Mumbai diary are stories of understanding the city through its people.
For me a city is not just its architecture, history or industry it carries. It is primarily its people, who remain invisible in the pages of history. This is an attempt to know these faceless people whom you encounter and make the city for you. This includes you and me.
Here is the first story
It was late afternoon and weather was getting hot and humid post holi.
I was sweating profusely,and decided to catch a cool cab instead of taking train to Chembur. Road travel would mean I would take extra 45 mts of travel but a cool cab would have made the journey more comfortable.I thought. Unfortunately there were none in sight. After waiting for half an hour I gave up on cool cab and decided to hop into a regular yellow cab. I got into first cab that was standing in a neat Que and asked the driver "Chembur chalenge?" Man in his mid forties was in the driver's seat, reading a news paper ,waiting to pick up his first( I came to know later that I was the first customer of the day) passenger. He looked at me for a moment and got up and turned his meter box. I was so tired standing in the sun, that I just hoped into the back seat. Shade is a great pleasure.
As the cab chugged along the road, it began to creak... louder and louder as we covered few kilometer; I began to notice the interiors...It was probably a 1985-86 model of Fiat. Back seat was covered with large floral velvet print upholstery which was worn out and needed refurbishing. Passenger seat too had collapsed on one side as springs of the seat had given way with the burden of passengers weight. I looked at the steering wheel and the speed o meter was dead years back. Metal body of the car had rusted and even the door handles and knobs were missing. If I had leaned on the car door and I would have flung out on the road very next moment. I shrunk myself to contain on the seat occupying as little space as possible . Car was way beyond its age of working condition and it was quite apparent from its protest.
As the creaking got louder and louder, I began to fret that the cab might stall just half way and I might get stranded in the middle of the highway. There was no way of hopping out of the cab, as we had touched high way, and traffic was zooming past at 80-100 kms. Now the anxiety and heat both started to get on to me I began to panic. I knew I was in hopeless situation. Just to distract myself from the noise and heat, I thought of striking a conversation with the driver. "How old is the car brother?' I was sure the driver was from UP and that would be the best way to get talking . There was a pin drop silence. I thought he did not hear me so I repeated the question again.
This time he replied "25years" and again a long pause. In a very apologetic tone he told me the cab had been de-commissioned he spoke haltingly." If we get caught on the road by traffic police , than taxi will get confiscated" "what?" my eyes nearly popped out, I certianly wanted to hop out of the cab at that very moment.... all the emotions welled in mind, anger, frustration, helpless and sheer self pity ruled my heart mind and body at the moment.I just cursed my luck.
Resigning to my fate, I decided to carry on the conversation. I had 1 and half hours drive left. So I asked... usual questions..Where does he stay? How many children does he have? can you make the ends meet with cab income , I just kept asking questions , I was not even interested in knowing the answers.I wanted to kill time.
The driver began to tell his story. Man from UP had come to Mumbai in 1992 in the middle of Mumbai riots. Bought a second hand car and was plying it on the roads for last 25 years. Father of four children , had manged to buy a small slum dwelling with this cab. He had managed to educate his eldest daughter and marry her off. His second son was doing medicine and younger two kids were still in school. But he had regrets. His sons were unable to help him in earning extra income and his married daughter who earned well was not able help him pool though his hardships as her salary was given to her in laws. The burden of making ends meet was weighing down on him heavily.
In that hour and half drive , driver wanted to tell me his frustrations , happiness, his dreams, and disappointments to a stranger whom he had never met, and probably whom he would never meet again. I just felt his frustrations of living in a city. I myself have lived many of those moments he was narrating. Finally he concluded his story by saying "I want to buy a new cab- a cool cab , but I am just helpless. Every day I take my cab out thinking this is it. Today my cab will be confiscated and I worry every moment what next?"
There was strange silence. As if we knew exactly what the other person felt for each other.We just shared with each other our pains of living in the city. By now I had forgotten car noises or even the searing heat. We had reached the destination.As I got off the car and paid his bill, I told him, never give up on life. It has its strange ways . He nodded and smiled for the first time. "Would you like to take a ride back home? He am willing to wait and won't charge you the waiting charges." he said. " No , go ahead if you get a passenger" I declined politely.
As I walked to my uncle's home, I though only in a city like Mumbai,you can connect with a perfect stranger and trust him/her with your life story and than disappear in the maze again. we had not even exchanged our names. Rather it was not necessary. He just wanted somebody to know that he exists. I acknowledge.