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Much more than just taxi tattle

The cab we ordered to take us to the airport arrives on time. Before getting in, I nod imperceptibly at my husband. It’s supposed to be a reminder of our resolve made earlier that come what may, we will not exchange a single word over any issue concerning politics in the driver’s presence. In response, my husband shakes his head cynically and chooses the seat beside the driver to avoid my watchful eye.

Our past experience in many a taxi ride has taught us that even one chance remark shared between us about current affairs in and around us is bound to elicit an unsolicited response from the driver. No problem there, since all of us share the same concerns as citizens, but it’s not likely to stop with that. Soon one-liners would lead to extended dialogues, and thereafter a talkathon session till we reached our destination.

Given our penchant for viewing everything from a political angle, it could become worse in an election season when our grievances reach a peak. Understandably, the driver is also tempted to proffer his opinion from the elemental level based on what he’s seen or heard from others, although his total attention should be on the road. Our road conditions being what they are, with pesky potholes and chaotic traffic, this two-pronged distraction could well be a perfect recipe for a road disaster — for which some passengers might also be equally responsible.

Last time, in another cab, the driver got so carried away by the intensity of his tirade against the system that he took a wrong route despite the GPS and almost hit a roadside median, just missing it by a few inches. It took quite a while for us to regain our composure and we decided to keep mum during subsequent rides.

Today’s cabbie appears quiet and reserved. Once the OTP is given to him, we are on our way. The cab breezes along an arterial road in silence for the first half hour. There’s a certain meditative lull inside, which enables me to recollect clearly whether I’d remembered to switch off the gas and lock the front door properly. I relax, fingers crossed.

Well, what we resist persists anyway! Before you know it, the restful feeling disappears along with a rude squeal of tyres. The cab stops abruptly somewhere in the middle of the road though there’s no traffic signal. A train of vehicles is also behind us honking impatiently. Now, what? A few stray cows are calmly crossing the road, in slow, measured steps. While we are waiting for them to pass by, it begs the question, “Why did the cows cross the road?” As in the case of the chicken, here too there’s no logical answer. However, one can always take a guess in the present-day situation. A standard one is that, maybe the cows found a poster on the opposite side juicier as the political party figuring in it is offering more freebies than the one in the poster, on this side of the road.

The driver lets out an exasperated sigh. My husband mutters, “Oh-ho!” in a show of solidarity. Stray animals are not a new phenomenon on our roads, but unknowingly they could trigger a meltdown in a hitherto patient cabbie. Just as I feared, he goes full force, venting his frustrations with the usual questions. Why’s our civic management so hopeless? Do we deserve this after seventy years of Independence? Where are we headed? And so on.

Thankfully, in a few minutes the airport comes into view. As we get down with our bags, the driver still fumes, “What’s the use of complaining, anyway? Nothing will change!” I tend to disagree, though.

Long ago, in Shakespeare’s play ‘Hamlet’, a palace guard tells his comrade that something is rotten in the state of Denmark. Perhaps, the sensitive authorities there, after watching the play, took note of it and sought to wipe off that impression about their country, no matter even if it’s fictional. Today Denmark is one of the happiest places to live in the world. So I suppose, it might pay to complain about our plight but not inside a moving taxi.

saraswathi100@yahoo.com


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Printable version | Jun 23, 2021 1:15:15 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/much-more-than-just-taxi-tattle/article26830499.ece

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