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Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Taxis: An artery of the Calcutta Transport System

Taxis in Calcutta are a vital part of the transport system. Mumbai has its local trains; Delhi is known for its upcoming Metro Railway, Gujarat for its local autos.
In Calcutta- we have all of the above and what is most interesting is that all of these exist in almost affectionate co-relation. Autos, buses, local trains, underground railways, tram and of course, taxis- are all in synchronized operation in the City of Joy. Each of these stay within their own precincts, ply in their own areas, serve their own clich├ęd classes from the population.
The age-old yellow ambassador, with a year old embellishment- the blue horizontal line across its body, is popular in Calcutta. It is as if the passenger of a taxi privatizes a public mode of transport for a certain journey. It is a sort of a set-apart means of conveyance among all other vehicles of mass transport.
The ‘cabs’ in Calcutta have undergone a sea-change – from being black and yellow colored (in exact halves) to sporting an only-yellow look. From calculating fares on hand operated meters placed outside the windshield to digital ones placed on the inside. And then there is the new blue strip of paint that runs across the cab with the registration number painted in white. The most recent change is the Radio Cab, the Call- a – Cab service which hasn’t really caught up in the city yet, but is seen around in small numbers; as if making a mark even by scattered presence.
Thus, the taxis in this cosmopolitan city kept pace as the other aspects changed- slowly but steadily. It is interesting to observe the life of the man behind the wheel of this yellow car. How he has grown with the complexities of calculating the fair er, fare amount; with Inox replacing Elite as passenger favorite; with flyovers becoming another ‘floor’ on the road; with the changes in traffic rules and compliances; with the upsurge of one-ways and no-entries- the taxi walla  became the taxi driver and is now a ‘cabbie.’

Here’s an insight into the life of a Mr know-it-all of Calcutta. A man who’s knowledge about lanes and by lanes outdoes Google Maps. His love for the city is second to none- for as long as the city thrives he will continue to earn a living and as the population multiplies his earning will also double-up.

The following post will offer a sneak peek into the diary of Pramod Sahai, who is a taxi driver in Calcutta. He has received education up to Standard VIII and is thus well versed in English. But little do his passengers realize that their driver understands their conversation in ‘inglees’
Pramod drives a taxi owned by a man called Nandaram Mishra. He pays a daily commission to the man in lieu of the vehicle, and drives across the city, everyday of the week. Pramod’s only family is his mother and he stays with her in shanty off Sarat Bose Road. He writes his self notes regularly, addressing the inanimate diary as Master.
These notes are written by the street light, because by the time the 30-something year old man finds time for himself at the end of the day, his mother goes off to sleep. He spends his me-minutes, under a street light in an over-crowded slum. He writes to remember his education, he writes to remember his days, he writes to express his thoughts, he writes for himself.