Think of yellow cabs and the first thought that comes to my mind is New york. It’s an image that is embedded after seeing all the American movies that I saw while growing up. But then India has its own version of it. The Calcutta Yellow Cab. They fill the city, plying from one end to another, from short distance to long ones, they are the lifeline of Calcutta. Don’t be surprised to find your self in a traffic jam of only yellow cabs. Its surreal!
What the Fiat Premier is to Mumbai, the Ambassador is to Calcutta. The Ambassador, which is manufactured by Hindustan Motors, is an identity for India. It’s the car for the masses, as well as, for the hep elites, who prefer it various colours. The politicians love it and so do the taxi wallahs! The cars still runs on diesel so it’s a smoky journey and still have no air-conditioning. So, in a city like Calcutta, which is high on humidity, it can be quite an oven. I also don’t find it comfortable but just can’t resist the temptation to sit in it again and again!
The cab drivers are usually very chatty so if you can speak a bit of Bengali or Hindi make sure you chat. They have all the info on the roads, jams, blockages, political rally, politics and so on and so forth. So a journey is never boring. The only time they don’t talk is when they are chewing some tobacco, but if you would to ask a question, they would happily spit it out and start talking. As one driver said, “Aur kya kare saab, rasta to time kha jaata hain!” (What else can I do sir, the traffic eats away into the time!)
Night journeys are quite psychedelic as the car transforms into…umm…a spaceship. Different kinds of lights come on, apart from the dashboard of the car. The meter is red in color with blinking lights. There is always a small light for the deity, which is usually multicolored. If the ceiling of the taxi is reflective, then the experience is transformed multi-folds. Its awesome!
One of the good things about the taxi is that it runs on a meter. There is a formula for figuring about how much you have to pay. Make sure the meter is switched on! Once you reach your destination, simply double the amount in the meter and then add Rs 2 to it. If you’re good at math, you’ve probably got it right! I have no idea how they ever came to this formula for taxi fare. In case there would be an increase the fare, I guess they would just add Rs 3 instead of Rs2. Who knows?
On one of such trips in Calcutta, I went to Baruipur, around 40km from the city. A small town, Baruipur is the home to Shri Satyanand Vidya Niketan and the Sri Satyanand Mahapeeth (SSM), Ladies Circle No.27 long term project. SSM is working towards building an integrated township, with focus on Sanskrit and Vedic scripts. They have around 200 acres of land, which will be built in various stages. The area around this land was till recently unelectrified, with almost no water facilities and a dry canal system. Slowly, the organization is working towards the improvement of this region by getting water to its members and also making a housing schemes and relocating the natives into them. Health facilities are now also provided to these families.
The circle has made two toilets blocks, an orphanage, a classroom and also installed a tubewell for the families that stay here. These projects cost an average of Rs 400,000-Rs 500,000, which is raised through an event called the ‘Children’s Disco’. Around 600 children participate in this event, which has music, games, food, magic shows, etc. The circle is also assisting the Round Table in building a school in the Suderbans. They also have a school in Park Street, where they have donated a computer, school books and bags. No wonder the kids were smiling!
The Ladies of Circle No.27, particularly Nandini and Ritu, were great hosts and I thank the girls for their effort and time. On our journey back, we kept hunting to find lichi’s but failed to spot the right bunch to eat. During this journey, we also realized how clever these villagers were; they lit a red light over the fruit so that the red skin would glow even more! Thank God we didn’t fall for that trap.
It was time to head back so I hailed myself a yellow taxi. One thing I can’t resist in Calcutta is the Howrah Bridge. It is a beauty! The Bridge connects the main Calcutta city with its suburb Howrah. The construction of this extra ordinary steel marvel was started in 1937 and used 26,500 tonnes of Indian made steel. There are no guesses that the Tata’s provided the majority of the locally made steel at Jamshedpur. It has one of the widest roads in Calcutta apart from nice footpaths. Unfortunately, one cannot stop on the bridge and take pictures. So after you have enjoyed the walk, sit at one of the ghats and shoot the bridge either at sunrise or sunset, when the steel turns golden. I havent tried that myself so will do it the next time I am there!