I got off at Dadar station last night and managed to hail a cab at once. This is unusual only because cabbies in this city run the risk of licence suspensions and three-digit fines from local baton-swirling cops who are always on the prowl.
Cab stalls. I get in. Driver seems in no guilty hurry, unlike the rest of his taxi driving brothers. I initiate conversation. How come you aren’t scared of the policewalla? Yawning, he tells me they’re taking a break; thak gaye bechaare.
He inquires where exactly I want to go. Dosti, I reply; that being where I live. Cabbie breaks into English, Dosti people, good and decent. This he has noticed. He can hear me grin. Am I living with mummy-papa? No, on rent. (like that’s the exact opposite.)
The preacher in him gets going, but only after I’ve managed to trace his roots. Turns out he’s from near Bangalore (Bengalooru?) and used to wear shirts like Dharamendra “to show off in village”.
Cabbie then adopts bullhorn- like now-hear-this-now-hear-this manner, and starts dispensing real estate advice. You are fancy baby, you won’t listen to taxi driver, but once listen to old man. I have worked in Bank of America, Bambai ke kissi bhi jhonpadi mein – in slum areas, he translates, helpfully -- buy one plot. It comes for 2-3 lacs. You become one member of slum association. In few months, they will demolish, but worry not, they relocate you. One more plot in place. This time, you will be get tiled bathroom. Rent it out on lease. Maine apni wife aur son ke naam pe liya hai. Wife is earning now. Independence now, happiness now.
Property tutorials continue. I nod along. Cabbie accuses me of not paying attention, and wearing a smile too wide for my own good. I defend myself and say so in English: of course I was listening! Then repeat what you listened, cabbie challenges me. I choke. Surprised, but taking quick mental inventory, I sputter out the knowledge he has gruffly tried to equip me with. Cabbie swerves left, screeches past a roundabout and quizzes me twice on my parroted facts.
Ten minutes on, we're at Dosti. With sorted notions, I dismount and hand him thirty bucks. Don’t get off on these dangerous turns, his voice booms in every walker-by’s ears, just as one of those red buses speed past.
I’ll be careful, I promise. I ask him his name. Non co-operative, he claps his hand over his head and says name no matter, God bless you and your earnings! My taxi no 421, see you Dadar!
With which the black-yellow door is slammed shut and my cabbie has accelerated away into a dusty slum.