While the world has long switched loyalties to radio taxi services, your app-unfriendly columnist has still not succumbed to the temptation of cabs arriving at one’s doorstep at the click of a button. I feel somewhat guilty at snatching away the daily bread from rude Mumbai cabbies and stuffing it into the mouths of PE-funded Bengaluru entrepreneurs. So despite the industry’s valiant attempts to lure me with roast-worthy ‘haath mat hilayo, something-something dabao’ (don’t flail your arms, push something-something instead) type slogans, I remain loyal to the black-and-yellow cabs on the street.
I recently had to visit the other end of muggy Mumbai, and seeing an opportunity to convert me, a tech-happy sister graciously used her account to book me a cab online. “Driver Suresh in an Indigo will be here in three minutes,” she said, and lo and behold! as if by magic, an Indigo pulled up. “Are you Mrs Rishi?” the driver asked. “Hmmm,” I grunted and got in, indignant at the jibe at my masculinity. He clicked the phone on the dashboard and the trip started.
Ten minutes later, my phone rang. Almost simultaneously, so did his. “Haven’t you found the cab yet? Suresh is waiting,” my sister enquired impatiently. “I am sitting with Suresh, sweet ol’ chap,” I said, and almost patted him on the back. “Well, he’s on the other line and he says he hasn’t found you yet.”
I looked towards Suresh, who was mumbling into his phone even as a lady shrieked at the other end. “Aren’t you Suresh?” I interrupted what I imagined could only be a severe marital row. “No, I am Babu. Aren’t you Mrs Disha?” he answered with a question. “No, I am Rishi,” I shrugged.
And then the penny dropped. I had jumped into a cab booked for the now stranded Mrs Disha. Damn. But what could be done now — we were well on our way. “Carry on, Babu,” I said, “what can we do?” Mrs Disha was going ballistic by then. Unsure how to handle her, Babu disconnected the phone. “I need to call Operations,” he whispered, sweat pouring down his face.
“Are you there?” my sister yelled in my ear, “I have an angry Suresh on the other line.” I quickly switched my attention to her, and said, “Umm… can he go to Mrs Disha instead? She lives close by apparently.” And I went on to explain the entire situation to her. “Okay wait,” she snapped and, in turn, proceeded to explain the situation to him. Suresh obviously wasn’t winning the ‘employee of the year’ award anytime soon because he angrily hung up with a threat to bill her ₹150 for the no-show. “But I am a show. I just showed up in the wrong cab!” I cried. But she had slammed the phone down by then.
Babu by now had connected with Operations and was repeating our story ad nauseum. “Why didn’t you ask the passenger his name before he boarded?” a baritone voice reprimanded him. “I did, I did — but he said he was Mrs Disha,” whined Babu. I slipped lower in my seat as I saw the veins on his forehead throbbing in a fascinating rhythm. “Shall I speak to your boss?” I asked, with as much kindness as I could muster. He shook his head from side to side in horror — “Operations will only speak to drivers. Customer Service will only speak to customers.” More baritone admonishments followed, and a few ‘yes sirs, yes sirs’ later, he hung up. Mrs Disha called again, but Babu did not answer.
We spent the rest of the trip in silence. When I finally reached my destination, the meter read ₹880. “Shucks, will Mrs Disha’s credit card get charged for this?” I asked Babu. He nodded with uncertainty, a puddle of sweat forming between the brake and accelerator. I pulled out my phone, called Customer Service and our sorry saga was narrated yet again to a new protagonist. A lot of hemming and hawing later, I was advised to pay cash, and I slipped Babu a thousand.
Eager to escape this mess, I hurriedly opened the door. A passing black-and-yellow taxi swerved and honked and its driver directed a choice expletive towards me. “I miss you, man,” I whispered wistfully.