To the Manner Born: Politeness Begins at Home

Our taxi drivers are not as bad as they are made out to be.

Published:April 13, 2014 12:40 am
Mumbai taxi drivers know their way around the city. Mumbai taxi drivers know their way around the city. (Oinam Anand)

Nonita Kalra

If I were to start this article with the vilification of taxi drivers, I suspect I would have many volunteers to write the piece for me. I know that my readership would also increase. And the likes on my Facebook page, once I were to post it, would hit the three figures easily. Most cities in India have terrible public transport. Even Mumbai, with its local trains and BEST buses, no longer qualifies as an easy city to commute in, largely because of the sheer numbers that overload its transport services. So willy nilly, you are forced to look at taxis as an option. Alas, that isn’t really viable. Cab drivers are amongst the most difficult people to work with. Their job is to take you from point A to point B for a fee. Yet, that is the one thing they absolutely refuse to do, especially during an emergency. Like a particularly hot day. Or when the city has flooded. Or during rush hour. They are immune to any form of human suffering. I once had a friend who actually fell down on his knees and begged a taxi driver to take him anywhere the driver wanted to go because he had grown tired of being refused.

The situation is so bad that, periodically, newspapers devote headlines to the inflexibility of these khaki-clad motorists.

Policemen have now been ordered by the local administrations to step in and ensure that they comply by the rules. But nothing improves the situation. Instead, what do our friends do? They retaliate by going on strike to prove just how much we need them.

But. Let’s look at the flip side, this once. They are rude because their life sucks. I mean I could put it in economic terms and throw in things like inflation index, ratios, GDPs, averages — but these things mean nothing to me. I just put myself in their shoes, and figure that if I had to sit in the sun all day to earn a living, I would make every ride count. If that meant I needed to say no to shorter fares or to places that didn’t ensure more work, heck I would bark a rude “no” too. In spite of this strategy, they don’t make enough in a day to put a smile on their faces. Which brings me to the next part of my argument. Our taxi drivers are not the bad guys we make them out to be.

Take Mumbai taxi drivers, as an example. They know their way around the city. They endure lousy traffic and terrible roads, but they will take you straight to your destination — frankly, they don’t have the time to take the most circuitous route. Nine out of 10 times, they are incredibly helpful. Most people in the city even have a regular guy who brings them into work. My guy will run the occasional errand for me as well, which includes picking up my organic bread, in an emergency.

Don’t agree? Let me put this in perspective and compare taxi services around the world. Like China, since we always want to be exactly like Shanghai. Their drivers are so indifferent, they ensure a foreign customer cannot communicate with them. You need to have your address written in Mandarin before they condescend to take you anywhere. It is not as if I expect them to speak English, but they even refuse to accept age-old hand signals of right, left or wait. Sure they know what it means, but they use the language barrier to erect their personal great wall of China. Let’s look at Hong Kong. The jewel in the crown for the financial world. The damn city is so efficient, everything runs like clockwork. But even the world’s most efficient dictatorship cannot sanitise their taxi drivers.

They are, hands down, the rudest people I have met. They make their Parisian counterparts seem like cuddly Koala bears.

Think of them as snapping piranhas, who will only allow you into your cab so that they can insult you. Most of the times, they have perfected the dismissive wave as they speed past, splashing water on you. Even if you show them street names in Cantonese, they tell you in perfect English that the font is too small.

I have tried reverse psychology on them. I am always nice, super nice.

Good morning. Have a nice day. Please. Thank you. I have even gone all American and over-used, take care. Nothing works. They take it as a sign of weakness and become even ruder. But when I came back home and tried it here, I saw the biggest difference. Whether it was getting a cab at 5 am or wanting to go errand-hopping up and down Colaba Causeway during rush hour, no one refused. And even if they did, they helped me find another taxi. It got me thinking. We know that charity begins at home, but why shouldn’t politeness?

Nonita Kalra is a fashion and lifestyle journalist, and former editor-in-chief of Elle India

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