Cabs I

Cab drivers are fun to talk to. Driving is a lonely, taxing job and passengers might as well be zombies. When they do get a customer who talks, drivers are accomodative of lack of conversational skills. Secondly, they have interesting things to say: they open up with genuine experiences because conversation is the only motive.


I used my hour-long journeys to work to catch up on my sleep, as did my cabmates. One day the Cisco cab supervisor told Muniswami that he needed to shave, who in turn informed us that he would skin himself alive if he shaved any more. It was the first time we bantered. Used to the erstwhile stiff and sanitized environment of my journeys, this left me almost shocked1. Am I supposed to talk with this guy now? I smiled and got off.
One of my colleagues then broke the conversational barrier with Muniswami. I didn't. Muniswami responded by expressing often, and loudly, how much he hated people who sleep in the front seat (me). I started reading instead of sleeping after that.
From Muniswami I learned all about the microeconomics of the Bangalore cab industry. I found it deeply interesting. We peaked right before he left- everyone went around talking about past relationships. Muniswami spoke of an ex who left him for money. We cursed the bitch and said goodbye to the fastest driver in Cisco2.

Narayan Murthy

Let's call him X, because I never asked his name. It was my Uber discount ride that I had saved for a long trip. It was pouring outside, and we naturally got chatting about how terrible Bangalore's infrastructure is. I said S.M. Krishna was the best thing to ever happen to Bangalore3 and his eyes lit up. We moved on to other great people of Bangalore- a list NRN tops. It turned out, X was one of the two drivers of Infosys when it was just a couple of computers and a few plastic chairs. NRN used to work late hours he said, sometimes up to 3 AM. He and Sudha Murthy are one of the most humble, decent people he has ever met. X struggled with more superlatives to describe the couple. He didn't seem to quite find the right words but his reverential face made up for it. I plied him with questions, and he mostly confirmed what I had already read.
X was offered to work full-time at Infosys, but left to work for the Leela Hotel, for the fat tips of its foreign guests. The other driver stayed and still drives for the NRN household. His shares in Infosys made him rich- 'You should see his house, it's a palace'. Why did he still drive for NRN, I asked, why not retire? X looked at me with dismay. I immediately realized my mistake: who would give up the opportunity to work for that great man? At this point X became reticent about NRN and Infosys. I got off and gratefully shook his hand.

Another Narayan

The deepest impression left on me was by an Ola Cabs driver, Narayan. By this time I had become experienced in talking to cabbies and quickly established trust. A lot of their young clientele are rude or drunk, or both, and the first thing I do is disassociate myself from that. I knew enough about cab financing and Ola's policies to converse intelligently with him. It was almost midnight so I asked him where he stayed. He stayed in the car.
Narayan works sixteen hours a day. He sleeps in the cab, he explained, and bathes at some place where they offer a bucket of water for Rs. 20. In the weekend Narayan goes to his sister's place for a meal and a nap. Once a month, he drives to a village in Tamil Nadu to meet his wife and daughter. He had bought his car only a month back, which meant he planned to follow this lifestyle for the next five years, at which point his loan would be repaid. I asked him what his last job was, because he was obviously nuts to quit that.
Narayan used to be a truck driver. It was good money, he explained, if you didn't get robbed. I then got a crash course in robbing techniques on highway. He spoke of knives, of forcing the truck to stop under a tree where a robber perched, ready to jump through the truck window, and police and employers being in on robberies4. These guys badly need mobile payments and I can't think of a good reason why they don't have it. Considering the risk involved, the pay seemed decidedly poor. Narayan didn't think so. He quit only because his wife (a gentle soul, he confessed) feared for his life.

1- I'm socially awkward but I don't completely blame myself for this reaction. Cisco cabs have rules which, in my opinion, prevent any kind of human interaction between the driver and passenger. While this is good for passenger safety, they do get overentusiastic- turning the radio on or taking a shortcut invites fines of roughly 10% of the driver's salary, according to my driver.
2- 'Fastest' means maintaing a speed of 60 km/hr. If drivers breach that they are fined (I don't know, probably 10%) for every breach. It takes both skill and balls to be fast.
3- This is one of the ways long-time Bangaloreans identify each other.
4- Do truckers have mobile banking now? Narayan's time was three or four years ago.