Sunday, June 27, 2010

Hey Jude - One for the cabbie

Of all the travel “companions” I have had, there has been none more interesting than the cabbie. Just today, I was returning back from the airport, wondering if it would be the first Sunday post I would miss and what do I get ? – an amazing experience on the cab ride back home.

There’s something about cabbies that makes them fascinating conversationalists. Maybe because they bump into all sorts of people every day. They see life in all sizes and shapes. Not all of them are great to be with , especially if they are mobile phone addicts, but most are and I’ve had some interesting experiences in different parts of the world that have stayed on with me.

The guy in Jo’burg. He was a white who revealed that he was actually a qualified Chartered Accountant. But then there’s a sort of reverse apartheid in South Africa these days. He said jobs were hard to come by for whites and he was better of driving a cab !

The guy in Woking who drove me to Heathrow. He was from Muzzafarpur in the Pakistan part of Kashmir. He said no Kashmiri who was sane wanted independence. His solution to the Kashmir problem ? He would make the existing partition permanent and allow people to chose if they wanted to live on the Pakistan side or the Indian side. People can move to whichever country they wanted to live in. End of story.

The guy who drove me from Cairo to Alexandria. For 2 hours he gave the finest rendering of Arabic songs I’ve heard and we had a rollicking time despite the fact that he couldn’t speak a word of English and I don’t speak a word of Arabic !

The cabbie in Melbourne. For some reason ALL cabbies in Melbourne are from India. This was around the time when there was some violence against Indians in that city. He said much was made out of one or two incidents ; he himself felt absolutely safe in Australia and Australians were lovely people. A sane voice of reason when passions were inflamed.

The New York cabbie is in a class by himself. I’ve been with drivers who were from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Jordan, Lebanon, Congo, Liberia, Kenya, Jamaica, Mexico, and probably the entire United Nations, but I’m yet to meet a cabbie who was born in the US !

The London cabbie , of course. Just get him talking on football and off he goes. Since I know something about English football, I needle him knowledgeably about whichever team he supports and a merry argument can be had for the full trip.

The Indian autowallah – well; a whole book can be filled with that experience.

The recent anecdotes have , of course, been with Chinese cab drivers. Made wonderful because they can’t speak any English and my Chinese is pathetic enough to send them into uncontrollable fits of laughter. They then absolutely want to talk to me to correct my Chinese and some of the best lessons I’ve had have been on the backseat of the cab (due apologies to Zhang). Invariably they want to know where I am from and when I say India, their immediate response is that Indian women are very beautiful. Why ? Because they have big eyes !!

But today was special. I landed in rainy Guangzhou late in the evening and got into a cab. My awful Chinese didn’t provoke laughter. Instead he switched on some music from a CD and to my surprise it was in English. He was trying to make me feel “at home”. He then started to sing along – he must have done this to many foreigners and picked up the tune. I sat open mouthed in amazement as I drove to the strains of the Beatles and one incredible Chinese driver, who didn’t know a word of English, but could hum along to Hey Jude !!