Sunday, 27 June 2010

Hey Jude - One for the cabbie

Of all the travel “companions” I have had, there has been none more interesting than the cabbie. Just today, I was returning back from the airport, wondering if it would be the first Sunday post I would miss and what do I get ? – an amazing experience on the cab ride back home.

There’s something about cabbies that makes them fascinating conversationalists. Maybe because they bump into all sorts of people every day. They see life in all sizes and shapes. Not all of them are great to be with , especially if they are mobile phone addicts, but most are and I’ve had some interesting experiences in different parts of the world that have stayed on with me.

The guy in Jo’burg. He was a white who revealed that he was actually a qualified Chartered Accountant. But then there’s a sort of reverse apartheid in South Africa these days. He said jobs were hard to come by for whites and he was better of driving a cab !

The guy in Woking who drove me to Heathrow. He was from Muzzafarpur in the Pakistan part of Kashmir. He said no Kashmiri who was sane wanted independence. His solution to the Kashmir problem ? He would make the existing partition permanent and allow people to chose if they wanted to live on the Pakistan side or the Indian side. People can move to whichever country they wanted to live in. End of story.

The guy who drove me from Cairo to Alexandria. For 2 hours he gave the finest rendering of Arabic songs I’ve heard and we had a rollicking time despite the fact that he couldn’t speak a word of English and I don’t speak a word of Arabic !

The cabbie in Melbourne. For some reason ALL cabbies in Melbourne are from India. This was around the time when there was some violence against Indians in that city. He said much was made out of one or two incidents ; he himself felt absolutely safe in Australia and Australians were lovely people. A sane voice of reason when passions were inflamed.

The New York cabbie is in a class by himself. I’ve been with drivers who were from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Jordan, Lebanon, Congo, Liberia, Kenya, Jamaica, Mexico, and probably the entire United Nations, but I’m yet to meet a cabbie who was born in the US !

The London cabbie , of course. Just get him talking on football and off he goes. Since I know something about English football, I needle him knowledgeably about whichever team he supports and a merry argument can be had for the full trip.

The Indian autowallah – well; a whole book can be filled with that experience.

The recent anecdotes have , of course, been with Chinese cab drivers. Made wonderful because they can’t speak any English and my Chinese is pathetic enough to send them into uncontrollable fits of laughter. They then absolutely want to talk to me to correct my Chinese and some of the best lessons I’ve had have been on the backseat of the cab (due apologies to Zhang). Invariably they want to know where I am from and when I say India, their immediate response is that Indian women are very beautiful. Why ? Because they have big eyes !!

But today was special. I landed in rainy Guangzhou late in the evening and got into a cab. My awful Chinese didn’t provoke laughter. Instead he switched on some music from a CD and to my surprise it was in English. He was trying to make me feel “at home”. He then started to sing along – he must have done this to many foreigners and picked up the tune. I sat open mouthed in amazement as I drove to the strains of the Beatles and one incredible Chinese driver, who didn’t know a word of English, but could hum along to Hey Jude !!


kiwibloke said...

Touched! This is my pet topic. Every drive from the airport to downtown is a study in people watching, in closed space. Invariably the cabbie is an immigrant. Have been driven by an Ecuadorian, Uzbeki,Haitian, Somalian and several others. Like my airmiles I keep a tab on the different nationalities I encounter in my taxi drive(r)s

Vishal said...

Worth the wait for a Sunday post Ramesh! I was really very optimistic that you would come with a lovely post for this Sunday's light reading.

I did not had much of opportunity to ride with diversified group of drivers. But I do remember one of those who used to drive us to office in Manila. You must be knowing how crazy Filipinos are about karaoke. And boy! that guy was a big Elton John fan. Used to sing "sacrifice" so beautifully. Lovely lad he was!

sandhya sriram said...

First of all, there is a limit to modesty. for someone who gave an amazing farewell speech in mandarin a few days back that made his teacher proud beyond words- claiming lack of knowledge is not acceptable.

now returning to the post :

having tried several times since morning, i knew its gonna be worth the wait and indeed it was!!

i havent travelled the world and whatever lil i have travelled, while i would have loved to catch up with a lil "Vambu" with the driver, i dont do it normally. this is coz, the first weekend i landed in europe 8 years back for my intl stint, i decided to venture out paris. the journey itself is a story but limiting myself to the cabbie incident, i missed by return bus and i returned back by a train which landed pretty late in the night in rotterdam. decided to take a cab back home. the cabbie was a pakistani and started a general chat. i was also happy to meet someone from the sub-continent the very first week. but then, the cabbie conversations took a completely different turn. i got very conscious. I was terrified and starting cursing myself for this big risk taken. he stopped at a signal, i quickly got off lying to him that i have reached my destination, walked 5 kms and reached home in a very round about route with a continous fear that he could be following me - returned emotionally exhausted.

from then on, i have a huge cabieeyophia (if i can say so)

while i do catch up on a conversation when i am in a familiar terrain like bangalore or chennai, anywhere else, i try and keep a strict silence. and never take a cab on my own unless its company recommended.

Another refreshing sunday post as ever :-)

adeshsidhu said...

Indian cabbies and autowallahs have take on everything. They can go on and on about politics, cricket, overall governance, any general knowledge topic..they have kind of opinion on everything...

Durga said...

Sounds interesting. Whatever little I traveled, I encountered pleasant cabbies. And I must say that most of them were well informed (and some even well read). Some of them showed high customer care inclination too! Good for them, as long as the passenger enjoys the ride to his/her destination.

zeno said...

I think the only cabbies you have missed out is the Antartic cabbies. Can send out some good cool pics of indian actress to show to chinese cabbies :P

gils said...

!! totally agree with zeno!!! drivers pathi post podrathukaga romba selavu panirukeenga nenakren!! i was planning a similar post on my cab exp...but oray route..than..home--office--home :D

Deepa said...

My first reaction is ditto that of kiwibloke's. I haven't travelled in so many countries, but I am a yapper myself and like Adesh said, cabbies and autowallahs have an opinion on everything. Indian autowallas will always be seen reading a newspaper. And the moment you embark on the royal ride, you just have to nudge them and there you are.

I met a Jamaican who was insisting that he looks like an Indian, and lots of people say so. He asked me how do feel seeing the snow here. I told him, I have seen snow in India. "But I thought its hot out there", he goes. Then I said, there is snow, there is desert, there are forests, there are mountains, and there are beaches. He thought, I was trying to be one-up and gave him such an implausible picture of India. We had a real funny conversation he laughing it off and me trying to convince him!

Another time, I saw this 8-9 yr old boy sitting with the cabbie. The cabbie says, "21 dollars miss!". I said I don't have change, I'll give you 50.

"so then how much do I give you back?"


He gave a look to his little boy. He murmurred, "Yes dad, she's right." So the little one counted the change and handed it to me and we all set out to our lives, smiling.

Anonymous said...

Ramesh, great blog story - and pleasing to hear your Melb cabbie feels safe in OZ - that's important - the beat up around treatment on Indian students in Aust was unpleasant - an not useful for anyone.

trevor down under

Ramesh said...

@Kiwi - Yeah, I know. You could write a whole book on this. Maybe someday, you should !

@Vishal - Oh yes, many are quite good singers. filipinos naturally have music in their blood ...

@Sandhya - Can certainly understand this. A lady travelling alone is often more vulnerable and must be more careful. oops - awful experience in Rotterdam. It isn't a very safe city; so you were probably right to be very cautious.

@Adesh - The Indian driver is a character unto himself. Once you go past the bullying and rudeness on fares, he hcan open up amazingly. But as Sandhya says, woe betide a lady who tries to talk to him.

@Durga - Wow; that's an interesting angle. You normally won't associate politeness and customer service with an Indian autowallah ???

Ramesh said...

@Zeno - One of the occupational hazards of long years of business travel is a treasure trove of such experiences. Oh No; I won;t show Indian actresses to the Chinese cabbies. They'll go crazy at the sight of big eyed beauties !!

@gils - Please do the post. I'm sure it will be rick tickling and much more interesting than this one. Perhaps one on the company vehicle drivers and one on autowallahs. Please gils ....

@Deepa - That was one lovely episode. seriously - the bloke couldn't add and subtract ?? Wow !!

@Trevor - Oh; all the noise that was created was just that - pure noise. Oz is one of the safest and nicest places in the world for anybody and to claim otherwise is just pure nonsense. I really can't fathom where that controversy came from; an odd crime happens anywhere.

Satish said...

Firstly am a bit miffed that you came to UK and did not visit us or even call post which I could force you to visit us. I guess it must have been an earlier trip you have referred to because you are too nice a person to have done something like that Ramesh.
The Australian cabbies I agree are mostly from the Indian sub continent. The guy who picked me up looked so Australian and spoke with such a perfect accent that I mistook him for a local. When he asked me if I was from India and where etc. I actually asked him if he had visited India before and then he sheepishly switched his accent to kattar punjabi and said he was from Hoshiarpur.
Interesting perspective on the kashmir problem I must say. The chinese cabbies seem like the Egyptian cabbies. Everytime you talk to them they say humdullah and yes yes and their idea of India is Amitabh Bacchan. In fact one of them even mentioned that Venkatadri looked like Amitabh which left the rest of us in peels of laughter. But overall very sweet guys.

LG said...

Really an wonderful post. Though I travelled very limited, I would just like to register my experience (nearly 330 days) in the tiny town in the USA (Green Bay, WI). For all those days, 4-5 regual cabbies (born n brought up in Wisconsin State), all have stories to tell - mostly their personal stories, some of 'em touched my heart (a lady driver)..

Trust Kiwiblok definitely come out with a BOOK - my best wishes!

Apologies for long pause - settling down time back in India.

Deepa said...

@Ramesh- Yes he was an afro american and never went to school (quite common). But his li'l one did and served the purpose of a reliable walking, talking calculator.

I can still vividly recall the look on the kids face. For those few hours spared from school, in his dad's cab, he was the boss. When he smiled and gave me my change, he had that look of a young boy who can count when his dad can't. I have a bratty bro and I knew just how naughtily elated he was inside.

Ramesh said...

@Satish - Like kiwi, you must have a treasure trove of stories, having travelled far and wide. Why not write a book ?? 34 taxi and autowallahs !!!

Oh; my UK stories were all from the distant past. Haven't been there for some 3 years now.

@LG - Small town America is one of the finest in that land - especially Green Bay. There's something very special about that place and people. Welcome back home - where are you these days ?

@Deepa - What a lovely siuation for a little boy to be in. And what a lovely dad to let him be that way.

LG said...

@Ramesh- Very true on the place & people of Green Bay & the Lambeau Field. Longing to visit again. Yep, my mom is not doing well so, just back to my remote village in Coimbatore! I thought I need a break so I did. But again, associate with one of the Big4. Thanks so much for asking!

J said...

I dare not chat up autowallahs and cabbies in India and NYC as I want their 100% attention on the traffic! Gotta love a Chinese cabbie who can sing along to the Beatles :)

Ramesh said...

@J - Oh no worry on that score - their driving skills actually increase with conversation, especially when they turn back to look at you while talking !!

Anonymous said...

My comments are disapperaing here.
This is an interesting topic,though i dont hv traveled like you,i wish too write one in the same vein.


Anonymous said...

My comments are disapperaing here.
This is an interesting topic,though i dont hv traveled like you,i wish too write one in the same vein.


Anonymous said...

My comments are disapperaing here.
This is an interesting topic,though i dont hv traveled like you,i wish too write one in the same vein.


Anonymous said...

My comments are disapperaing here.
This is an interesting topic,though i dont hv traveled like you,i wish too write one in the same vein.


Preeti Shenoy said...

Very nice post. But with English cabbies there is a lot more to talk about than just football :-)

I find people very interesting (naturally) and I collect stories from all of them :-)

RamMmm said...

Late runner in the comments, but a wonderful post from the 'ulagam suttrum vaaliban'. :)

Ramesh said...

@RamMmm - Not at all a vaaliban, but .......

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