"Chacha, Howrah jaoge?" , I asked him. I was irritated from the previous five refusals. Thankfully he agreed. I sat and he started the meter. "Chacha meter se zyada to nahi loge?" I asked as I still couldn't believe that a taxiwallah had agreed and didn't even ask for extra!
"Nahi, babu, meter se hi chaliyega, agar aapko mann ho to thoda zyada de dena"
I didn't reply at that moment and sank back in the seat. There was something about this guy that made me want to talk to him. I started awkwardly:
Me: "Uncle, are you from Bengal?"
He: "No, babu. I'm from Jharkhand".
Me: "Oh okay, how long have you been here for ?"
He: "It has almost been 50 years. I don't even remember when I first came to this city"
Me: "50 years is a long time, Have you been driving this taxi all this while?"
He: "I started with a factory. worked there for 17 years, then the factory shut down all of a sudden. With nowhere to go, I started driving Taxis. since then I have been a taxiwallah."
Me: "It's been long."
I didn't ask anything for a while, and just observed him, meandering through the traffic with ease, later I packed up some courage and decided to question him on the rampant taxi refusals.
Me: "Uncle, I was refused by five taxis before you agreed. They were all young guys. Don’t they want to earn money? Don't they understand the need of the passengers?"
He: "Babu, they understand everything, but the passengers, the government, the media don't understand them. we taxiwallahs are poor people. Now if someone asks me late at night to go to a place very far from my house, shouldn’t I refuse? They ask me to go to Dhulagarh at 11 PM while my house is in Khidirpur, why should I agree? I won't get any passenger while coming back, and I'd have to pay the price of the diesel from my own pocket along with the daily fare of the taxi. I hardly make 300- 400 bucks everyday after paying all these expenses to the owner. If I agree to go wherever the passenger wants to go this late in the night, how would I run my house?"
He: had a point, no one ever listens to their part of the story. All we care about is our time. we read a few news articles and curse them.
Me: "But uncle, the refusals are rampant during peak hours too!"
He: "I don't do that. There are some taxiwallahs, who think they'll only look for fares who'll pay more, or go to routes where there is more chance of getting a passenger, but I don't think they are doing anything wrong. Instead of going to a direction where I won't get any money while coming back, it's better to not go there. I was once asked by a guy to go to this place, which is around 20 Kilometers from here. I got around 270 bucks from him as per the meter, but, while coming back I didn't get any passenger, I had to pay 250 bucks for the fuel spent on those 40kms. Now after three - four hours of hard work, if you make only 20 bucks of profit, isn't it better to say no? "
I kept quiet for a while, I felt he had a strong point, we should not always listen to what the media says, and these guys do things for a reason. It’s not that they don’t want to earn- the refusals are because they don’t want to starve even after hours of hard work.
Me: "Chacha, Why don't you buy your own taxi? How long will you rent a cab?" I asked this question to divert the topic. Anything more about the refusals would’ve been harsh on him
He: "I owned two taxis once, and was financially very stable, but 5 years back, I had to sell both of them to marry off my daughter. I wanted to give her a grand wedding. I spent around 8 lakh rupees on her wedding. Everyone was very happy."
I saw his eyes go wide open with pride.
Me: "Was she your only daughter?"
He: "I have a son and two daughters. Both the daughters are married now, and leading happy lives with their families. My elder daughter has started a school, and the younger one is a teacher in a government school. My son is a Manager in a restaurant"
His face was elated, the shine in his eyes was something I had seen in somebody after a long time.
Me: "Wow! You've taught your kids well!"
He: "Yes, all my kids have a Masters Degree"
Me: “Your kids are in such good positions, why do you still drive a taxi?"
He: " Because I don't want to be dependent on them, I have never taken a single penny from anybody as a loan. My mother died when I was 15, I had a younger brother and a younger sister, I took care of them. Even they are well off financially, but I never asked for a single penny from them. If you go by my age I should have retired 5 years ago, but this will power to be self-dependent drives me and my taxi.”
Me: "Chacha, baat to badi gehri kehdi aapne"
Me: "Accha chacha, why do you drive a taxi? You can easily get a private driver's job. The pay would be more stable, you won't have to pay for anything from your pocket!"
He: " I once tried that, but the owners used to ask me to do petty jobs, as if I was their home servant! "sabji le aao, cylinder upar chadha ho, kapde iron kara lao". I didn't like that, so I quit and came back to taxi business. Ab umar bhi nahi rahi cylinder uthane ki"
I laughed with him.
He: "Babu, purane gate pe utroge ke naye pe?"
Me: "Chacha, yahi utar do, accha ek photo le lu aapki? Likhunga aapke baare me, bade mast ho aap, aur naam bhi bata dijiye zara aapka. "
He: “Mathura Prasad hai ji naam, Let me turn on the light for the photo”
He obliged with a photo, though it got blurry as the other taxiwallahs started to shout and I had to hurry up into the station. I hope I meet him again someday. This was one of the best conversations I've ever had. I regret not taking his number. I hope he remembers me the next time I meet him so that I can get a great photo of him.