No refusal

UBER DRIVERS IN MADRAS are, so I have been told, unaware of a potential customer’s desired destination when they accept a job. It might be a short ride or even an out of town destination. We discovered a consequence of this when earlier this year we were advised that the most reasonable way to make the three hour journey from Madras to Pondicherry was to hire an Uber.

The first three drivers, who offered us rides, phoned us to ask where we wanted to go. When we told them, they cancelled our rides. On our fourth attempt, an Uber arrived. He was happy to drive us to Pondicherry because, as we found out three hours later, he had a friend he wanted to visit there.

In Bombay, the taxis are nicknamed ‘kali pili’, which refers to their black and yellow body paint colours. Most of the cabbies are argumentative and some if them seem reluctant to work, making complaints like “too much traffic” or “that’s too far”. Eventually, one finds a cab that is willing to carry out one’s wishes, often complaining all the way.

Further south in Bangalore, popular transport for those who avoid urban buses include Uber and Ola cabs as well as three-wheeled autorickshaws.

Bangalore Ubers and Olas are unreliable. Often they accept a ride and minutes before they are about to arrive at the pickup point, they cancel. I imagine that often they get stuck in the city’s slow moving or often static congested traffic and feel they are wasting their time trying to reach their passenger waiting beyond the traffic jam. Whatever the reason, these app connected car services are not nearly as reliable as they are in Bombay or London.

Autorickshaws are the best method for getting through the congested thoroughfares of Bangalore. Their plucky drivers are able to take risks with their small vehicles that larger cars are unable to attempt. These manoeuvres are daring and can be hair-raising for the passengers but they get you to your destination relatively quickly.

Hiring an autorickshaw in Bangalore is always an adventure. The vehicles are fitted with taximeters, which are supposed to determine the fair. They are used occasionally but not often. The driver will suggest an often outrageous fare, which is the starting point for haggling. Or, some drivers will agree to use the meter determined fare plus some extra Rupees in addition.

Some autorickshaw drivers without much to do will often foreigners something like:
“Come with me. I’ll take you anywhere for only 10 Rupees.”
Sounds tempting, does it not? Do not succumb to this unbelievable offer because if you do, you will soon discover the catch. The naive passenger will be invited to visit the driver’s friend’s/cousin’s/brother’s store, where if you buy something, the driver will be rewarded with something like: school books for his children, or a kilo of rice for his starving family, or a new shirt, or …

Some autorickshaw drivers will set off for a journey in Bangalore, and then after a few minutes, will ask the passenger whether, on the way, they want to do some shopping at a shop the driver recommends. A determined refusal is required to ensure that your journey will not include an unwanted detour for shopping.

On the whole, autorickshaws are a great way of getting around Bangalore.

Calcutta is filled with rugged but battered yellow Ambassador taxis. These are slowly being replaced by newer vehicles with blue and white body paint. One thing they share in common is the wording “No Refusal” printed on the exterior of their doors. The cab driver, who stop to pick up a passenger, are not supposed to refuse to take you wherever you want. Most of the drivers comply with this.

Taxi drivers in London and other places in the UK are, by law, required to take you anywhere within the area they are allowed to operate. Like the drivers in Calcutta, the British cabbie is supposed to adhere to the “No Refusal” concept, and often, cabbies, but by no means always, comply.

Interesting as all this is, present conditions during the current pandemic mean that not too many cabs are being hailed at the present.

Picture: Taxis in Calcutta

Lost property

When we visited the museum at the Harrapan archeological site at Dholavira in Kutch (part of Gujarat, India), we found that there was a sale of guides to various historical sited in India, all published by the Archaeological Survey of India. With the exception of a couple of volumes that were printed in Hindi, we bought one of each, about 18 in all and at radically reduced prices.

After a couple of days in Dholavira, staying at the very overpriced Rann Resort, we travelled to Bhuj, where we stayed before taking a bus to Ahmedabad.

The air conditioned bus, which was not particularly comfortable, took eight hours. It was a part of the fleet of Gujarat State Road Transport (GSRTC). I was very tired when we pulled into the central bus station at Geetamandir in Ahmedabad, and disembarked with our several pieces of luggage.

Several hours later when we were comfortably settled into our hotel, I realised that I had left my cloth bag, containing my collection of books acquired in Dholavira, on the bus. My wife, who is fluent in the Gujarati language, suggested that we return to the bus station to try to recover the bag of books. I agreed, but felt that there was little chance of success.

We were directed to a booth where GSRTC officials in charge of controlling the bus service to and from Bhuj sat. My wife explained the problem and immediately the official began tapping on his keyboard. A screen marked “journey report” appeared. From this, the official was able to get the telephone number of the conductor who had been on our bus. He was off duty and our bus was on its way back to Bhuj. However, he provided the phone number of his colleague, ‘X’, who was now the conductor on ‘our’ bus that was returning to Bhuj.

We rang X, who soon found the book bag on the luggage rack close to where we had been sitting. He told my wife, in Gujarati, that he would be retutning on a bus that would arrive at Ahmedabad central bus station at about 5 pm the next day, and would bring us the bag of books. This sounded promising, but you never can tell what might or might not happen.

As we were setting off for the bus station the next afternoon, X rang us to tell us when he expected to reach it and where we should wait for him. At a few minutes before 5 pm, the bus on which we had travelled the day before pulled into the Geetamandir bus station. Soon X was walking towards us, holding our cloth bag filled with books. My admiration of GSRTC increased immensely.

We offered X some confectionery as a small token of our gratitude. He refused it twice, saying that recovering lost property is part of his duty. When we said that he should give the gift to his family, he accepted it.

Often Asian folk traditionally refuse an offer two or three times out of politeness before accepting. In the case of conductor X, I do not believe it was politeness that he did not accept our small gift immediately. Instead, he was behaving professionally and correctly.

A few hours earlier, we had been shown various interesting features by a guardian in the Jumma Masjid in Ahmedabad. When he had finished, we handed him some Rupees, expecting that he was probably poorly paid, if at all. We were most impressed when he refused the money, which would have been useful for him, and, instead, showed us which charity collection box in which to put it. Like X, the bus conductor, this fellow in the Masjid was too dignified to accept a tip for what he felt it was his duty to do.

Postscript.
The Asian habit of refusing three times can backfire when practised in Europe. A friend of ours of Middle Eastern upbringing became a junior doctor in an English hospital. After a few weeks, he asked an Egyptian colleague how to obtain a cup of tea.
“Simple,” the Egyptian said, “just get it from the lady who pushes the tea trolley around.”
Our friend replied: “Yes, she brings her trolley to me and she offers me a cup and I refuse. And then without even asking me a second or third time, she pushes the trolley away. So, I don’t get a cup of tea.”