Have you ever imagined what apocalypse would look like? No, it wouldn't involve a good looking American running towards you, challenging every notion you had of a grimace with the world's only dazzling grimace. It would actually unfurl right outside the gates of your office with no one who looks like Tom Cruise.
First comes the calm: there's a long line of black-and-yellow taxis parked in a line outside the gate. "Hmm, that's sort of disciplined," you think. A gaggle of (mostly) genial looking men cast welcoming stares at you as you troop out, happily WhatsApping your friend that you won't be late for the 7pm movie. "Kidhar jana hai?" one of the men asks enthusiastically. "XYZ (destination name)," you reply, searching for the beer glass emoticon on WhatsApp.
An eerie quiet descends around you.
Taxi driver 1 looks completely deflated suddenly. "XYZ?," you ask again, thinking you may have been so invested in finding the right smiley that the poor man may have not heard you. The said man, now looking like a child who was promised a chicken burger for lunch but ended up with aloo gobi, scratches the back of his ear, then centre of his head, then arm, and finally the bonnet of the taxi he was leaning against. He averts meeting your eyes. And you panic.
The storm: That's usually the taxi driver Morse code for, "Why the hell does he/she not get lost?"
Usually such committed scratching repels you, but you've got a movie to catch. So, you ask him, this time adding a "bhaiyya" for effect, "Bhaiyya, phir PQR?" You can maybe walk from there, and the cabbie will get a bunch of passengers too, it's on the god damned main road too!
"Rlmdlksjetye," comes a muffled sound, from a face now turned away from you, his far-away eyes possibly considering the melting Arctic ice caps. You look at him in utter shock! Where does this man want to go? The Eiffel Tower? Woodstock? Krypton? Virat Kohli's gym?
Now you are losing it. There's a little crowd of weary-eyed, sullen-faced men and women who have now pooled around you, eagerly looking at your face, waiting for you to give up. "Accha, PQR, 50 rupees extra (you like a lighter purse, not essentially a lighter you)," you make the offer you think no one can refuse. Okay, he has stopped wondering about the Arctic and has now faced you.
Will he? Maybe? He should, right?
*Growing chorus of 'bhaiyya ABC', 'bhaiyya MNO', 'bhaiyya FGH'*
"Bhara hai madam (I already have a passenger)," he quips, looking over your shoulder to the desperate group of people waving their folders, umbrellas and hands for his attention. And suddenly an epiphany hits you: right now, everyone cares about him more than Tom Cruise. Including you.
The end: You look at his cab. There's no one in it. Or maybe, there's Mr India in there, or someone wearing an invisibility cloak. Or unlike you, the cabbie doesn't consider the bacteria in the air persona non grata.
You curse him to be bitten by a zombie wherever he is going and walk away.
This is a story that every average commuter in Mumbai or Kolkata will be familiar with. After all, they have lived it several hundred times, occasionally in the same day.
And there are several variations of this story. The one in which it's raining so hard that you can hardly hold the umbrella above you, the taxi driver slows down after frantic waving, only to make a face and rumble away. Yes, Mumbai, you know that one.
Or the long line of weary people, lined in front of Great Eastern Hotel in Dalhousie Square, Kolkata. The taxis stop before every aspiring passenger, only to look away and move ahead without a single word. That's 'f*** off', demonstrated for you right there.
Finding an agreeable cabbie is stuff of dreams in cities. Finding a cab, especially in peak traffic hour, is actually quite a feat. In Mumbai, if you have managed to find a cabbie during peak hours, who has agreed to go to a destination which wouldn't cost more than Rs 150, buy yourself a lottery ticket. That's very much your lucky day!
So when taxi unions go on strike, pulling a long face and complaining that the cab aggregrators are hampering their business, you laugh at the irony of it. It doesn't take a genius to figure why cab aggregrators are so popular in cities with the black and yellow taxis - simply because taxis refuse to do what they are supposed to, and that is commute. From rigged meters to unwillingness to go 'short distances' or any distance for that matter, black-and-yellow taxis have literally driven commuters into the arms of can aggregrators like Ola or Uber.
Consider this: for a distance which will cost you Rs 60 and you are desperately willing to bribe Rs 50 more, because you need a taxi, you'd rather take an airconditioned car which can be pre-booked. That's almost the same money and nearly no heartburn.
In a city like Kolkata, the government had to start a fleet of taxis called 'no refusal' cabs, since the audacity of cabbies soared to an unbelievable high. However, these 'no refusal' cabs are far less in number and no wonder, the city heaved a sigh of relief once Uber and Ola started operating in the city. Otherwise, you have to leave an hour before the usual time, and hope, plead, weep if you can for cabs to take you anywhere. The menace has only grown in the past years, making the government intervene in Kolkata.
Mumbai isn't any different when it comes to the utter arrogance of cab drivers. And they should realise that making their services more palatable are their only chance at besting cab aggregrators.
Updated Date: Sep 03, 2015 10:13:01 IST