As summer arrives to wreak havoc over the people of Mumbai, air-conditioned vehicles become the ideal choice of transportation. Move over, affordable and efficiently well-distributed network of local trains, buses and share autos. Metros, and cabs owned by large corporations are here to stay.
To be fair, taxis have always been an integral part of the city experience. But gone are the days of being baked alive in the kali-peelis (black and yellow taxis) of Mumbai. Now we sit in the luxury of air-conditioned cars, shared with strangers in a desperate attempt to save some money.
But I digress. This is not an article about the city’s changing landscape, or a horrible click-bait article about some stranger’s terrible experience in a cab (A girl took an Uber home. What happened next will blow your mind!). This is about a cab ride I had on an average day in the city. Although I did take an Uber home. And the experience was pretty amazing. Maybe I should rethink the title of this post…
So I was taking an Uber home. I had called up a friend while I waited for the driver to find my location. The car arrived on time, a feat in the smaller winding lanes of Mumbai with inaccurate location mapping. Confused at this punctuality, I cut the call, promising my friend that I’d call her back in a few minutes. The driver enthusiastically rolled down his window to greet me with a flourish. “Hello madam! Kaisi hai aap (How are you)?” I paused for a second, surprised by this rare display of affection by a stranger. He was a funny looking man with a funny smile. I wondered for a second whether he was nice or creepy. (Yes, this is a thought that crosses my mind at least ten times a day. If this is something you have to worry about too, meet me in the comments section and we’ll discuss our sorrows in detail. )
Now cab rides taken alone can lead to a range of experiences. The most horrific ones are well documented on the internet But usually they involve sitting in an uncomfortable silence and staring into your phone, while every small sound gets amplified in the tiny space. Sometimes the radio is on, and that puts you at ease. You can now shift your position in the cab without worrying about the farting sound that these seats often emit. Phew. You can enjoy the music of course, or be amused by the driver’s taste.
This driver seemed like a nice guy, and in a great mood. He immediately began chatting about the last fare he dropped before picking me up. I responded with the cursory replies of ‘oh!’ and ‘acha’ as I settled in my seat. I figured that once the car wound its way to the main road, and the driver had exhausted all topics of conversation, I could call my friend back.
But this guy wasn’t planning to stop anytime soon. Somehow he reached the topic of Bollywood, and asked me if I knew any songs. “Haanji (Yes)”, I answered. Any Mumbaikar worth their salt could proudly spout at least a few hits, even if they sounded like badly recited poems. “Do you know any Kishore Kumar songs?” he asked hopefully. “Of course!” I replied, a little offended by his question. I might look down upon the recent drivel that they’re passing off as songs, but I simply cannot unlearn the songs of my childhood. And Kishore Kumar was my childhood, sort of.
Suddenly, as if on cue, he began singing, “O mere dil ke chain…” His 70’s playback singer voice resonated in the tiny cab. After that, he kept singing song after song, informing me of the song’s name, its composer and lyricist, the film it played in, and the actors who lip-synced the song. For a while I kept glancing at my phone, but I was soon swept away in this wave of musical nostalgia. “Aap bhi kuch gaayiye… (Why don’t you sing something?)” he nodded encouragingly into the rear-view mirror.
Why not. “O mere sona re sona re sona re…” I began. He turned back, surprised. “Aap to chupi rustom nikali! Aapne bataya nahi aapko gaana aata hai. (You didn’t tell me you used to sing!)” “Haa..” I mumbled, suddenly self-conscious. I hadn’t sung this freely in a really long time. “Ruk kyu gayi? Gayiye… (Keep singing)” he said, and I did.
He started telling me more about his life. He was a singer on the side, singing at karaokes and recording songs. “I sing with many young people just like you. You shouldn’t give up on your talent.” he told me. “Keep it alive just for yourself.” I nodded my head, touched by his heartfelt advice. The moment passed. “Let’s sing a duet now!” he said. I nodded again, gleefully.
And so we sang till we reached our destination – my house. We both were a little sad when the journey ended. I didn’t say anything, of course, but I was still working within the realms of general appropriateness. This man had shed his inhibitions a long time ago. “Thoda dur nahi reh sakti thi aap (Couldn’t you live farther away)?” he asked, as the cab screeched to a halt. I laughed apologetically.
“Maybe we could sing together in a studio sometime” he said. “Yes…” I replied, feeling a sudden stiffness in my spine. I began gathering my bag and stepping out of the cab. “Don’t worry,” he said, sensing my unease. “I won’t call you or text you. You have my phone number na. Use apne phone ke kisi kone me save karke rakh dijiye. Kabhi man kiya to call kar dena. (Save it in some corner of your phone. Call me if you ever feel like singing again.)” I laughed again. “Sure.”
That day I went home humming a little tune under my breath. In fact my next few days were filled with music, more than they had ever been. I had come in contact with the purest love for music, and it touched my soul for a little while. But like the songs I was humming, the magic slowly faded, and my days returned to normal. I never did call the guy. But he remains in my mind, a happy soul with a musical heart, the funny looking man with the funny smile.