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A departure high in colours...

It’s Monday night. I haven’t eaten the whole day, too busy “closing” things at work (actually you never close anything but nevermind...). Luckily (smartly?) I have packed the bags the past weekend – it’s crazy how complicated it can get to travel with a baby, starting with checking whether winter clothes fit and finishing with folding the portable cot!

Now it’s 7:30 PM, Baby Samurai is asleep, the nanny on the train, the husband in the taxi, and I’m putting a final touch to packing (with a special focus on food). And suddenly I hear the baby call for me. And as soon as I lift him up he vomits on me profusely. His first vomit ever in 16 months, we are both stunned... Unable to take a step without walking on puke, I have no idea what to do. So I first clean him up, put him back to sleep, wash the floor then myself and get back to the luggage. I lost my appetite. And then he pukes again. I wash him again, he seems to feel better, and I am still running around in my underwear. I’ll take a shower at the last minute, you never know.

It’s 10 PM. I have to shampoo the cat. Some would argue that the time may not be perfect but I have to help the poor animal to get rid of his special guest (some kind of ringworm) and I could not find any other time!

10:30. The taxi is downstairs. I grab Baby Samurai to put some clothes and he barfs again, all over me, again. One more shower and we’re off!

And he empties his stomach again in the car, what nightmare! The 8-hour flight to Europe promises to be very long...

india,gurgaon,toll booth,jats,protest,taxiI notice that we are on a flyover, on the highway and there is traffic which is very unusual at this time of the day (or rather night) and also there are lines of trucks parked on the side. What the hell is going on? Suddenly two men bang the car, intimate my driver to lower his window, pluck his mouth/cheeks, strangle him with his seat belt. All this while I’m screaming to leave him alone, my baby is sick and I have a flight to catch; they ignore me superbly and eject the driver from the car, taking him away. And then nothing. After five minutes I call my husband and then I just blow a fuse. Total panic. I have in the background the horrifying stories of colleagues of friends gunned up at Gurgaon tollbooth – stories I never pay attention to but they obviously enter by one ear and don’t leave by the other. So fuck it. I get out of the taxi, covered in vomit, baby in my arms and start yelling on the truck drivers, demanding that my driver is given back to me. They seem to have no idea what is happening, well done in pretending they are not part of this hold-up!

A car stops, and then another, and another. A man in each vehicle. All come out and ask me “What is wrong Madam?” “What is going on?” Half sobbing half screaming I explain that my driver has been abducted. And they find him immediately, kept captive in a van just behind our car. He takes his seat and we hit the road again. No thank you for the rescue! And I have get the end of the story. What were these trucks doing there? Why this jam in the middle of the night? Why did these two men in civilian attire assaulted my driver?*

I arrive at the counter of the airline, stinking and still dripping with tears. I must look awful and out of place, especially at the business counter. And guess what? While things could hardly get worse, I can’t find my passport. Well actually I do. And then? Lufthansa just upgrade my husband. They could not have chosen a better time to do it I swear...And baby slept almost all through!

* I just found out, about two weeks after the event that there is a possibility that the trucks were parked there to wait for the opening of the toll between Gurgaon and Delhi which takes place at midnight. And that this racket is institutionalized for taxi drivers who do not pay the toll. So maybe I wasn’t after all in the heart of coup being fomenting a or a revolution or any other uprising – which have become quite common these days with the Jats protesting regularly (see this article). Pfff... I lost it for no reason!


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  


A Saturday evening on Earth

I don't know if this will be of interest for anyone but here is a mix of videos of a taxi ride in Mumbai (from Phoenix Mall in Lower Parel to Khar Danda).

It is one of my great pleasures here... The taxi... Or rather the taxi rides, watching what is happening in the street. I would even leave my taxi in the parking!


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