Public transport has always been a great leveler. The person with an IQ of 140 rubs shoulders (and hopefully nothing else) with someone with an IQ of 80 in an overcrowded city bus. A professional en route to work is seated next to a domestic help on the metro. A scruffy student hops off an auto-rickshaw, and a suited-booted gentleman gets on to be driven to a wedding.
For those who could afford it but did not take to driving or being chauffeured, private cabs offer an escape from more plebian forms of transport like buses, metro rickshaws and sound like an elite escape from the travails of crowded commutes.
But now the leveling effect has come to radio cabs with a vengeance. If you take Uberpool or Ola Share in a place like Delhi, you do go to office in comfort and style, but your co-passenger will not be a richie rich. She may well be a college student taking a ride to the metro station, a boutique owner carrying bags of lace, a door-to-door salesman, a tourist en route to Connaught Place. Dating couples, however, still prefer the metro, for it provides more privacy among milling crowds than a bored cabbie listening to the whole conversation and watching every move.
And the biggest disrupter of your peace of mind: a couple of school students on the way to the cinema. First, they will pretend they pressed the ‘share’ button by mistake, and wanted a more exclusive ride. They’ll chatter non-stop about such important matters like the latest episode of Big Boss on TV, the pranks they’re going to play on a classmate they dislike, using cuss-words they should have waited till college to utter. Or which you often heard on buses and thought you had reached a higher station in life where they would never be heard again.
Both the cab driver and the student commuter who is dropped at her doorstep feel they have arrived in the world of money and privilege
You have to learn to be amused rather than exasperated, because radio cabs are the best thing to have happened to the city after the metro trains. Somewhere in between came the hope that the Aam Aadmi Party would change our lives, but the L-G made sure it was throttled into disability. Moreover, this is the only proof you have that India is learning new skills.
It’s amusing when a cab driver tells you: “I’ve turned left at the blue board”, as if the colour of the board is so memorable that you’ll immediately know where he is.
During the rains, a driver says helpfully, “I’m waiting at the building under construction. There’s a huge pool of water here.”
Another says, “I’m waiting at the destination” and refuses to divulge more, even if you say you are also at the ‘destination’ and can’t see any cab.
Cabbies are as proud of their English skills as the rest of us. Asked why he doesn’t use the navigation system in his native tongue, one replies in Hindi, “I don’t understand ‘left’ and ‘right’ in Hindi.” They suffer the American accent of the navigator like they do the idiocyncracies of commuters who want to be dropped right at their doorstep instead of walking a few steps. Both feel they have ‘arrived’. Used to living life and driving by their own rules, they seem a little in awe of the digital systems that provide them passengers, help them avoid congested areas and having money streaming into their bank accounts unseen.