Monday, 26 September 2016

Mumbai Diaries - Monsoon Mystery

Inhabitants of Mumbai, or Mumbaikars as we are called, are the luckiest in the country as far as public transport is concerned. From the local trains (akin to tube or subway) to buses to auto-rickshaws to taxis, the city has all modes available depending on the budget and fancy of the traveller. I am very happy to cab it up often or even take the bus for short distances.
It was pouring today, and as my luck would have it, my car needed to be sent to the garage for an engine fault. With meetings crisscrossing the city I had to rely on Ola (Indianised Uber) and surprisingly not only was I lucky to get them immediately on request, but also got upgraded each time. The only once I got dinged by Ola was at the end of the day, when I decided to leave office.
Not one to fret, I walked into the drizzle and asked a standing black and yellow cab driver if he would drive me to my destination. While he said yes, he did not budge from his position in front of the driver's door. He kept looking on and then suddenly opened the cab door for me. As I sat in, I felt a bit uncomfortable. There was no other cab available so I decided to stick on. At the traffic signal 200meters ahead, the driver was busy staring in the rear view mirror and had to be prompted to move on. A bit weird, I thought and felt it more reasonable to call a friend till we reached the traffic dotted Marine Drive. I just wanted to be cautious.

When we reached Chowpatty, I decided to attend to emails and till the end of the journey did not pay any further attention to the driver, the taxi or the traffic. I alighted, diagonally opposite the building, intending to cross the road quickly. However, something struck me as odd and so I ambled on. The cab driver, to my surprise, kept standing. I had not disembarked at a taxi stop, there was no passenger in sight and the light on that part of the main road was also dim. I could not fathom why he was waiting. I stood on the divider allowing two cars, far apart from one another, pass by. Crossing slowly I turned and looked at the guy and he started to slowly drive on or amble on as I had. Did he want to know which building I got into, was he just bored or was he waiting for someone! I don't know. And that is when suddenly the traffic on the opposite side starting increasing, forcing the cabbie to move on further. Once he was out of sight I walked on home.

I still find the entire experience, the journey and the driver's behaviour bizarre. It is not my first or last strange encounter with a black and yellow cabbie in Mumbai. But something about today's trip makes me uncomfortable even as I am writing this from the comfort of my own room. I am not scared. I am not anxious. I am not disgusted. I am just a little unsettled and curious about the driver's motivations...

Mumbai black and yellow taxi drivers know the roads of Mumbai at the back of their hands. They also have a need for speed. Most of them are nice people too, but then there are some strange apples like the man at the wheel tonight or an indifferent blind eye turning individual I encountered last year.

It was another rainy day in Mumbai and another late night at work, but that day I had the car and driver to get me back home. On the way, at a traffic signal, I noticed a couple making out in the back seat of the cab that had stopped just ahead of us. What was strange though was that the woman seemed to be pushing the guy away and moving towards the door. Suddenly I saw a third man sitting besides the driver, in the front. Something was amiss.

At the next signal I asked the driver to overtake the taxi and then stop. Once the car was stationary, I got off and marched towards the cab; with my eyes on the woman. I was hoping she was not in trouble. Seeing me approach she looked down and started rummaging through her hand bag. Doubt broke my steps, was I overreacting and misreading a situation...
I did a U-turn and went and sat in the car, but my brain had somewhere stored the number plate. At the next signal the cab driver swung from the left most to the right most lane and took a right turn. Very normal rash driving for Mumbai taxi drivers, but I just felt a kick in my gut. The entire next kilometre I was cursing myself when I saw two cops below the flyover. I asked the driver to pull aside, walked up to them, explained what I saw and my apprehensions, and finally gave the number plate details. I was assured that they would be on the lookout for the cab.
Many hours later, once again in the comfort of my room, I had felt uncomfortable. I was also anxious. There was a nagging feeling that maybe I should have carried on and confronted the girl at the traffic light when I had the chance...

I could never find out what happened to the girl. I will never know but I hope she is alright. I can never find out why my cab driver behaved the way he did tonight. I will never know but I hope that my unease is misplaced. But what I do know is that my first reaction, the one straight from the gut, was not completely incorrect last year or today. And I also know that it is not just in case of these unpleasant instances, but even when life has thrown happy occurrences my way, my instinct has been mostly right.

There are times when we distrust our own judgement and there are times when for no reason we don't trust people. But when it comes to total strangers, maybe we need to follow our gut instinct and go with the initial reaction and not over think. Who knows the first flush could really become the first bloom. Who knows maybe over thinking kills a perfectly valid view. Who knows maybe the maybes spin a web that can never be entangled...

PS I wrote this last week but got around to posting it only today 

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