Mumbai’s ‘Kaali Peeli’ Taxis! ~ Mumbai Memoir
As the plane descends to land at the Mumbai airport, a bird’s eye view of the city’s landscape is visible from the aeroplane’s window. Numerous bright yellow colour streaks are spotted in midst of the dense concrete jungle below. As one flies low over the city, one realizes the roads full of Mumbai’s signature black and yellow taxis! After checking out of the airport, the first thing that catches one’s attention is a booth of pre-paid taxi service. If one is unable to pro-actively book a private vehicle to reach one’s desired destination, then the pre-paid taxi service is an ideal service to seek.
Once when I was heading back from the domestic airport towards South Mumbai, I decided to hire a pre-paid taxi. After loading my luggage into the boot space of the taxi, the journey began. The taxi driver mistook me as a first time visitor to Mumbai and started informing me about the city’s ‘Must Visit’ tourist spots. The taxi driver seemed to be in his early 70’s and his wrinkled skin and driving skills spoke volumes of his professional experience. Sensing that it would take almost an hour to cut through the traffic to reach my destination, I took the opportunity to ask the taxi driver about his experiences of being a taxi driver in a city like Mumbai. He smiled at me through the rear view mirror and openly disclosed about himself. After the partition of India in 1947, his family migrated to the Indian side of Punjab. He further migrated solo to Mumbai (then Bombay) in the early 1950s. After doing petty jobs for few years, he then took up driving lessons and decided to become a taxi driver. He confessed that his decision to try his hand at driving a taxi was inspired from a 1954 released Bollywood film named ‘Taxi Driver’, starring the then youth icon super star- Dev Anand.
The hour long infotainment provided by the taxi driver revealed many facts & facets regarding Mumbai’s taxi service which the Mumbaikar’s refer as ‘Kaali-Peeli’ taxi, meaning the Black & Yellow Taxi service.
Since 1911 motorised taxis started running on Mumbai roads. They replaced the horse-driven ‘Victoria’ or buggies that served the commuting needs of both, the locals and the visiting tourists during colonial times. The very first Bombay cabs were the American manufactured Dodge, Chevrolet and Plymouth models. In 1950s the British manufactured Hillman Minx, Morris Minor and the Indian make Hindustan Motor’s ‘Ambassador’ models became popular. In 1970s, Indo-Italian Fiat-Premier ‘Padmini’ taxi models flooded the Mumbai roads, until recent times when Korean make Hyundai Santro and Indo-Japanese make Maruti-Suzuki Wagon R models are seen dominating the city roads.
Positive change and uniqueness has always attracted human nature. When a new black & yellow taxi model is spotted on the road, the common man of Mumbai, who can afford a taxi, feels excited to stop one and experience the taxi ride with a thrill of novelty. If a tourist wants to experience the raw feel of the city and its lanes, a taxi- ride from Sion to Colaba would be worth it. Here’s a video link that offers some tips while you hire a cab in Mumbai https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5SKSJjvFa0
The cabbies hail from various backgrounds, but obvious trends about their ethnicity are seen from time to time. In the past, turban clad Punjabi taxi drivers were mostly seen driving around, but now North Indian taxi drivers from the State of Uttar Pradesh have flooded the Mumbai’s taxi industry. Most of them are sole bread winners of their family back home and have come to Mumbai in pursuit of happiness. Having also experienced taxi rides in New York and London, I noticed that immigrant taxi drivers connect with their passengers in a warm friendly manner, especially if the passenger is from their native place! They may sound over-talkative but I guess that’s their way to fill the void of loneliness that they may be experiencing over the years or it may be out of sheer habit that may ofcourse irritate a few passengers!
Besides adding value to Mumbai’s transport system, the taxi service indirectly contributes to the city’s urban art. The yellow and black colours have become iconic of Mumbai’s traffic scene. Besides this, the rear glass of many cabs reflects various themes which the taxi driver proudly displays out of self-expression. Check this video link to know more: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qUujkS-AI_s Graphics of Indian Gods, names of family members and locations, Bollywood film themes and colourful symmetrical designs are seen moving around randomly on the streets of Mumbai. It seems like a graphic exhibition on wheels, which provides subtle relief and mindfulness as it positively distracts us from the blues of the day!
The heritage black and yellow taxi service of Mumbai has amused visitors since long. In 2012, Richard Branson, the British business baron and owner of Virgin Group of Companies, chose to use the Mumbai taxi for promoting his airline company in India. The 100 year old taxi service is still going strong but like any other industry, the Mumbai cabbies too are facing competition from air-conditioned private cab services like Meru Cab, Tab Cab etc. But due to economical rates and easy accessibility, Mumbai’s black and yellow cabs still rule the hearts of Mumbai’kars.
On festive occasions, during the monsoon, in times of medical emergencies or on a romantic date, a taxi has always come handy. Every Mumbai’kar nurtures loads of bitter sweet memories related to a taxi. No matter what the nature of the memory may be, I am sure they will be painted with ‘black and yellow’ colours on our mind!