Conversations with a cab driver

“Stop!” came a voice from nowhere even as the cab screeched to a halt. In the moonless night on a road shorn off its streetlights, the light of the torch thrown full-on to the car was highly disconcerting.

I am not the one for great reflexes but survival is another thing altogether. In those seconds that the driver used to open the car windows, I had taken out my wallet and shoved it down the pouch at the back of the driver’s seat. The thought that I was not carrying my laptop offered additional solace to a heart that had lost its sense of rhythm and poise.

“It’s the police”, the driver said aloud, uncertain about whom he was trying to reassure.

Till the beam hit his face, I had not taken in the driver’s face very well. He was young, in his twenties, lean, and his eyes indifferent to the face staring at him from the other side.

“What’s your name” came the growl.


The  indifference was now in his throat.

“Come closer and answer, I cannot hear you!”. The officer was definitely not in a mood to let go.

“Muniswamy” the cabbie answered, slightly louder, leaning towards the face. A few inches closer, and it could have gotten pretty scandalous.

“Fine, go!”.

Before I could get used to the anti-climax, we were back to the comfort of our darkness once again.

“Strange”, I said, “that he just wanted to know your name.” “What for?”

“checking my breath…for alcohol” muniswamy replied, not bothering to hide the amusement in his voice.

“What a weird way to check someone”, I muttered. “In America, they use machines for that. Police don’t have to smell our bad breath”

“Software engineeraa?” 

 Much as I wanted to imagine hatred or jealousy in that tone, there was none.

“No, writer”. That was as explicit as I was willing to be.

“Which newspaper? Times of India?”

“I don’t write for a newspaper. I write books, technical books.”

“Engineering books aa?”

“Sort of”

“My son studies in an English school. I want him to be a software engineer”

“Would you have a problem if he wanted to be a driver like his father?”

“You saw the police now, right?”

“You think I missed?”

“Same story, every day. Some days, like today, I get lucky. Otherwise, it is hell”

“Don’t you have your papers?”

“You think that is enough for them? They will ask for papers even the RTO inspector doesn’t know of”

“How much money do they take?”

“Depends. On lucky days, I have gotten away with 25”

“And if you don’t have money?”

“There are other favors”

“Like what?”

“That is not for decent people like you to know”

There was a certain finality to the tone.


“Let’s not talk about it,” “That is between me and my God”

“Sure…” “let’s not talk about it”

For once, I did not want to know either.

Whether it was the silence that got to him or his own helplessness, I will never know.

“They are the devil’s children! The goddess will come and kill them all! It is only a matter of time now!” he suddenly yelled out. The tears that did not get to his eyes were choking his throat.  And as sudden as the outburst was, the calm that befell it immediately after was equally confounding.

There are few situations when I don’t have anything to say, and this was a close call.

“I am sure” I finally replied with the confidence of one who has been-there- prayed-that, “your goddess will protect you.”

6 Comments so far

  1. georgeematthew on May 6th, 2008 @ 1:04 pm

    Good post Preran. Good to highlight such issues. we all knew about the money part, but we did not know about the other favours demanded. that is much worse

    This was a conversation I had a month and a half ago. It was late March, and the unseasonable rains had started. i got into a BMTC bus at about 9:30 on a Monday night in Marathalli, felling angry that I had to work till past nine.
    The bus was kind of empty. It stopped outside the airport, in the ouring rain. A rather wet person got in and sat next to me and asked me to move a littel so that I coudl accomdate him. I did this, and offered him a towel to wipe himself from my bag. This unexpected act made him loosen up and start talking.

    I then saw he was earning a white shirt and khaki uniform-a traffic constable.He was carrying his trademark hat. I asked him how they manged to work in this rain, and this started a list of his duties. Report at morning at about 7:30, which meant leaving home to catch a bus at about 6:30am. Work in buring hot sun, facing intolearble pollution for about 6 hours without a break. About 15 minutes for lunch, and then back to work again. Throats may be sore from traffic fumes, but work continues.
    Do you not get a pollution mask, I asked? No, he replied. "The department does not give us one, and buying one on my own is too costly."
    "At night, the rain came", he said, "I was drenched, but nothing could be done.The jam only worsened. I had to say to clear it. My shift(including overtime) ended at 9, but as the jam was bad, I had to help clear it."
    "Finally, I am going home. My kids will be asleep now. They will be up in the monring as I leave. I have worked for the last 20 days without a break, no Sunday or holidays till now. I can only pray my kids never have to face such torture. "

    Sorry, I cannot write as well as Preran. I am not a writer unlike him.But I hope I made my point clearly.

    Our police force is pretty badly treated, with low pay and intolerable workign conditions. The pay commisions rearely give seriosu hikes. It is a well known that in USA, a patrolman(equiavalent of a constable here), is paid about 60% of a software engineer with 5 years experience. Meidcal care is also well provided.

    Unless this is done, we will be stuck in a situation like Perran described

  2. Deponti (bglr_deepa) on May 6th, 2008 @ 2:38 pm

    Great post Preran and an equally moving comment by George Matthew. There are good and bad people on both sides of the fence…and the good suffer.

    It’s a moving post…may I post a link to this on my blog, please?

  3. ahumanbean on May 6th, 2008 @ 3:02 pm

    It never ceases to amaze me that the urban sophisticates I interact with go all huff-puffy about "those corrupt cops/those jerks cab drivers/that cheating auto rascal".

    Your stories (Preran + GM) are touching, ones that are played out . Yes I have encountered a few rascal cab drivers but also good, caring drivers, and constables, struggling to earn enough to pay that months’ school fees/bribe/groceries.

    Food for thought: How many countries need traffic constables positioned right next to a functioning traffic stop light? We do – because we as slick urban Indians are simply too arrogant to follow the red/amber/green lights or any other road rules for that matter. Think about it.

    And yes my heart goes out to those constables forced to apprehend idiotic sons of theDo-You-Know-Who-My-Papa/Uncle/Brother in law brigade. All they are equipped is a huge lack of rest, maybe a stick, and a whistle. This to face and apprechend SUVs and rash 2-wheelers and other flotsam / jetsam plying our roads+pavements.

    Let’s be kind to deserving cabbies and overworked, underpaid constables, if that’s the least Preran’s post can do.

  4. Preran (bglr_preran) on May 6th, 2008 @ 4:25 pm

    George: Thank you for a such a lovely reply to my post. And you should seriously consider writing too. You definitely have the flair for it. Like you said, there are no all good people and all bad people anywhere. The problem is that the good never gets the kind of attention that the bad does, which is why we imagine the world to be filled with people out to get us.

    Deepa: Feel free to link to my articles. You don’t need my permisions. The same holds good for anyone as long as they don’t make commercial use of it. I am glad that I was able to pass on the same empathy I felt for the driver to the rest of you.

    Humanbean: So true! Most of us sitting in our cushy cubes have a skewed opinion of those that struggle in the sun so that we don’t have to. The bad apples, unfortunately, like everywhere in the world, hog all the attention.

  5. Rajesh Dangi (rajeshdangi) on May 12th, 2008 @ 1:23 pm

    Great post Preran, on the eve of elections the fact remains that the dmocracy has eaten the ‘peace’ from all, the citizens, the police force and almost all govt establishments. The personalities who get elected do nothing to change this fate but are marvelous business men who keep adding avarage 60-70% to their ‘declared’ assets!!

  6. rachna on May 12th, 2008 @ 4:52 pm

    Many a time I wonder why we get the kind of politicians that we do, well we deserve them don’t we.The other day I happened to look out from my bedroom window and could see people coming in to give their vote at the school which is adjacent to our building.All I could see were the not so affluent or educated people coming in to exercise their franchise. Probably that was their way of feeling empowered since it is a democracy but unfortunately their vote will only cause more confusion and we will get back a hung assembly. Why is it that no politician or any media channel take up the case of population of our country which is assuming alarming proportions and is probably responsible for so many ills that are besieging our society????

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