I thought it was Raj Thackeray. But it was Maharashtra chief minister, Ashok Chavan, trying to convince us that is was important that taxi drivers in Mumbai will get a licence only if they are domiciled in the city for 15 years and can read, write and speak in Marathi.
This is not the Shiv Sena, but we must remember that Mumbai’s psyche has subconsciously imbibed the SS ideology. It is part of the anti-immigration move. Most commentators wonder how a cosmopolitan city can be like this. It is precisely the cosmopolitanism that is causing the problems. We are dealing with several types and now have them pushed against the wall based on different factors – religion, region, language, economic status, education.
Most cabbies are from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. As always, the cities biggies are saying, oh, let us stop them for a month and see how the city suffers. That is not the point. This is a selfish way of looking at things.
How many passengers can read, write and speak in Marathi? Even if they do, most prefer to speak in English or Hindi. English because it makes them appear superior and Hindi because it is the language of Bollywood. I have seen yuppie types converse in ‘Bhai’ underworld lingo! It is not unusual to watch a Raju driver type being addressed as “Boss, idhar say right turn maarna…oye baap, oopar bhejneka chance mangta kya?”
I have tried conversing in some Marathi with cabbies who insist on responding in Hindi. They are either sensitive about my lack of fluency or prefer to use another language.
The other argument about domicile would make sense if the Marathi drivers knew the city as well. The reason given is that they should be able to identify addresses. This is a problem, and I have encountered Marathi-speaking drivers who do not know.
Instead, there should be a system of a central office that can provide such details. With low mobile phone rates, it is not too difficult.
With the advent of private taxis, this will be a huge blow to the black-yellow cabs. Instead of language skills, there should be other mandatory rules – like insistence on running the meter, being polite to passengers, not refusing to ply to certain areas, clearly indicating the timings that a particular cab operates.
An anecdote during the month of Ramzan is worth repeating. I had to reach the airport. No cabs anywhere in sight. Finally, I found one. There was a traffic jam and he started grumbling about getting the wrong place to go to in Marathi to someone on his cellphone. I ignored him. Then the vehicle behind brushed against his cab. He got out, there was a fight and finally upon discovering there was no damage he returned. He started on this spiel about how he would get delayed for breaking his fast.
I started talking on my cellphone and did the Muslim act by interspersing the conversation with “mashallah, inshallah” and ended with "Khuda hafiz”. When we were close to our destination, he said he did not know where the terminal was. I directed him, although all the signs were there.
I had not realised that he had not stared the meter. “Soch-samajh ke de do (give what you think best).”
“Hum pehli baar airport nahin aaye. Seedha bataa do, yeh ginti karma hamara kaam nahin hai (It isn’t the first time I am going to the airport. Tell me straight, I am nto here to count),” I said.
He demanded four hundred for a ride that costs not more than 250 bucks.
I had no choice and he knew it. I did tell him clearly, though, that this was nto the amount and he said he had come all the way and was getting late.
This was getting too much, so after paying him, I did not shut the door, but peeped in and said, “Aapka roze rakhne ka koi faayda nahin. Asli roza hota agar aap tameez se pesh aate aur tareeke se meter chalate. Ab jao aur iftaar manao aur apne gunaah ki muafi maango. Hamara koi nuksaan nahin hua hai, aapka hua hai inn paison ko lene ke baad bhi.” (Keeping the fast has not helped you in any way. True roza is when you behave well and follow the rules. Now go break your fast and accept your mistake. I lost nothing but even with the additional charge you have.)