He lets loose a flurry of choice abuses in Bihari Hindi with an overlay of Mumbai accent. I see the old woman crossing the road slowly as our taxi approaches a signal which had been green too long already for the comfort of our taxi driver, who obviously apprehends that the woman is going to slow him down and let the signs turn red before he has a chance to rush through. I take affront, appropriately, and gently chide him for getting angry on a poor old woman.
“I am only talking to myself, bhai. Not swearing at anyone.” He explains “It’s between me and the traffic light. Why would I abuse an old woman? You get it?”
I concede his point. That starts him off on one of the most interesting conversations i have recently had with any taxi driver anywhere.
Thinking aloud, he is trying hard to calculate the most efficient way to take us to Bombay Central while dropping another MIFF delegate at the Grant Road Station. I am also relieved by his sense of responsibility, because we had forced ourselves into the taxi which had been flagged by this delegate, and it would be unfair to inconvenience him for the sake of our drinks.
The driver is thinking hard, and I can almost see the gears and wheels of his brain spinning and clinking at super speeds. He finds a nice solution, too.
This interaction sets him off speaking almost incessantly for the duration of our trip. He tells me that he drives the taxi for 18 hours a day, as he has to pay Rs. 560 to the seth who owns it. Plus Rs. 20 for a wash, and Rs. 300 for the fuel. So every day he shells out a thousand bucks, whether he can find fares or not. The seth owns a fleet of 130 taxis, so he gets 80000 rupees in hard cash every day for doing nothing. As he explains the calculations to me, his conversation is punctuated only by the occasional press of his hand on my knees to emphasise a point. With the words and touch, he has already established a bond with me. I am told that the progress of the seth has impressed him, and happened because the seth is a thinking man, and used his brains to succeed. Which is why he uses his mind to work out things in life.
Then comes out of his mouth a surprise that bowls me over. The apparent luxury of the position of the seth has excited his ambition. He also wants to find something which will earn him money as easily – “sitting and just counting notes”, he says. So as soon as he can get some money together, he announces, “I will make a film.”
There is obvious stunned silence in the cab on his announcement. Because all of us, the insiders of the so-called film-world, can’t believe our ears.
“You will MAKE A FILM?” I question, incredulously.
“Yes. If I don’t get enough money, I will start with a music video, and a song. But a film is what I want to make. Then I am sorted for life.”
So here is a taxi driver, from Jharkhand, who has been driving a taxi in Mumbai for a decade, who nurses a dream of becoming a film maker. His reasons for becoming a film maker may be very different from those of students of film schools, or artists, or cinema buffs. But they are equally valid, and his dream as real.
The conversation is cut short as we arrive. I see a broad smile on his face, lit up by a flash of betel-stained teeth.
I am looking out the window of the bar, sipping my drink, still thinking of the taxi driver and his cinema dreams. A police siren sounds in the neighbourhood, causing instant commotion amongst all the women out in the street, decked and made up to tempt lonely men with another kind of dream. As the women scramble out of sight, rushing into the nooks and corners of Bhendi Bazaar, like a scene from a Bollywood film, the police van crosses the street in slow motion. In its wake, normal life falls smoothly back into place. The women return and assume their positions, the hawkers resume their calls, brooding solitary men stand exhaling cigarette smoke as the waiter comes and refills my glass.
I feel immersed in life playing around, in its various hues, looking at all the people and wondering how many cinema dreams are floating around, enjoying the spread of a gradual warmth in my veins.
The writer is an IAS officer