Saturday, November 8, 2008

Mumbai taxi stories

One Sunday evening, 1957. I was entering the gate of the guest house where I stayed in Colaba. Suddenly there was a shout from behind me. Turning around, I recognized the taxi driver who had taken a friend and me to Silver Sands Beach that morning.

The man got out of the vehicle holding up a tiny but very expensive camera and I got a jolt. I had borrowed it from a friend for the outing and had left it behind in the taxi without realizing it.

It was such a great relief when the driver handed the camera over to me. He explained that he had been waiting for me for a long time and I should pay him the meter charge. That was about 40 rupees. I gave him 100 rupees.

1970. I engaged a taxi for the whole day. The vehicle was spic and span. The driver was a well groomed elderly person with a cultured voice. On the way back to the hotel at night we got to talking.

What he told me about him was so fascinating that years later I wrote a brief short story based on it titled A Tyreseller. It won a prize in the Unisun-British Council short story competition. Click on the link below to read it.

Now, the 21st century.

Five years back my wife and I reached Mumbai by train. Because of a communication muddle the vehicle for us waited at Dadar and we went on to Chatrapathi Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus).

We took a taxi for the long haul to Ghatkopar. After about a hundred meters the car stopped and a goon looking chap got in front. The driver said the man was his brother.

After a while the non-driving brother pulled out a bottle from under the seat. The contents could have been water or colorless alcohol. They started drinking, passing the bottle from one to the other. I felt uncomfortable but kept quite. I had no mobile phone to contact anyone.

After Bandra the driver took us east, driving trough some remote areas for about two hours. Finally he dropped us off about 5kms from our destination saying the car had run out of patrol, and demanded Rs.2000. He settled for Rs.1400 which, I told him was all that we had. I managed to note down the taxi number though the goons tried to prevent me.

A passing autorickshaw driver had stopped by and was watching all these. While taking us to the address where we were staying he told us that the fare from CST would not have been more than Rs.400. He insisted that we should complain to the police.

Mumbai had changed so much!

The story had a satisfactory end, though. I contacted somebody I knew in the government. Within twenty four hours the goons were apprehended and the entire money was returned. Out of that I entrusted Rs.500 to the policemen and told them to give the taxi driver what was fair.

Well !

Also see:

A Tyreseller.

Memories: Shoeless on suburban train.

6 comments:

Lakshmi Bharadwaj said...

Oh yes, some taxi drivers and autorikshaw drivers can be unbelievaly kind. others can try to trick the money out of you! One of my friends left the hall ticket for 2nd Pu exams in an auto! The guy returned in the night to return the hall ticket personally to my friend's residence! The other day, i heard about another incident. A tata sumo driver robbed newlyweds near tirupati. He was caught later by the bangalore police....so i think there are both good and bad people in the world. Will definitely check out your tyre-seller story! :-)

Ashvin said...

Mr. Tharakan, you missed your calling in life. It is still not too late. Maybe one day I will tell my children 'oh the famous author Abraham Tharakan ? I know him very well'. Even now I bore my wife daily talking about you, Murali(ettan) Rama Varma, Maiji, Raji aunty, Nebu and Maddy, but she patiently listens.

RAJI MUTHUKRISHNAN said...

What a lovely story - the first one!

Congratulations on the prizewinning story - I will read the Tyreseller next.

The last story is the sad reality of today, but thank goodness it had a happy ending.

There is still some hope - last week in Chennai, an auto driver returned the suitcase containing bridal clothes and jewellery left behind (by the bride!) in his vehicle. But last year in Mumbai, a cousin forgot to pull out the small box stashed behind the seat, and containing his wife's silks, and got off only with the other two boxes.
That was the last he heard of it.

Nebu said...

Rarely do we planters go on vacation. As I jokingly say; “we are waiting to get a job to take a holiday”.
In 2006, we went to Mumbai for vacation cum college hunting for my son. We hired a taxi to take us to the YWCA and the taxiwalla acting very polite, rightly sensed that we were first timers to the city. He gave us an unsolicited site seeing tour around the city before dropping us at our destination and asked for Rs.1500/- which included the AC charges as well. I couldn’t argue because Hindi and Latin are same with me “Hindi kabhy, kabhy maalum”. I handed over 3 five hundred rupee notes and turned away; suddenly he called me back and showed me that I had given him only two notes. He didn’t realise that through the corner of my eye I had seen him very cleverly slipping one note to the floor of the car. I opened the door of the car, picked up the note and handed it to him, he sped away. Luck was with me that day albeit costly.

Mysorean said...

Not surprised by your experience 5 years back at Mumbai. During 1950s and early 1960s, the sole transport from Mysore railway station used to be Tongas and the Tongawallahs held the passengers to ransom. A friend of mine from Madras was charged Rs 10 (a lot those days)to go to KR Hospital just 1 furlong away! But the crafty Tongawallah drove the poor passenger for 30 mins around places which were furlongs away from the hospital. When I took my friend back from the hospital (to where he came to see a relative) by foot which took just over 6 mins to reach the railway station, he couldn't believe that he was literally taken for a ride by the Tongawallah.

Ten years ago, I took a bus from Trichy to Chidambaram to visit the Nataraja temple there and things worked out well until I took my wallet out and offer 'dakshinai' to the priest who was coming around with the prasadams. While collecting it, I noticed a kind looking person with glasses who also collected the prasadam. I was happy about my succesful first visit to this historic temple and on the way to the bus stand I felt that my pocket was light and on checking the wallet with Rs 600 had disappeared. There I was, a stranger with no money and no valuables stranded in an unfamiliar place. The best I could do was to report the theft to the police station. The police inspector with a long mustache was polite and realising that I was on a visit to India, offered me Rs 30 for the bus fare to Madras where my sister lived. He advised that I should put this to experience and not make a formal report. I thanked him for his generosity and put the notes in my packet and arrived at the bus station to take the night bus to Madras. When I pulled out the 3 ten rupee notes to pay for the ticket, I could not help noticing an ink stain on the white of the note (where watermark is embedded) which looked familiar. It was the ink stain I transferred when my sister's son's ball point pen leaked while counting tenners in a rupee bundle that morning. This tenner was in my Rs 600 bundle which was picked near the temple!

After I was back from India, I narrated this to a friend, he said he too lost his wallet which contained credit cards and cash at the same temple premises years ago. He said a person with glasses who stood near him also collected the prasadam from the priest. My friend said he complained to a police inspector with a long mustache who was helpful. The inspector went out and talked to some one who he said was in his crime prevention squad and who will leave immediately to interrogate known characters. Refreshments were ordered by the inspector while the friend was waiting for the squad person to return. Within 20 mins the squad person returned with the wallet with its contents intact. He was the person with glasses. The inspector suggested Rs 1500 as a reward for the succesful recovery to be given to the person with glasses! I asked my friend how much money he had in his wallet. He said a little over Rs 7500.

Maddy said...

by & far mumbai taxis are considered OK by the locals but of course they may try to fleece you if they feel you are an outsider. especially the taxis that hang around near a station or an airport. the reason claimed is apparently to make up for lost revenue from the long lines they have to wait in for hours and hours..