The idea for this week’s cover story came after I fired the driver and spent a few weeks driving around in Mumbai’s taxis. Most mornings, it’s impossible to find one that’s ready to head in the same direction as you. Then, there are the smelly interiors, sweaty seat covers, unshaven drivers who have perfected the art of scratching, spitting, belching and not washing their hands after a glorious roadside you-know-what.
Often, my parting shot is: Please keep the change.
Then, one day, the husband suggested I try a radio cab. The next morning, a colourful Esteem drove to my doorstep 10 minutes earlier than scheduled. The driver greeted me cheerily as I hopped into a clean, fresh-smelling vehicle with tinted windows. The cabin temperature was Kingfisher perfect. I settled back and completed reading that day’s edition of Mint (there are so many good stories it takes forever to get through) and noticed that the cab was generating its fair share of interest from commuters stuck in am traffic snarls.
But, of course, one ride does not a recommendation make. So Lounge hit the road with a vengeance. We tried almost all the available services (several times), spoke to the people who have launched these services and sifted through all the fine print, from grooming to GPS. The results await you on Page 12.
One thing I have to say, though, in defense of the commercial capital’s taxi drivers. They always go by meter (so what if the meter is occasionally rigged? If you point this out to them they will always ask you to pay the fare you normally do). And they can hold forth on everything from whether Pratibha Patil should be our next President to how they always knew Mayawati would end up winning the Uttar Pradesh elections. Conversation starters are banned in radio taxis.
After all those armchair traveller battles about which European city we would spend our time out, we ended up in Nagarhole National Park, faced not with the tiger but with an even more ferocious beast—children of the Indian tourist.
We were eye to eye with a huge male crocodile resting on the shore just a couple of feet away from our boat and all one bored brat could do was wail: I hate this ride. Clearly, nobody’s teaching the next generation to respect nature or talk softly. The worst offenders, according to our guide, are the residents of Andheri and of Chennai. But if you haven’t been to an Indian wildlife sanctuary recently, please go. It reminds you how hard our conservationists have to work to keep so much that’s magical from disappearing. Just remember to carry earplugs.
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