wants to blink and he doesn’t necessarily earn much more. As a truck driver he would earn around 30 k per month.
Ravindra is curious to know how much people like me earn in a month. He sees my address in his app and asks how much rent I pay for my room – must be at least 7 to 8 K he thinks. Ravindra hopefully doesn’t see my expression which is a mix between sheepishness, embarrassment for semi-deserved privilege and bemusement. Ravindra doesn’t fortunately need to worry about this though. Ravindra family got ahold of him and got him married a year and a half ago. Ravindra has a baby already and his family stays in Rohini, in a house of his own, so no issue of rent. Ravindra’s brother got him this sedan and forced him to settle down in Delhi, but he’s not too enthused about this. This may be because Ravindra feels that a lot of customers in these cabs are a pain in the ass. One night sometime ago Ravindra had a pick up from a mall or a discotheque in Noida. He asked the guy about who was with him, and was told there is a ‘madam’ but it would be no problem. They were both extremely drunk and started making out in the back seat of the cab. Ravindra does not really like this. He also justifies it as an inappropriate thing to do because he may look at them in the rear view mirror and that may distract him leading to potential accidents. So when the girl feels pukish, Ravindra stops on the side of the road where she can take a break. Ravindra knows they’re paying via a mobile wallet so he gets in the cab, swipes ‘end ride’ and drives off leaving them stranded at the side of the road without a word. Ravindra is wary of night pickups after this. We think about our safety travelling in cabs but Ravindra points out that the cab drivers are no safer. 2 number ke log which is probably Delhi slang for Africans or ‘blacks’ are especially dangerous it seems. They may even eat you up, Ravindra knows the story of an Uber driver who was taken to a desolate corner of Delhi for a drop and never heard of again. When his car owner called Uber and asked him to trace the vehicle, half of a corpse was located. Ravindra also knows of an Ola driver who was shot recently. So Ravindra wraps up by 8 pm and heads home as fast as he can.
Ravindra though is at pain to point out he isn’t a bad person. Yesterday a girl, ‘a nice girl’ had knocked on Ravindra’ window just as he was heading home. She asked for some help. Ravindra was suspicious and asked for her story. This 16-18 year old girl had lost her purse when she dozed off on the bus and now didn’t have money to go home. She asks Ravindra for a drop in the direction he’s travelling in. Ravindra offers to drop her home as well when she was getting off but she refuses not wanting to trouble him. Ravindra even gives her a hundred bucks telling her she can return it later. She calls today asking him to meet her where she would pay him back but Ravindra tells her she can keep it, if he ever comes to her locality he will call her back. Ravindra explains how so many people could have taken advantage of the girl, but he didn’t. Ravindra hears out my gyaan in peace about how he needs to change his attitude slowly. He doesn’t seem to excited when I tell him that his kids will grow up over here and therefore they may find these parampara of the city more appealing to the ones he lives by.
So what do I take away about Ravindra except for a list of thoughts which can’t be categorized under a single stereotype? Is he right, wrong or just from a different world? Is it as much for me to accept and respect his point of view as it is for him to acknowledge and respect mine? Have I and my kind taken over his world or are he and his kind moving into mine? And most importantly, how many stars should I give Ravindra?