Conversations with Cabbies #1


Uber & Ola (India) have introduced a new dimension to our lives. As a user, of course, the convenience of calling a cab to your doorstep. The bigger change, however, is to the life of the drivers.

The popular mode of private public transport was the auto rickshaws in many cities till the advent of these cabs. Infact, the only place that did have cabs was Mumbai, fondly called ‘kaali peeli’ describing the yellow and black coloured cabs.

However, the arrival of app-based cab service turned the ecosystem upside down. Cab  and auto rickshaw drivers typically were on the low-end of the earning scale. Rickshaw drivers were also perceived as time wasters, who bought an auto and just worked when they wished like.

With Uber & Ola, suddenly the earning potential exploded multi-fold. I’ve heard stories from the older cabbies about earning more than 60 grand a month (the salary of a 3-4 year experienced IT techie – one of the most coveted jobs in India). Infact, I did have conversations with many cabbies about how they not just earned enough to pay off their car loan, but were able to buy a couple more cars and were running it with part-time or full-time drivers.

This rags-to-riches stories attracted people from smaller towns and soon, we had a a ton of people flooding in to be cab drivers. And then reality set in. Companies yanked incentives, the drivers had to work insane hours but the legend lived on. And so they continue to work as cabbies.

When you meet as many people as a cabbie does, there are bound to be great stories. I’m sharing some of the ones I’ve heard directly from them.

Story 1:

The journey was for more than an hour. It was close to 10.00 PM or later, but there was a bit of traffic (when isn’t there traffic in this city!).

“I was just getting ready to switch off the app when your call came in,” the driver said. Now, this is a story that I’ve heard before, and sometimes leads to requests for extra money. My typical answer to this the question “Where do you stay”.

He said he didn’t have a house in Bangalore. Infact, he bought the car 4 days ago and had come in to the city 3 days ago from a little town about 3 hours away. He had been sleeping in his car for the past two nights, and bathing at the public bathrooms when he got a chance.

I had heard stories of such newbie drivers before but most of them had a friend in the city where they could crash for a couple days.

“I don’t really want to stay with anyone. I actually don’t want to stay in this city itself. I’m going to head back tonight.”

He went on to say that he was sick of the city, the attitude of the passengers and the incredible chaos.

Manju was a farmer. The delayed monsoons a few months ago hit his family hard, and he claimed that he had to get tankers ‘from far away’ to water his fields (which smelled a lot like bullshit). He bought this car because the money from the farm was low, and thought he could earn good money. After 3 days, he realised that he would rather work on the farm instead of being yelled at by passengers, find a hovel-like house where he could sleep and spend all waking hours fighting through the nightmare of Bangalore traffic.

Manju’s Last Words: “People don’t have patience. They want you to come to a location and come right now, even if they can see that the road is blocked. They want you to find a place that they do not know. And they yell at you no matter what.”


Relationships are tough in the best of times. Add busy work lives, different temperaments and quarter-life crisis to it and the picture never looks pretty. And now there is also the problem of too many ways of communication that just confuses things.

I was accused recently by a friend of mine of contacting him only when I wanted something. It hurts… particularly when the friend is a close friend. I know the background of the statement and that he would probably forget he said that and be perfectly okay in a few hours. But the first reaction is temper… and wanting to prove that the statement is not true.

I randomly sifted through some previous conversations in my mind. Times when there were random coffees and conversations… the kind of conversations that there is no record of. Ironically, the one conversation that is on record is where he does not believe me when I say I just pinged to say hi and see how he was doing. He didn’t believe that people did that.

Strangely, most people don’t. Facebook and cellphones, SMS, emails and Blackberry messages have made it so that we can convey what needs to be conveyed in a few words and there is no space for embarrassment generally in those few words. “Hey can you get me this?” or “Can you do this” is generally the message and there is no space for concern and niceties. People don’t take it the wrong way if you just send someone an email on Facebook and say that you want something. Unfortunately, that also means there are fewer of those ‘what u upto’ mails.

For personal conversations, I actually prefer the phone. Or lengthy emails, when I’m broke. I’m used to having friends across the globe and every once in a month, despite busy schedules there is always a ‘oh shit i’m sorry i forgot to mail’ calls or messages. And that generally suffices because you know the person thinks of you.

I try hard not to fall into the trap of non-communication with friends. It is really easy to do that. You see feeds on Facebook everyday and seeing the name everyday makes you think you are in touch. Which is why is rankles when someone makes such a statement. I am selfish, bitchy, impatient and a lot of other things that are probably not politically correct. But when I’m wrong, I accept it. And when I’m unfairly accused, I also hate it.

Social Networking Killed The Mystery

Remember those times when you met someone at a party, got only their first name and maybe where they worked and then you went around asking all you friends at the party about who that person was and slowly trying to find out more about them, their phone numbers and then try to stage a meet somewhere, if you realllllly liked the person?

Do you miss it?

I do.


The mystery, man, the mystery. Curiosity is what really drives man… we like to take things apart, poke at things and really ‘find’ out about things. So the process of actually finding out something about someone would make them more enchanting. Or a little ‘non’. Depending on the information and all that. And every time you found a piece of information about the person, it was like a ‘eureka’ moment.

So when you finally got to meet the person, it would be nice. Like you’d really worked for it and this was a reward.

And then came Zuckerberg and Facebook. He got the idea right – everyone wants to know if you are single or not and they all want to find out more about you.

So now you meet someone at a party, come home, log on to Facebook, key in the name and the workplace and boom! you’ve access to the person. If the person is extremely privacy conscious, then you might have to do a google search. If you’ve had more than a minute’s conversation at the party, you send them a friend request and they actually let you into their lives!!!!

And in less than a day, you know where they work, what music they like, what movies they like, their hobbies, common friends, workplaces and maybe even their party crowd or set or whatever. You decide in a matter of a few minutes if you really want to pursue this further or not.

No mystery. It is like… choosing fast food at KFC instead of a beautifully cooked meal in a nice restaurant.

I do like the convenience of Facebook, particularly for business networking. It is easy to keep track of people and keep them updated. But every now and then, I get a message from someone who I barely met at a party. I wouldn’t know their name or anything else and they find me on Facebook and go “hey remember me? let’s be friends and totally open our lives up to random strangers.”

And here I am thinking if I should really do that. It takes months and years for us to get close to people in real life and yet here is someone sharing a slice of my life on an everyday basis just through a network. I’m not going to be pricey but I think you do need to work to know me, oui? That is the fun part… Maybe because of all the time shortages, we do need a quick entry… but the romance… the mystery… the drama… the sense of accomplishment *sigh*

Here’s the other bad part – your personality becomes restricted to just what is online. There is so much more to a person but we begin interacting on those lines, and sooner or later, begin to believe just that?

Social networks – murderer. Of mystery, of romance.

(Face it… getting a ‘cute’ online heart aint the same as a bunch of flowers waiting on your doorstep)

Aung San Suu Kyi

It has been a long while since I found a woman whom I deeply admired and respected. And the more I read about Aung San Suu Kyi, the more I am impressed.

This isn’t really a one-woman fight for justice but she definitely is the hope, the strength and the driving force of the NLD. I’ve read much of what I could lay my hands on for the past few days and even came close to a chance to interview her (fingers still crossed about that).

That was when I realized that this was one woman whom I really wanted to have a chance to interview. Often, as a reporter, it is the people you come in contact with that is as important as the story. I’m sure any reporter who has had a chance to speak to Obama, Osama Bin Laden, Bill Clinton, Mother Theresa, Princess Diana, Nelson Mandela, Dalai Lama or Martin Luther King has it firmly established in their minds. The meetings are never “just” about the story. It is the person. Their story, their driving force, the charisma. And much more.

The first encounter I had with the mention of Aung San Suu Kyi was sometime a little after high school. I was barely out of my teens then, and though many evenings were spent debating the Iraq war and worse, Burma played a very small role. But we were talking about influential leaders and Suu Kyi’s name came up. I perhaps googled her later that evening but her face struck in my mind.

She looked like a delicate woman who would perhaps be used for advertising Burma’s tourism. Petite, gentle and looked totally unlike the firebrand she was supposed to be.

My memory is short and I forgot about her unless I came about vague mentions on BBC, or till she was released.

That is the sort of faith and conviction I would like to have. Perhaps what I do have is scattered into various avenues.

The photo below, I believe, is what she is. She looks delicate and petite, till you look at her eyes. The determination in those eyes make you believe that her dream of a democratic Burma/Myanmar is perhaps possible.

My Two New Friends

I met two new girls yesterday. They were sitting on the stairway and painting their backpacks.

One was named E and the other one was also named E, but said like Y. They were 12.

The most interesting conversation I had in months was with these two girls. It is easy to hit it off with kids. I smiled when I saw them sitting on the stoop, decorating their backpacks. Y had already done her bag and was helping E to do hers. They were writing E’s name in fancy letters, filling it in with sparkly colours. Except the bag was black and it was quite hard to see anything written on it.

I smiled as I walked past them, thinking about the time when I tried to decorate my black backpack. I used a whitener to write what I thought were rebellious, deep quotes on the bag. And drew a “peace” symbol as well for the heck of it. I was 16.

Waiting for a friend to call me, I hung around watching them till they introduced themselves. I squatted on the floor with them, trying to figure out the best way to get the glitter to stick.

“Paint glue and pour glitter on it,” I suggested and they both instantly took to the idea. Except the had only a glitter pen and the packet of glitter was in E’s sister’s room. The 14-year old sister who wouldn’t appreciate the brat stealing her precious glitter. Oh to be 12 and 14 again!!!

As we spoke, E squeezed the tube of paint to hard and it fell on her skirt.

“FFFFish!” she said. For a moment, I expected the other F word to come out of her mouth and realized it was pleasantly cute to realize that kids still used Fish. Fish is good. Fish is fun. Fish is kids.

Girls being girls… they liked my earrings and my shoes. And my phone.

“I thought of buying this phone actually, when I needed to upgrade to my third phone but then I went with something else,” E said.

I stared at her dumbfounded. My precious phone. Which cost 20 grand. That I was reluctant to part. I mean 20 fricking grand!!! And here is this 12-year old brat who casually is talking about how she wanted my phone and the features in it, better than I could’ve known. Will these kids be born with electronic chips in their heads next?

They spoke about Halloween and weekend plans. E’s parents were taking her away for the weekend for a trekking thing. Y was annoyed. “I hate you and I hate your parents, no offence,” she said.

Of course, E was a city girl and hated trekking and the mosquitos and all that. Having just returned from an awesome trek myself, Y and me bonded. And E was curious enough to give it a real shot this time. Glad to have helped, aunty.

They even knew about my college. “That is the coolest college ever!” they both said, adding that they had cousins who attended there.

Good to know that I’m still among the cool crowd.

12 year olds. Wow.

Link of the day: Actually a photo


The Time I Met You

First meetings. Are they really so important?

Can you make out how your relationship will be with the person when you first meet them or does it gain relevance only after you are in a relationship (of any sort).

There are people in my life whom I don’t remember the first meeting. A lot of them are vague, and quite unremarkable. Some of the most important relationships in my life… I barely remember how I met them.

With some, it wasn’t the first meeting… it was some other memory we form together at some point. Dinners, lunches, trips, experiences… that one statement that made a difference.

I went back down memory lane today, trying to remember how I met a lot of people who are in my life. If I knew instantly about… something. And there are perhaps a handful of relationships which just blended the minute I met them. (Touch wood).

And I realise that happens lesser and lesser as we grow older. Maybe it is just that we are looking for a particular kind of person… or maybe we are rigid. Or we are more conscious about our comfort zones. But that ease I had with some of my peeps… haven’t seen that in a while.

Or even if I do see it, I distrust it. I mean… why else would someone be so nice to me? I know I’m awesome but after various experiences, I figure there is always an ulterior motive. At the end of which I’m left hanging and after having enough of those frustrations… yeah well, I am a cynic.

But here is too all those people who made my life special… All those meetings where we didn’t know what we were headed for, and more specially, all those meetings where I just knew the minute I saw you.

Photo class – Russell market

Photo class – Russell market
The best thing ant d Indian population is the friendliness. True, v cAn b annoying n loud n extremely rude. Bur perhaps it is the lack of space in d country bt d ” swalpa adjust maadi” idea realy works. Ppl don’t mind if u tk photos of their kids, them or weird things of theirs. Not just that, they also want u to taketheir photos, even of they cannot get a copy of it. Perhaps it us just the idea if togetherness that appeals to them so much. Y else wud u want random strangers taking yr photo?
And v r curious ant everything.. The idea that springs from the no privacy d factor again.
U ask ppl on the bus about what they do, how much they earn, where they work, if they f married or single n Pwrhaps even abr ue sex life. So when u head our with a camera they wanna know why n how. It’s cute n irritating at the same time.
N that strange fascination with white ppl. One woman who was with me today said she was glad she wore a salwar, given d plc v were in. She said v were gettin more attn in jeans. She didn’t realize it was the cams that got the attn.

People On The Street

People watching… not exactly the way it was supposed to be done. But it was a pleasant day and made for a pleasant walk and there were just enough people on the road to make it interesting.

I was on Brigade Road – one of the central roads in the city which is frequented by tourists and locals alike. So I tried to pick out which were the tourists, which were the people not from bangalore but here for work, here for work or studying for a while and the locals.

And on this street, it was fairly easy. Now, i wish I had photographs to go with this but I was on a schedule… so… use your imagination.

CASE 1 – Firang woman (white woman, for the uninitiated). She is wearing loose, thin pants with pretty boutique prints on them with a short kurta. Optional – braided/matted hair, a ring in the nose or the ear or anywhere on the face.
Verdict – Tourist. Hippy tourist. The kind who auto drivers charge 50 bucks extra and offer to take them to a place to buy weed

CASE 2 – Firangs… same loose pants, with a longer kurta minus the piercings etc
Verdict – Tourists.

CASE 3 – Firangs… jeans, a plain t shirt, a ball cap… just an ipod and cellphone in hand. Normal hairstyle, not too many shopping bags in hand, nor is the bag slung around the body.
Verdict – Students/Interns who have been living here for a while.

CASE 4 – Jeans, a t shirt/shirt, cell phone in hand, keys not particularly tucked away so nobody can see it… could be firang, could be north Indian…
Verdict – businessmen. not particularly from the city

CASE 5 – Semi formal shirt and jeans/kurta and jeans
Verdict: This is where it got a little confusing. Could be a student here… family moved from somewhere else. Or belongs to the non-traditional part of Always-Been-Bangalorean crowd. Usually, I would judge by the sunglasses or sort of bags they carried… or the shoes… those pretty embroidered shoes – never from bangalore, always from some other cosmo city. But with normal sneakers… a little hard to tell. So i went with Bangalorean.

Of course, if they had worn a ill-fitting t shirt with slim jeans, I would peg them as from Chennai or the more traditional families in the city.

The thing is… bangaloreans don’t have a fixed image i guess… which is why they are identified by the elimination of everything else. The body language is relaxed, they aren’t particularly worried about their bags… sometimes, I see some people and think “hmmm” and then it turns out they are from Bombay or something. They’ve been here a few years.

The particular trait of a “Bangalorean” is that your family could be from anywhere… you could speak any language at home…  but you always know a bit of kannada, like it and most importantly, you always identify yourself as “bangalorean” before anything else – caste, religion, sex, or that little village your parents left when you were not even a molecule.

The best kind of people. A rare, vanishing breed.

Here’s that to city that was.

Photo Of The Day:

Peace, Love, & Happiness, originally uploaded by evanleavitt.