I really enjoyed reading Kalyan’s experiences with Taxi Drivers in Austin. It is so wonderful to have him as a guest blogger at Travel Tales from India. Enjoy the post.
Kalyan Banerjee has a day job and travels during weekends. You can follow him on Twitter as well.
Talking to strangers is always (well, at least most of the times) an interesting experience when you’re travelling alone. More so, when they belong to a different segment of your culture, or better still, a different culture. Now travelling solo need not mean you need to pack your bags and leave for a far away kingdom. It may simply mean morning jog, bus ride to the airport to pick a friend or taking a taxi/auto to work. I do a lot of the third category.
During my short 10 min taxi (or cab) rides at Austin, and back, I’ve happened to meet a plethora of people – black and white, male and female, Catholic and Muslim (and even Bahai), Moroccon and Iranian. Here’s an account my 5 most interesting 10 minute rides with Taxi Drivers at Austin.
Met two Brazilian folks on the same day. The first one said that he watched an Indian show on television last night and was amazed by a few things Indian. The tradition of women applying ‘red powder’ just above the forehead and within the hairs looked fascinating to him. Well, this was the most ‘different’ description of Sindoor I’ve ever come across in my life. He applauded the ‘culture’ of parents supporting the newly wed daughter and her husband. I was baffled by the statement but he backed the statement with his logic – ‘When I married my expenses shot up like anything. New house, more people to support and more responsibilities made me work like crazy. I saw that in India, when a girl gets married her father gives a car, jewellery and quite some cash to the daughter to start a new life’. Beat this logic for the menace called Dowry. He concluded with, ‘I would like to visit India sometime. I heard it is colorful’. Well, I couldn’t agree more.
Brazil # – remember the other Brazilian cabbie not for his comments on India or Indians but for his single remark. It was Saturday and since there was a deadline the following week, a lot of stuff needed attention. Naturally, I was late. Here’s what he said when he picked me up – ‘For the first time in life I’m picking someone at 2 ‘o clock on Saturday night and that too from office. Its so late now that you can’t even go to Downtown for a drink – everything closes at 2 am. Why is your schedule so crazy? Once, I picked up 2 Chinese guys at 4, but they had flight to catch early.’ Since the real answer was too complicated, I cooked up some garbage as an answer.
Hong Kong- He was a middle aged person whose face indicated some kind of South East Asian connection. The first things he asked, ‘You from India’. On getting an affirmative answer, he started talking about Slumdog Millionaire. Remember, this incident was before the Oscars night, so Slumdog was yet to reach its popularity peak. He continued, ‘Seems Indians like movies too much. The Indian students at the University of Texas, Austin don’t go to watch a game, but go to movies every time they get a chance. On Super Bowl Sunday, I gave a ride to 3 Indians to the theater.’ Well, with 877 feature films released only in the year 2003 alone, Indian Film Industry is the largest in the world (Source: Wikipedia). And with fans who don’t miss a chance even while studying abroad, the volume game makes sense.
America #1– Two Americans were interesting. One was middle aged Joe who asked about my country. On learning that I was from India, he started almost immediately – ‘I heard that yours is a very stable economy. Much stable than ours. Even a couple of years back, people used to come in bunches here to make a decent living. These days opportunities seem to have die down. Even healthcare have become so costly you just can’t afford it. I just hope Obama fixes things and or we’ll go back to the Depression era’. Seemed a paragraph out of any article of a downturn related blog – points out the hardship Joe faces these days. The only breather – gas prices have come down quite a bit from its peak. His rant also tells me the hopes he has with his new President.
America # 2- The second one was older. He told me was well past 66, but he didn’t look a day older than 55. He lived in Houston for two years and then moved to Austin a year back. Doesn’t live with his family, but with fellow few cabbies. It amazed me how an old fellow like that was driving a cab at 1’o clock in the night. Situation must be bad, I guess. I remember him for another reason – he is only Muslim American I’ve met in my Austin
It amazes me how could we (cabbie and me) strike good conversation in such short rides. Each cabbie was spot on in figuring out my nationality and apparently had a viewpoint on India or Indians. This could be due to several reasons. Indians come a lot to Austin and take cabs. Or, there are quite a few Indians in Austin, who either take cabs or drive cabs (I haven’t bumped across an Indian cabbie though). Or, India is the flavor of the season at Austin, which doesn’t seem likely despite the Oscars.
Each cabbie helped me understand how India is perceived in several circles. It felt good that almost all of them knew something. I’m yet to meet a cabbie twice but I look forward to meeting each of these cabbies again. I also wonder, whether back at Bangalore, I can have a conversation about the with an auto-wallah. What do you say?
P.S. If you are one of the taxi drivers in this post and you see some differences from the original experience, feel free to drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org