I made a brief, official visit to Mumbai over the past week end – a city that I have been visiting off and on since the early 60s and where I lived for 5 years in the 80s. And the sight of the local cab has not changed much since then – the black and yellow Fiat being as iconic and symbolic of the city as the orange Ambassadors of Kolkota or even the yellow cabs of New York. In India, we have this luxury of hailing down cruising, ubiquitously available cabs (a common scene in New York based movies) only Mumbai and Kolkota.
On the Saturday evening I walked through familiar streets of Dadar/ Matunga with no specific agenda, visited the temple and flavored the market (less bustling and congested than as I remember it from 2 decades ago). When I decided that I should head back to the hotel, and did not feel like the walk back, there was a cab just a few meters away. I asked the cabby “Dadar station?’ -and he indicated OK with a nod. He leaned out to turn the meter, and we were off – a distance of about 2 Km. And at the end of it, I had to pay Rs 21 – when I gave him 3 Rs 10 notes, he gave me Rs 9 in change!! He did not pay much attention to my “Thank you” as this was peak hour – and he was already on the look out for next fare.
On Sunday morning, I had planned an early visit to a cousin in Chembur. I got out of the hotel, at 6.30 in the morning and there was a taxi right at the entrance, along with many more. There were no queries as to where I wanted to go, I just got in and sat down, the meter came down and then I said , ‘Amar Mahal’ Chembur. This is a luxury that we do not have in any other Indian city. It is always not like this and outside the Railway stations, they can be choosy preferring the longer rides to the closer ones – I have experienced this in the days when we lives at Parel and had to get home from Dadar station. The morning ride took all of 20′ and I paid Rs 126 for the 10 Km or so. The return trip to Wadala, was 2-3 Km shorter and so I paid Rs 115/. The change was always produced to the exact Rupee.
In Gurgaon, where I live, the 3 wheeler charges more than this!! And as for a taxi, I have to ‘call’ a taxi in advance and either keep it waiting and pay the waiting charges for make 2 separate bookings for going and return. And so, this one is really in appreciation of the Mumbai taxiwallah – all 3 were from UP, and we hear of them only when they become targets of certain political groups!! They provide a service that separates true metropolises from the mega-villages like Gurgaon!!