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Human or not human, that is the question

In India, whether you are a tourist or a local, you will be most likely hoping in and out of taxis and / or rickshaws ("tuktuk" for the tourists, "auto" for the others) a lot. It's cheap, they are everywhere, you avoid the hassle of getting a parking space or struggling to find your way around. There is no debate, it is damm convenient. Not necessarily good for the back but useful. THE problem is that taxi or rickshaw drivers are often perceived as thieves. They refuse to start the meter, they forget to reset it, they take you for a merry-go-round around the city:  they have a bad reputation. Moreover it is almost only in Mumbai that they actually agree to put the meter on, in other places they just won’t, sometimes find it easier to just not have a meter at all… In such cases, you are supposed to know the distance and the approximate fare, and the journey starts with a bargaining session.              

This exercise can prove very frustrating, irritating, to the point that sometimes you may decide to actually just not step out so that you won’t have to go through these discussions. For all these reasons, we tend to treat the drivers of such vehicles as subhuman, machines (extension of their manoeuvre stick), from whom we expect nothing but a fight (about the way to take or the amount to pay) and a good bone-shaking ride. Of the lot, taxi drivers are considered the most rogue, hence the exponential growth of radio taxis (just for the pleasure of not having to argue).     

In the daily routine of rickshaw-work-sleep, it's like in the French subway: not yet fully awake, you are half sleeping half sulking on the back bench of the auto. The driver, that you barely looked at before sitting (no need to, he’s a machine anyway), doesn’t ask you the questions he usually showers the tourists with (“Where do you come from? What do you do? Do you like India?”). With the Indian code of politeness, you can easily skip the Western ‘courtesies’: no need to say hello or please, or thank you, let alone smile. Provide the address in the beginning and say "baas" (stop) when you reach your destination, and rock gently your head from side to side as a thanking gesture, that will be enough.            

The foreigner usually makes it a point of honor not to leave a tip, as the drivers are already robbing him. He may therefore lose quite a bit of time (forgetting at his convenience that time is money) for a rupee or two. But it is a question of PRIN-CI-PLE. And the foreigner will blame all his fellow whitemen who do not follow his PRIN-CI-PLE, giving 'bad habits' to Indian drivers, instilling the idea that foreigners are walking dollars and can be easily extorted more money than necessary. It is therefore all the more important to implement this PRIN-CI-PLE strictly.

I was like that for quite some time. The kind of scenes I have made for five rupees! And then one day I had enough, I started again to say “thank you” to the drivers, and to round up (well, except in cases where they are assholes for one reason or another), or even to smile ... And if I'm not too tired, I even try some of my Hindi! More often in taxis because the trips are usually longer than in rickshaws. And I quite often hear crazy stories!    

That's why I wanted to share this note 'Humans of Mumbai'. I discovered this group one day I was walking with Junior in the baby carrier; they wanted to interview me but I was unfortunately having a very bad day and I declined. Anyway, I read with pleasure their daily notes that re-humanize a bit everyone ... Including drivers !!


Humans of Mumbai.jpg  


Mumbai or any large city in India still lags behind in terms of politeness in general. I think one should be polite not just with someone socially deprived (patronizing), but equally with anyone.

I have noted people from metros being prejudiced about cab drivers, security guards or waiters. So called global city of Bombay, I think, has just started realizing universal value of being polite. Smaller cities fare better in this regard.

It is not right to generalize, but I got such advice (that not to be polite with drivers, guards etc) from educated, middle or upper-middle class urban friends from Mumbai.

I tried to follow that. But I cannot assume anyone to be dishonest or honest by their social status.

Posted by: Shridhan | 07/09/2015

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