If you ever want to unravel the heart of a city, nothing better than a loquacious taxi driver. Last week, while travelling to Noida, my local cabbie narrated stories about Gurgaon’s endearing penchant for inclusiveness. Not only the high profile sing paeans to Gurgaon’s multiculturalism; the workers and labourers from other states also feel at home here.
An innocuous question from me, “Are you from Bihar?” and the taxi driver was fuelled up. En route to Noida, in the throes of a traffic jam, I heard stories about Gurgaon that I never knew. “I was an auto driver in Mumbai, until the Sena goons thrashed me one day, and smashed my auto rickshaw. Then the policemen started issuing challans for no rhyme or reason.”
For any writer, what can be more interesting than a talkative informer? I continued responding in monosyllables, as my cabbie shared nuggets of his life. He reduced the volume of the FM channel, and continued, “After Mumbai shunned me, I decided to come to Gurgaon. The city accepted me with open arms. No one calls me a ‘bhaiyya’ here. I belong to the city.” He finds Gurgaon police a benevolent lot. “They don’t trouble us. The bullying, if any, is reserved for Bengali speaking labourers. They are illegal migrants from across the border!”
“How do you know they are from across the border?”
“It’s obvious. They speak in Sylheti and Chittagong language, which is unlike Bengali. But if you ask them they will say they are from Midnapore or Malda.” My cabbie then went on to lament the price rise. Because living in Gurgaon is exorbitant, he told me that he shops at the local Bengali market, near Sector -56. “I bought a sari for my wife, the kind you get in the malls - chamak chamak. Only for two hundred! Can you believe that?”
As the taxi crawled, his topic switched gear from inflation to corruption. “Madamji,” he informed, “The going rate of a village sarpanch in my village, bordering Gurgaon, is twenty lakhs. When a contestant pays a hefty amount to get elected, vasoool bhi to karega na?”
“I guess so,” I said, and alighted in a hurry, only to find that I had no change. I needed another fifty bucks. “Don’t worry madam. You are already late. I will take the money some other time.”
And as he drove off, I realized that stereotyping warps our judgment. This cab driver was blessed with a heart of gold.