Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Taxi Talks

When riding a cab, I usually put my phone away, and strike a conversation with the driver. More often than not they strike a good conversation. Once you adjust yourself to their frequency the range of topics and their insight is always baffling. Over the past weekend while visiting Bangalore, I happened to take Ola and Uber twice each. Some of the interesting and important issues that the drivers, all 4 star and above rated, conversed:

Language: The Ola cab driver asked me if I knew Kannada. In my rudimentary Kannada I replied that I knew a little of it. That was it. Appreciative of people making effort to learn the language he expressed his great anger over residents of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, barring Hyderabad, who according to him do not try to speak other common language.

He then went on to describe how in Chennai there is discrimination against those cars bearing KA registration number. Right from obtaining permit at Bangalore, the harassment continues till Chennai. 

Being a Samaritan: The Ola driver narrated how on several occasions he went to houses of passengers to give them back their belongings if they leave it in his car. This was in response to my raising the matter telling how we lost 2 umbrellas in an Ola and no one bothered to follow it up despite calling the drive and the call center.

But he have had bitter experiences when despite his traveling long distance to return valuables, the passenger refused to pay him extra for that part of the ride. Now he doesn't see an incentive in becoming a good Samaritan yet drops the belongings at Ola office.

Car Loan: The other day getting on to a relatively new car when I inquired about it the driver narrated how a small time driver faces harassment while procuring a vehicle of his own. The guy said he got the vehicle costing about 4.7 lakh by paying a downpayment of 1.5 lakh and the rest from Tata finance. Now the problem according to him is, Tata insurance, unlike bank doesn't tolerate delay in payment of EMI and sends goons to threaten or in worst case take away the car. 

Naturally I asked him why couldn't he get a loan from a national bank. The reason he said was that he hailed from Kolar. The bank over there wanted him to bring documents stating that he is purchasing a car. he was denied that document from the showroom in Bangalore, all this leading to his paying an extra 50 thousand as interest money in 3 years.

Reliance: A certain buzz was in Bangalore about Reliance entering cab business; how they claimed a rate of Rs 4 per KM and huge incentives for drivers. That, both the drivers claimed, would change how things currently are in Bangalore. While an auto charges 13 Rs per KM, they weren't sure how the maths would work for Reliance, but they weren't worried about the Maths. For them important thing was that it would help pay the loan back sooner.

Talking to drivers is a very very interesting task. The variety of people they meet, the various places they visit (a common theme always is they proudly telling how far and wide they have driven to), the strata of society they belong to, makes for really interesting topics being discussed. While there are those 'silent types', roughly 80% of drivers I have traveled with are good at making conversation. So, next time, if the driver is game, strike a conversation. A few minutes of not fiddling with the phone can enrich your understanding of issues and people. After all aren't conversations what we are losing to our smartphones?

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