Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Taxi Drivers and their own world

Taxi drivers are one among the very interesting people to observe and converse with, by the virtue of the people from different walks that they deal with they very often tend to develop good conversational skills , recently I met once such person called Tahir on my way to Heathrow airport.
Tahir is a Desi Muslim whose father was a soldier who migrated from undivided India to UK and is born and brought up in UK.
Our conversation started with his views on smoking (he had quit and has become too fat-his words-, a good reasons for smokers not to quit) and continued towards India-Pakistan partion, quran, gita , bible etc, his tolerant views towards religions and stress on the humanity was really inspiring especially in these troubled days where people get killed in hundreds in the name of religion and god. He was a first hand victim of selfish relatives, a partner who looted all of his money – never heard of a good partner so far ;-) - when he was emotionally fragile after his dads death in Pakistan. He was a very interesting conversationalist who could transpire you at ease. I was a bit unhappy the journey could last only one hour.

Taxi drivers could offer you a wealth of information especially when you are going into a new place -good pubs, nice restaurants etc- , except for those sloppy GIVE-ALL-THAT-YOU-HAVE-GOT types, they are the walking(driving) wikipedia ( using encylopedia as a metaphor has been abolished lately) and they gather countless wisdom picking it from many a passengers from diverse cultures, countries, personalities etc , mainly those who drive in big cities like London, Newyork , SFO.

Each driver is a CEO in his small mobile office. People hop-in and hop-out, there could be good people, bad people, rich , poor, preachers , benovalent, malevolent but they just carry on the routine. Being a taxi driver gives one a sense of economic independence with he being his own boss and he can decide to close the office after gathering enough for the day, the good thing is you can avoid skip those ever poring emails (but one of the drivers that I met recently had a blackberry ;-) ).
Drivers have their own business model, servicing philosophies etc and operate under stringent competition with very little differentiation – All the new york cabs looks the same to me.Its very interesting to observe the taxi driving as an economic model as well, the key factors being, the window of time that he can drive (except those call center drivers), the places where people require their service most and the number of competitors that offer similar or better service in that area. Smart drivers tend to look for steady repeat customers by engaging with you and establishing a connect and those who are not so lucky, blame it on the bad day or bad government. There is always some “cash on the table” and the most smart driver gets more.

But there are bad sides of the story as well and I could harldly resist the thought of what if the driver turned out to be psycho or a part of the gang that could take you a shady place and loot(esp in mumbai and delhi, these feeling get intense), there have been numerous cases of rapes and murders by taxi drivers(they get murdered by bad passengers as well) all around the world and we always need that caution and a bit of luck to reach our destination safely and we need to be careful about what we talk to them esp if the driver has lot of customers from the place we work.

Anyways, driving is a interesting profession where if you have luck , you could be the likes of Senna, Schumacher , Rakkinen etc or you could be waiting for the customers on the roads to ensure that you make enough to pay for the debts, mortgages etc , etc answering the calls from the impatient wife who made the dinner two hours back and the kids who have gone to sleep after a long wait.