Mumbai Memoir 88- Mumbai’s evolving Taxi Culture!
A newcomer to Mumbai would get bewildered looking at the ‘sea of taxis’ on the roads. The ‘Kaali-Peeli’ taxi, meaning the Black & Yellow Taxi service has been iconic to Mumbai’s identity. 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, off the peak traffic hours, 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 cab drivers hail from various backgrounds, but obvious trends about their ethnicity are seen from time to time. In the past (post partition of India), 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 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. One notices that 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. These days a new concept is seen inside the taxi décor. Though rarely seen, few taxis have artistic seat covers, mostly created by a non-profit company called Taxi Fabric. http://www.taxifabric.org/ The company designs and creates seat covers for Mumbai Taxis that reflect multi-colour contemporary art themes that has a social message or meaningful symbolism. Most of the funding for the projects of Taxi Fabric comes from donations made by American and British population. I would urge Mumbai’kars & the world to donate & be a part of an art revolution and join Sanket Avlani, the brain behind launching ‘Taxi Fabric’, who along with a team of designers, is passionately involved with the mission to drape the interiors of Mumbai’s ‘Kaali-Peeli’ Taxis. The team want colourful designs and graphics to seep into public spaces for the layman to experience the mindful magic of art. More about the team: https://yourstory.com/2015/10/taxi-fabric/ The graphics both inside and outside the taxis, seems like a art 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 Uber, Ola &, Tab Cab etc. Both the Taxi services have their pros and cons. The black and yellow taxi drivers are fussy about taking a passenger to the exact destination spot, nor are they trained on soft skills to communicate with the passenger, as a result they loose business.
On the other hand, the private taxi services that have sprung up off late, are preferred by most tech-savvy Mumbaikar’s, as they can be pre-booked and the pick-up happens right where one is standing. Though they are costly, people who want to avoid tussle and conflict with the taxi driver of the ‘kaali-peeli’, prefer the private, technologically advanced taxi service, with decent taxi drivers, who have better soft-skills to deal with passengers. But on an average, due to low economical rates and its omnipresence, 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. Recently I hired a ‘Kaali-Peeli’ taxi and to my surprise a very old man was driving the taxi. I asked him his age and since when he had been driving his taxi in Mumbai. I was surprised to know that he was 93 years old and said he started driving taxi in Mumbai after he turned 60 (post retirement)! I asked him, ‘At this age isn’t it tiresome and irritating to drive on the ‘evergreen traffic’ roads of Mumbai? He answered, ‘I want to live with dignity till I am alive and don’t want to spread my hands in front of anyone for my survival needs, that’s why I have made up my mind to stay active till my hands, legs, eyes and breath allow me to do so’! It was truly inspiring for me to know that a 93-year old in Mumbai too is still so hopeful for continuing ‘his journey’ and is never giving up on the challenges of his life by nurturing & practicing the true spirit of Mumbai!
Shraddha .C Sankulkar, Aditya Chichkar, Taxi Fabric website and Free Internet source.