The taxi drivers of Guwahati.

Tonight, I wish to introduce my readers to a certain group of people that I’ve come to admire.

They are the taxi drivers of Guwahati.

I believe they have a strong message for the world.

Generally not indigenous people, this group consists of people who’ve migrated from the heartland Indian states like Bihar, U.P. etc.

Why do I admire this set of people?

Reasons are many.
Hard-working.
Capable of huge sacrifices.
Highly industrious.

So very different from the lazy bums who seek hand-outs.

It’s important that you know a little of their history. Not much – I won’t bore you.

The home states of these drivers are still/were plaqued with illiteracy.

The villages they’ve come from are still/were sans electricity, schools, hospitals, healthcare.

From such backgrounds come these people, and by dint of hardwork, they make things work.

Guwahati is the gateway city to Northeast India – a major tourist destination. So, there is an opportunity to make quick money if you are willing to work hard.

These people drive tourists to all spots spread over all the seven North Eastern States. Communication skills are their forte. A bit of street-smartness also saves the day at times.

These drivers live in squalid, little rented rooms here. Frugal ones don’t rent rooms. They sleep in their taxis.

A portion of the money earned has to be given to the cab owners. A portion is siphoned off to please Police and local mafia.
The remnant remains with them.

What do they do with this money?
They send it to the folks back home. They lead minimalistic lives here. Expenses are few.

Over the years, they persist and improve the financial situation back home. Some have been able to gather enough money to build multi storeyed homes in their villages. Some save enough money to buy cabs of their own.

Back in their villages, they are a respected lot.

But not everything is easy. They face intimidation from localites who complain that their jobs have been taken away by ‘foreigners’. But then this is a classic debate. Refugees v/s Localites.

Some are murdered ruthlessly by car thieves masquerading as tourists.

They are a begrudged lot.
But I believe they have a lesson for today’s world.

The world economy is in doldrums. Job losses, budget cuts, unemployment, bankruptcy.

But, good old honest hard work never fails. Never.

The thing about Guwahati or any other cosmopolitan city is that – if you are willing to work hard, the city will never let you sleep hungry.

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16 comments on “The taxi drivers of Guwahati.

  1. Interesting… I could visualize everything.

    Exploring Guwahati with you. πŸ™‚

  2. My view of taxi drivers is quite the opposite, I’m afraid. I find many arrogant, loud-mouthed, rude and jobsworth.

    A good taxi driver is someone who will take you wherever you are going. In the UK it is illegal for a taxi-driver to turn down a fare. Here, if you are walking in the wrong direction, the taxi driver simply lifts his head up at you and drives off. I’ve lost count of the amount of times rickshaw drivers have refused to take me somewhere because it wasn’t convenient for them. And then, if they do wish to take me, they charge me double because a) I’m a ‘tourist’ and b) they have to do the return journey empty. Of course we know this is illogical because chances are they’ll be flagged down by someone on their way back to town. (Incidentally, I once reported a London black cab for refusing to take me to a meeting I was running late for. He ended up losing a morning’s work as he had to attend a hearing, and was fined too. That’s how it should be, the law should be on the side of the customer, not the driver.)

    A good taxi driver is someone who knows when to talk, and when not to talk. Taxi drivers around the world, whether it be India, the UK, Africa or America, love to talk. They assume you hold the same opinion as theirs and often I have had to sit in the back of a taxi or rickshaw and listen to utter drivel, often misinformed, sometimes racist or sexist, as the driver rants on about a subject I have no interest in. When you’re on your last leg of a 24 hour journey from Cochin to London, and you land at Gatwick at 4am, jet-lagged and tired, the last thing you want to put up with is friendly banter about a football team you have no interest in. It works in the other direction too. Getting into the taxi at Cochin, we are often bombarded with “what is your name, where are you from, how many children do you have”. Sometimes this can be really tiresome, intrusive and irritating after a very long journey and a good taxi/rickshaw driver recognises this.

    A good taxi driver will help you with your luggage. Again, I’ve lost count of the amount of times my wife and/or I have struggled with heavy luggage as the rickshaw driver sits in their seat, tutting and signing because we are not quick enough for him to shoot off to get his next fare.

    A good taxi driver will not haggle over the price. If they drive well, conscientiously, are polite and accommodating, they’ll get a tip. If they are guilty of any of my above-mentioned gripes, they won’t. I remember getting a drive across a large city early one morning. This driver was so terrifying I asked him to slow down on a number of occasions. My wife was scared shitless and he took great pleasure in this, jumping red lights, weaving dangerously in and out of traffic. Eventually I leant over and shouted in his ear as loud as I could “slow the F***ING taxi down NOW”. Why should I have to do that? Why didn’t he slow down when I first asked him? At the end of the journey he had the audacity to ask me how his driving was! I replied, honestly, that he drove like a c***. He got no tip but I think he got the message.

    Similar thing happened once in Delhi. A rickshaw driver followed me for five minutes, hassling me for more money. Why? Why behave like this? Some rickshaw drivers are like beggars, following customers around after the fare, pawing my arm, asking for more money, telling me they have a large family to feed or that fuel prices have gone up. I’d expect a ten year old to behave like that, not ‘highly industrious’ grown men.

    I’m afraid taxi drivers are the same the world over. Some are good, some are not, but to dedicate an entire blog post on how great they all are? C’mon! Either Guwahati is blessed with an unnaturally large proportion of delightful taxi drivers or you’ve just not taken enough to experience the Dark Side of taxis!

    Next you’ll be telling me private bus drivers are careful and respectful users of the road!

    • Hi Jamie.
      I’m afraid you’ve completely missed the point that I’ve tried to put across with this post.

      THIS IS NOT WRITTEN FROM A TOURIST’S POINT OF VIEW.

      No where in your comment have you mentioned anything about the real message that I’ve tried to convey.

      Either my writing was not clear enough or you come with a lot of pre conceived notions.

      They say “Travel broadens the mind”. In your case, I’m afraid it also gave you ‘tunnel vision’.
      Why will you not look at the positives that this world has to offer? Why will let yourself have an open heart?

      I’ve never wanted to hit out at a certain Nationality, but I’m afraid it’s time I did.

      You, in particular, and Englishmen in general, suffer from a peculiar case of homesickness.
      If London is the best place in the world, why leave it? And if you leave it, why not allow yourself to be non judgemental about various cultures and their ways.
      (a perfect example of this is the English cricket team playing only one spinner on a spinning Ahmedabad wicket. Their minds were still in Lord’s).
      They just can’t adapt!

      You often miss the crucial point because much of your energies are spent in criticising and judging people. When you rant about indian egos, dowry, child marriage etc. you have my vote. I’ll shout from the rooftops with you. Probably I’ll shout louder than you. Not this time.
      The bit about ‘misinformed’ banter – they are taxi drivers for god’s sake, not Stanford graduates, who’ll regale you with current affairs and informed opinions.
      You don’t like it – ask them to shut the fu** up.
      I’m disappointed.

      • Subh – your piece begins with the introduction “I wish to introduce my readers to a certain group of people that I’ve come to admire. They are the taxi drivers of Guwahati.” I take this to mean a piece on taxi drivers, so why am I not allowed to respond by telling you many taxi drivers I have experienced are a pain in the ass?

        Secondly, I said nothing of things being better in the UK. I clearly stated “taxi drivers are the same the world over”. I made the point that some are good, some are bad, and even described a frustrating scenario in London (one of many, I hasten to add). No where did I say London was the best place in the world; you are putting words into my mouth.

        Your analogy on cricket is completely wasted on me, by the way. I have no interest in the sport. Perhaps you are assuming all Englishmen are not only homesick but interested in cricket too?

        I’ve always enjoyed the rigorous discussion on your blog but now you are starting to throw personal insults at me, presumably as a knee-jerk reaction to what you are taking as a personal slight on your writing, which my response was not. I have better things to do with my time, however, and am happy to take my ‘tunnel vision’ elsewhere.

  3. Sorry for the misunderstanding. But it was not intended to be a personal insult. And it is certainly not a retaliation for adverse comments on my writing. I’m always open to criticism. I was upset because you didn’t mention anything about the issue i tried to raise.. There is more than one way of looking at the world. And you only look at negative side. That was what i wished to say. No offence intended.

    • My comments are just there to give you both sides of the coin. I get your point about some taxi drivers working hard, but that is not the full story. Many are lazy, arrogant, rude and do not understand the concept of customer service. That’s not negative, that’s just a fact of life, and that sentiment was a direct response to the issue you tried to raise.

  4. Yup I understand your views now on re reading your comments.

    Reading my comment again and again, i realised that perhaps i really shouldn’t have raised that point about Englishmen. It is a slight on a whole Nation. I am not sure if it is relevant in the current context. I could have avoided it.
    I regret it.
    I’m at fault here. But I’m young.
    Keeping that in mind, please excuse my excesses. I’m still learning.
    Once again, it was not a personal insult.

  5. No worries, Subh. Don’t sweat it. Each to their own (views)! πŸ™‚

  6. Sudden says:

    Your piece would have been valid if they were honest- they are not! There’s no dearth of suffering in the world. Doesn’t give them the right to charge Rs 500 from the Airport to Beltola. Guwahati’s taxis and autos are probably the most expensive in the country. They might or might not be profitable- so what? A customer doesn’t pay for sympathy but for service. Life’s tough- deal with it. I’d rather you eulogise the park rangers of Kaziranga- they work much harder and are far more deserving! And regards living conditions, I’m pretty sure y’ve not visited Mumbai, or if you have, not observed.

  7. Hello.
    I vow never to play “Devil’s Advocate” again. Have faced a lot of criticism for this post πŸ˜€
    but it only helps me grow.
    To answer your question, no, I haven’t visited Mumbai. And as a rule i only write about what i know. So maybe in that sense i’m a frog in well.

    The basic problem about Guwahati’s taxis and autos is that there is no “meter” system in place.

    Which enables them to charge exorbitantly.
    Perhaps this is one thing that taxi associations could be pursuaded to incorporate.

    Through this post I was only trying to highlight their spirit of struggle.Yes I agree life is tough.

    Also could you give me links to resources which state that guwahati’s taxi fares are the most expensive in India? Perhaps then i could do a corrective post.

    Thanks for the idea on Kaziranga rangers. I’ll do a post on them soon. Cheers!

    • Sudden says:

      Well, I doubt there is any study comparing fares across cities. So, no, I can’t provide you links (and that is why i added a ‘probably’). I can give you perspective though. The avg fare for autos in Delhi (no meters here too, so ripping off is blatant) is still 40% lesser than Guwahati. Ganeshguri is roughly 4 kms from my house near Wireless- the auto fare is Rs 100. The DMRC station from my house in Ghaziabad (which is even worse than Delhi) is roughly the same distance. The fare ranges from Rs 50-60, depending on your haggling ability. That apart, I’ve been outside Guwahati for 13 years now and have travelled to most of the important cities in India. From my experience, Ghy is easily the most ridiculous in terms of the fare s as well as the attitude of the drivers. You don’t have to take my word for it, though you can probably carry out the exercise y’self, whenever you have the opportunity…if you want to.

  8. I actually researched. But there was nothing available on the net. I’ll write an improved version of this as soon as I get more inputs. Could you please help with some links for the Kaziranga post?

  9. Give my wife a shout at http://www.lizcleere.com, Subh. She’s the writer of the two of us (she runs a travel writing club) and has already written about Kaziranga. We were extremely impressed with the organisation of the park and in particular with the rangers, as Sudden suggests.

  10. Will do πŸ™‚ . Thanks.

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