Takeaway

The obstinate yellow bug

Anjana Basu | Updated on January 10, 2018 Published on September 15, 2017
Hail the yellow army: The older drivers who switch off the ignition at a traffic light and whose meters tick the correct fare are themselves a rarity.

Hail the yellow army: The older drivers who switch off the ignition at a traffic light and whose meters tick the correct fare are themselves a rarity.   -  Reuters

The ‘peeli cab’ has been declared an extinct species several times over, but this vanishing breed endures, even if doomed by Bengal’s work culture

A yellow hard-topped bubble gleaming in the morning sun, almost blinding the person trying to flag it down. If the Volkswagen is a beetle, then the Ambassador is a bug, more so in its mustard yellow avatar, reminiscent perhaps deliberately of the Bengali’s favourite condiment. The ‘peeli cab’ has been declared an extinct species several times over — the first and more telling reason because the Ambassador was going to be discontinued, though Renault’s takeover of Hindustan Motors means that there is hope yet for the bug-shaped gas guzzler.

The second is a matter of attitude — the fact that Bengal’s taxi drivers have a rooted objection to going anywhere unless it suits them, and certainly not during lunch or siesta hours. Most of them prefer to doze with their feet up or demand a hike over the normal fare. So much so that the chief minister introduced a bunch of white cabs with blue accents that proudly boasted their ‘no refusal’ status. But once a bug, always a bug — the ‘no refusal’ cabs very quickly became refuseniks or held out for higher fares.

By way of comparison there are the sleek Olas and Ubers which glide up on demand and are open to any routes within reason. They also charge higher fares effortlessly, which had the more competitive yellow cab drivers choking with envy. Some of them actually raised their fares without warning, only to find customers opting out.

As a reluctant user of yellow cabs I was advised to join the ‘smart’ generation and download the apps which would conjure up an Ola or Uber exactly when I needed one. Having taken over my father’s discarded Samsung I did actually download the required apps. But whenever the driver went on holiday, I was faced with a kind of hesitation. WhatsApp came my way with its spewing of forwards, including the one that told me to beware of taxis with the secret child lock. To get into one of those it was required that you inveigle the driver to be gallant and have him open the door for you from inside, thereby proving that the door was not child-locked. Imagine a woman in a hurry who finally sees her cab approach — without a second thought she jumps in and two km later realises that she has not cleared the child-lock test.

Yellow bugs don’t come child-locked since they became taxis in an era when children were expected to take care of themselves. Though they may have auto locks. On putting the auto lock theory to someone who was raving about child locks and the unsafe times, I encountered a glare and was told that auto locks could be unlocked. Presumably so with some fiddling.

The point is, I have wandered down from Gariahat in the morning en route to office, looking for the stray yellow cabs. And on quite a few occasions I have found them — the ones with the older drivers who switch off the ignition at a traffic light and whose meters tick the correct fare, which means one that is low enough to suit me. They themselves are a species almost as extinct as their vehicles threaten to be. A friend’s husband told me one Sunday morning that Bengal’s work culture had condemned the yellow cabs, though he did not advise me to seek the Uber solution. His family istriwala’s son had become a driver for Uber but lost his nerve when a truck tyre exploded and hit his car. Since then he had relapsed into doing household chores, looking remarkably sorry for himself — while his wife and children had been exiled to their remote village in Odisha. I found him washing the car in the drive and asked him whether he could take me to work in the morning — for a fee, of course. He told me he had to be booked and continued sponging the car.

So my 8.30am walks in search of a vanishing breed continues. A crazy Kashmiri filmmaker asked me at one point if I knew of any Ambassadors that he could blow up in his film — when he had the funding for it. I thought of making him a speech on endangered species but, in the end, shook my head and continued my walk. I suppose I will eventually find the ride I’m looking for — presumably I’m as obstinate as the bug.

Anjana Basu is a Kolkata-based writer

Published on September 15, 2017
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