Uber encounter

Manjula Padmanabhan | | Updated on: Feb 01, 2019
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Bins and I have joined the Age of Uber! Meaning: we have downloaded the Uber app. Until now, our means of moving around the city has been to call a friendly cab driver who charges us a half-day or full-day rate depending on our need.

But he’s away for 10 days. So we downloaded the app. Bins goes first. “Wah,” he gasps softly, once the site opens on his phone. “Look at all the little white cabs! Circling our house like hungry ticks!!” “Hmm,” I say, “so we’re the dog, then?” He feigns temporary deafness, fascinated by the graphic. It shows an aerial view of our area. “Look, look — this fellow has jumped ahead of that fellow! Now he’s driving on the pavement! Ooh — he’s flying over a house...”

It’s better than TV! But eventually we tire of the game. I am the one who actually calls for a cab. I get in, we set off. Naturally I prefer my friendly driver. I’m so often in his car, he’s practically a friend and his vehicle is always clean, sweet-smelling and well-maintained. The Uber, by contrast, is only slightly better than a three-wheeler. The driver is a stranger. I have no way of knowing whether he’s just arrived on duty or has been up all night; a right-wing fanatic or a multi-denominational whack-job; a junkie or a teetotaller. But he drives calmly, the car doesn’t look a wreck and we arrive safely at my destination.

For the return journey, I call for another Uber. A new person draws up. He’s a little older and gives the impression of being worldly-wise. He’s munching on his lunch, for instance, and takes a swig of water before we set off. His car looks a bit battle-weary on the inside: the seats are soft in the way of hundred-year-old couches, there’s a musty smell. Barely have we set off when I notice something wriggling on the floor-mat of the adjacent seat. At first glance I think it’s a large fly but a moment later realise, uh-oh, it’s a bee. Now then. I’m very fond of bees. I know they’re endangered and all that. Nevertheless, I don’t want to share an Uber with a potentially angry one.

I’m staring at the floor, wondering what to do, when the driver asks me if there’s a problem. I say, using my sterling Hindi vocabulary, “ Madhu-makkhi .” The gallant fellow doesn’t waste a moment! Screeching to a halt, he leaps out, throws open the right-hand door and smartly evicts the striped passenger. Then triumphantly stamps on it.

“Oh, NOOO!” I want to shriek. Too late. The rest of the journey is taken up with a lecture on bees. “The labourers do all the work! The Rani doesn’t even feed herself!” he says, as I mourn the death of a tiny pollinator. We arrive at my address with no further wildlife encounters. We part company amicably, with a fat tip for him.

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column


Published on February 01, 2019

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