Some know, others don’t

I know it is not a good idea to make generalisations, but it is quite fun to do so occasionally. So, here goes! This time, I am going to generalise about taxi drivers’ knowledge in London, Bombay, Bangalore, and Ahmedabad.

The drivers of London’s characteristic black (usually) cabs are only allowed to work when they have “The Knowledge”. That is, they have passed an examination that requires the candidate to have a very detailed knowledge of the streets of London. A London cabbie only very rarely does not know the way.

London’s minicab and Uber drivers do not have to be tested on The Knowledge, but they are usually very adept at using GPS systems.

In Bombay, there is a huge number of yellow and black cabs. In my experience, the drivers usually know their way around the city. Some of them raise all kinds of objection s before they give in to your wish to hire them, but once aboard they will take you where you want without requiring navigational assistance.

I find the best way to get around Bangalore is to travel in an autorickshaw. Their drivers often know the way, and if they do not, they will ask fellow autorickshaw drivers, who can point them in the right direction. Uber and it’s competitor Ola exist in Bangalore, but their drivers, often from out of town, are often clueless about the city’s geography and find GPS hard to understand.

It is our experience with autorickshaw drivers in Ahmedabad that prompted me to write this blog. We have made many trips in their vehicles. An enormous proportion of the drivers will tell you that they know how to reach a place, but in reality they have no clue. They will not admit their ignorance and are often reluctant to stop and ask for directions from bystanders.

One driver in Ahmedabad, who was completely lost, got annoyed with us, his customers, and said: “Why are you going somewhere if you don’t know how to get there? I should leave you here, and you can find your own way.”

I did say that I would be generalizing. In all fairness, I must record that some of the autorickshaw drivers in Ahmedabad have been very knowledgeable about their city, but these have been in the minority.

So, when you visit the truly wonderful city of Ahmedabad, you will find it helpful to be able to access Google maps on your mobile phone while travelling around.

TAXI DRIVER

Like London, Bombay is heavily dependent on workers who were not born in the city. This is the case for most of Bombay’s multitude of taxi drivers. Many of them came to the city from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh (UP).

During a long journey from Colaba in South Bombay to Bandra, we spoke to our cab driver, ‘P’, from UP. A well educated man, he has been driving his black and yellow taxi in Bombay for well over 20 years. For most of the year, he drives for 14 hours per day, 7 days a week. His wife and children live in his village in UP. Much of the money he earns pays for his children’s education.

P owns his taxi and has a small house in Bombay. Occasionally, his family come to visit him in Bombay. Thrice a year, P visits his village in UP. There, his family have land where they grow a wide range of vegetables such as carrots, cabbage,potatoes, aubergines, rice, wheat, and more. While he is away from Bombay, he hires a driver to work his cab.

P feels that the present Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, is good for India because he seems to be reducing corrupt practices amongst the country’s civil servants. Another good thing that Modi has done, P told us, was to ensure that everyone including humble village people have bank accounts. In the past, state benefit payments were given to the panchayats (local village councils) to be distributed amongst the intended recipients. The panchayats usually deducted an amount from the beneficiaries’ payments and kept it for themselves. Now that everybody has a bank account, the state pays the people without intermediaries and be sure that the recipients receive the whole of the amount intended for them.

In P’s words, the Congress Party leader Rahul Gandhi is “… lacking in talent”

P said that people in UP spend too much time worrying about what their neighbours have achieved and criticising them jealously instead of getting on with life. As he put it: “They don’t care about what they eat in their own homes, but instead what their neighbours are consuming .” People in UP are lazy, P said, they do not want to work; they just want to drag you down. In contrast, he said, people in Bombay are too busy working, trying to make a living, to care about what their neighbours are up to.

Although P has prejudices, which he barely concealed, he is intelligent and knowledgeable. At one point in our journey my wife mentioned two brothers, whom she had once known, and said that they were named after twins in the Hindu myths collected in the Mahabharata. “Madame,” the taxi driver said politely, “They appear in the Ramayana.

Later, when my wife told P her name is Lopa, which is short for ‘Lopamudra’, our driver immediately recounted the mythological origins of that name.

P, like many other drivers of black and yellow taxis in Bombay, is keen on conversing with is passengers. In contrast, most of the drivers of Uber cabs in Bombay, whom we have encountered, tend to be sullen and reluctant to chat.

No photography

In India, I have become used to seeing rules disobeyed. One only has to watch road traffic to see plenty of transgressions.

However, usually regulations forbidding photography in museums and art galleries are rigidly enforced. While trying to sneak an illicit photograph in the Mysore Palace, my camera was temporarily confiscated. I was able to recover it by giving the official a small financial ‘gift’. A member of my family was asked to delete a couple of photos taken against the rules in the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) in Bangalore.

I was disappointed to find that the NGMA in Bombay also forbids photography unless it is for professional purposes, for which a fee of 1000 rupees (currently about £11) per image is levied.

The NGMA in Bombay is housed within a lovely old building, the Sir Cowasji Jehangir Public Hall. Its contemporary interior, where artworks are displayed, is a lovely example of contemporary design. I was itching to photograph it. We asked one of the security men if I could take a picture of the general layout of the gallery without focussing on works of art. To my great surprise, he said that I could do it.

After viewing the whole gallery, where works of the socially conscious political artist Navjot Altaf were on display, I heard a visitor asking another official whether he could take ‘selfies’ in the gallery. He was told that he could not take selfies, but he could take photos of anything else in the NGMA. Again, I was surprised, not about the selfies, but about photography being permitted in a place full of notices forbidding it.

Well, I was pleased to discover that Indian flexibility about interpreting rules extends to the NGMA in Bombay. Hats off to the people who work there!

Hitler on the shelf

Book shops and stalls all over India sell English translations of Mein Kampf by the late and unlamented Adolf Hitler. His literary oeuvre is available in several editions published by different Indian publishers. Judging by its appearance in so many booksellers’ shelves often prominently displayed, this book, written before Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933, is clearly still in great demand. After all, most book merchants do not stock books that do not sell.

Mein Kampf is usually displayed in Indian shops alongside other books by or about figures, who have made a significant impact on world affairs. For example, I have seen Hitler’s book next to volumes about Barack Obama and Bill Gates.

The pavements near Flora Fountain in Bombay are lined with wonderfully well stocked books, both new and used. The men who sell the books are well informed about their stock. They know whether or not the book that you desire is lurking amongst the piles of books stacked from the pavement to above their heads.

On one of these stalls, I spotted a shiny new edition of Mein Kampf. It was displayed prominently next to a book by Shashi Tharoor about India’s current PM, Narendra Modi and a book by Carl Sagan. Hitler’s face and that of Modi stared out at potential book buyers and other passers by. Was this arrangement of books by three great communicators accidental or was the vendor making an interesting statement?

Gift of a Parsi gentleman

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There is a decorative drinking fountain on the Broadwalk in London’s Regent’s Park. The fountain looks like a typical Victorian gothic structure, which it is. Closer examination reveals bas-relief panels that depict: a bull standing by a palm tree; a lion next to a palm tree; and the head of a man wearing an oriental hat. This fountain would not look out of place in Bombay, which is full of structural souvenirs of the Victorian era. This should not surprise you when you learn that the fountain was a gift of Sir Cowasjee Jehangir Readymoney (1812-78) from Bombay.

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Cowasjee, who was born in Bombay, received little education before becoming a warehouse clerk in Duncan, Gibb & Co. in that city. In 1837, he moved into a more lucrative job. Nine years later, he opened his own business. In 1866, he became a Commissioner of Income Tax in Bombay. Later he became a Justice of the Peace.

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Readymoney lived up to his name, becoming very wealthy. He invested huge amounts of money into a wide variety of good causes including social housing (similar to that erected by Peabody in the UK) in Bombay, The University of Bombay and an Indian Institute in London. A year after being made a member of the Order of the Star of India in 1871, he was made a Knight Bachelor of the UK. These honours were awarded to recognise his great philanthropic contributions.

FOUNT 5 Jehangir himself

The fountain in Regent’s Park, which no longer issues water, was erected in 1869, nine years before Readymoney’s death. His main residence was in Bombay’s Malabar Hill district.

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