I visited Mumbai after almost two years last week. In spite of what others say about the city, I love the energy, the cosmopolitan culture and the wonderful local delicacies such as pav bhaji, misal pav, poha and kandha bhaji.
I got into three illuminating conversations during my two days there, and they all had two things in common: (1) they were with taxi drivers who took me around to different parts of Mumbai; and (2) All three were from the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP).
Drive 1: I was going from Nariman Point to Worli for a meeting when I got into a conversation with Raju, the driver. As we were driving through Marine Drive, he started complaining about the long line of young couples who were lost in their romance, and rued how times have changed. "These youngsters watch movies and want to recreate the filmi world in their real lives. Look at the kids who are watching them; they're bound to get spoiled like them." I asked him whether he had children and he said that he has four. His family lives in UP, in a village near Allahabad and he stays alone in Byculla. He rents the taxi for Rs 400 every day and his income doesn't allow him to bring his family to Mumbai. Instead, he visits his home in UP once in six months. Mumbai is for rich people, he said.
I wondered how much anger brews inside each one of the taxi drivers when they see other people who lead a life with their families.
Drive 2: I was going from Nariman Point to Worli, this time in a cool cab, a blue version of the black and yellow Mumbai taxis with air-conditioners. The driver's name is Mohammed and he is also from a town near Allahabad. He also has a family that lives in UP and he lives alone in a slum in the Worli area. He was unusually calm and chatted to me about how the climate has changed dramatically in recent times. Novembers were hot these days, he complained. When I enquired about his family, he also mentioned how expensive the city is and that his income doesn't allow him to lead a family life in Mumbai. He goes once a year to his native place and stays there for a month. The drive cost me a steep Rs 812 but I really enjoyed the conversation.
Drive 3: I was going from Nariman Point to Bandra Kurla complex for a meeting when I got into a conversation with Manoj, the driver. Manoj has five kids and his family lives near Lucknow. He lives in the Cotton Green area with his friends and goes back home twice a year. He didn't bring his family for three reasons: the costs are prohibitive, there's no support system in Mumbai and the city is not safe for kids. He mentioned that outsiders like him constantly fear getting beaten up because of local politics but that he has no choice but to carry on as he is the sole breadwinner of a large family back home. He said he makes sure to avoid arguments, but believes that people from his state are targeted for all the wrong reasons.
Each of those drivers has a family and children. Those kids will want to spend time with their father and learn from him. Because of a lack of education and the promise of a steady income, these poor drivers come to Mumbai, live alone and send money back home. I wondered how these families lead their lives, with the father living alone in Mumbai and with, on an average, three or four children to raise. What about the needs of the driver's kids? How will they relate to other kids who live a life with their parents and go to good schools? What kinds of aspirations will they have? What image will they have of their father? What about the wife's sexual needs? What is her role as a wife? What will motivate her on a daily basis?
[W]e are prioritising money over everything and this applies to all sections of society. In the process, we are losing our sense of community, our freedom and our ecosystems.
The taxi driver doesn't have it easy either. How will he relate to the families that board his taxi? What thoughts will be going through in his mind when he sees the rich families leading a luxurious life when he can see his near and dear ones only once in a year? What about his sexual needs? How often will he talk to his family? What will he tell his kids when he talks to them? He doesn't have insurance, doesn't have a safety net because of local politics and leads a life of loneliness even though he may have friends like him. I wondered how much anger brews inside each one of the taxi drivers when they see other people who lead a life with their families. Just because they were born in a poor household with a few opportunities and a lack of guidance, their life has no scope of changing and now, that cycle is going to continue for their kids. Yes, there may be one among a thousand who escapes this vicious cycle but I assume this is the case with most of these immigrants.
In their native place, they could earn Rs 2000-3000 doing this job but in the name of big money, they come to these big cities and earn Rs 6,000 - 8,000 per month. With all the expenses, their income will be either the same or even less when compared to their native places. They live alone in extremely cramped spaces and are vulnerable to all kinds of evils. Somewhere in all our minds, we are prioritising money over everything and this applies to all sections of society. In the process, we are losing our sense of community, our freedom and our ecosystems.
We are fighting on social media over petty issues. We fight along religious lines. We fight on the basis of language and region. We also feel proud about the history of our country. These people have neither the time nor the money to fight along these lines, nor the pride to feel included in our glorious history. Their present is chaotic and their future is dark. They live far away from the social media world and they are nowhere near being included in our daily scheme of things. Next time, when you are travelling in a taxi or dealing with a worker, please be compassionate with them as they go through so much and they need our empathy. It is the least we can do to make them feel included in our society.
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