I was born and brought up in Guwahati, and have always wanted to write something on it other than the romance of spending an evening by the Brahmaputra. I have grown up in this city amidst a lot of raging issues, but never came up with a concrete write-up regarding any of them. And somehow these continuous failed attempts to write something make me very thoughtful about the city sometimes. On top of that often small-small incidents and nondescript people make you ponder hard at many things, and something like this happened last week when I arrived in Guwahati to spend my Diwali holidays.
Let me first tell you about something that I experienced in Mumbai. Last summer, I went to Mumbai to attend an advanced photography workshop. It was my first visit to Mumbai. I was alone and so, sceptical at everything.
I booked a pre paid taxi from the airport and proceeded to the porch where the taxis were being assigned to the passengers. I handed over my slip to the manager over there and was soon indicated to follow an accented-Hindi speaking taxi driver, wearing a tanned pale yellow uniform. Without wasting any time, he loaded my luggage in the taxi, and I settled down comfortably in the back seat. Just as he was about to start the yellow-black Fiat vehicle, a haggard, drunk and shabby worker who would be moving my luggage trolley back to the airport arena, knocked on the car window and in a brawly tone asked for money.
I was puzzled, not knowing how to react at this. I had been severely warned by my family and friends, that Mumbai was a ‘bad’ place- thug, thieves, robbers, what not. You become “street smart” in Mumbai, they told me. Within fraction of seconds, weird thoughts started bumping into my mind. Was this drunken worker an ally of the taxi-driver? Did they both run such a racket to make a fool out of innocent tourists?
Just then, my taxi driver reacted in a completely surprising manner. He shouted at the man, “Saale chutiye, mehnat karke paisa kama. Bhag saale.” The man was so very terrified at this that with a face like a wet cat, he walked away, and we started off towards my Byculla destination.
The driver’s sudden burst of swearing made me realise an important pulse of the city. Along with the co-existence of the rich and the poor, the mansions and the slums, there is somewhere an eternal strive to work. In the next few days that I stayed in Mumbai, I realised that the vibrant work culture prevalent among all classes of people living in the city contributed in a major way to its glamour and grandeur, and more importantly, to its existence. Just stand at any street corner in the city and you would see that everyone was in a hurry- there was work be completed, meetings to be attended, and responsibilities to be shouldered.
Mumbai is a congested city and my Byculla address took quite a number of inquiries through roadside shops and passersby to reach at. The taxi driver neither made a face nor charged anything extra.
Now, the second part of the story. Last week I landed in Guwahati, my home town, for the Diwali holidays. Due to some reasons, my parents couldn’t pick me up from the airport, and it was so planned that I would hire a pre paid taxi from the airport. After taking the luggage from the belt, I went to the pre paid taxi counter. When asked about the address, in a casual way I mentioned the most commonly referred locality bus stand which marks my address. I came out and found my allotted driver. He spoke an accented Assamese, and bore a tired look on his face. Just as he was putting my luggage into an Alto decorated by cheap stickers, in a pathetically crooked tone he asked me if he could carry other passengers on the way. From his looks itself I knew that the man was lousy, but I didn’t understand that he would be so blatant at it.
I politely told him, “NO”.
Just as we were about to start, in a quite unprofessional manner, a fellow taxi driver came up to my taxi and in a silly, jobless attitude fixed up with my driver that he would be going in my cab up to a certain point. And once he got in, there ensued a mindless, nonsensical banter between the two drivers. I put on my head phones, and sunk into the seat. Such heights of unprofessionalism chewed up my intestines.
The story, unfortunately, doesn’t end here. The other driver now asked me to show him my slip. I did. God knows what he had to do it with because the slip concerns the driver of my cab not him. Making a face like he was deciphering a RAW code, he scrutinised the address written in the slip. I explained to him that it would be very nice if my driver could drop me a little bit inside on the other side of the road rather than just at the bus stand mentioned in the slip.
With an ingenious spark, the man told me, “Hmm…. but that would require an extra 120 bucks. You know, the roads are different.”
I fell from the sky, and sat erect, wide-eyed on my seat. For 20 years of my life I had been moving through these same roads, and I knew at least this much about fares and all, that I could swear in the name of Jesus Christ that this man actually wanted to make a fool out of me.
I understand that such a notorious taxi driver can take a tourist who doesn’t know any bullshit about the city for a ride. But look here. I was speaking fluent Assamese and the two men completely understood that I was not a new guy in the town. Yet, look at the audacity. I was a little feverish and was not in a mood to argue, bargain and drive my point home. I bargained a little bit and agreed on a hundred bucks, all the while knowing that I was being miserably fooled.
I again put on my head phones and drifted away in thoughts. When you have lived in a city from the day you were born, you develop a feel-good attitude about it. But then such a mischievously unpleasant incident slaps you right on the face. I’m not preaching that Mumbai’s taxi drivers don’t cheat people. They do. I have heard cases. Neither am I saying that the people associated with public transport in Guwahati are all thugs and anti-socials. Never. But the point is that, experiences such as these make you wonder if such unprofessional always-cheat-your-customer mentality is the main cause for the lack of social, infrastructural and entrepreneurial development in Assam. It makes you ponder upon questions like- where does the root cause of such an overall attitude problem regarding ‘work’ lie? Is the underdevelopment for which we are mostly blaming the centre’s negligence basically a mere outcome of our incompetence propelled by such ‘attitude-problem’?
There are a lot of questions, and frankly speaking, the answers are not blowing in the wind!
(Abhishek Saha, a third year Civil engineering student BIT, Mesra, is an active blogger and freelance photographer. He can be contacted at email@example.com)