The Pathan Taxis
When I first came to Dubai a little over a year back, one of the first things I was cautioned about was never to get in to a Pathan taxi! At first I thought it was something to do with patriotic fervor. A deep feeling of hatred, stemming from enmity since the days of seperation, rooted in the heart of every Indian that they would never get in to a taxi driven by a Pakistani. But later found out that the caution was two fold, one they were illegal taxi drivers not permitted by the Govt. of Dubai and second and most importantly, they stink! Stink with the smell of their grimy sweat.
Now I was someone coming from a place where stink is commonplace. I thought it really wouldn’t matter much to a nostril which has smelt the notorious Cooum river. A once beautiful and clean river, which adorned the length of the city of Chennai, but now just an abysmal area to dump all kinds of refuse. For the uninitiated, the odor it emanates can be overwhelming to the sensory organs, specially the sense of smell.
Now given this unenvious history of mine, I thought “big deal, I can put up with the stench, and as for the illegality, well if the police stop us, they are going to catch him, not me”. The only incentive to travel in these taxis was, these Pathans charged a third of what a national taxi would charge. For a middle class Indian, who has come to Dubai with the sole aim to make money, this was an attractive deal.
Now you may ask me how do we identify a car as a Pathan taxi? Well this needs a little bit of getting used to, else you will end up embarrassing yourself by stopping the wrong cars (happened quite a few times to me). These cars are normally run down old cars, mostly Toyota Corollas older than 5 years, with ridiculous colors, like a paki green with red upholstery in the inside, off white (and I mean it), pale black, off color red, and if you peer in, is normally driven by a bearded Paki wearing a Pathan suit. More often than not, these guys flash the headlight at you. It’s an indication that they are looking for customers.
I have taken these cabs many times. And I realized that these Pakistanis are as human as we Indians are. Most of these Pathans are very chatty and love talking to Indians, or so they say. I am yet to encounter a Pathan taxi ride, where the cabbie has kept his mouth shut. They love talking. They have their opinion on all topics. Be it politics, sport (read cricket!), religion, world economy, Bollywood, life in Dubai, or their lifestyle. I have had some interesting and often enlightening conversations with some of these cabbies.
Sometimes it’s a humbling experience talking to them. Like this one time, I was talking to this elderly Pathan driver, who said Politics is supposed to be the face of the nation and not its arse. He said this in his crude Urdu/ Hindi mix. He said it is a chaste profession, one which should be in the hands of true leaders of men. He went on to talk about Mahatma Gandhi and Mohammad Ali Jinnah. He said no man is perfect. Everyone errs. There are many critics who will talk a lot and keep hollering that it is these two men who divided the land and made it in to India and Pakistan.
But if others were so sensible as to find out this fault, why didn’t they take action and unite these two lands again? It’s because no one had the balls to stand up for the truth, then and even today.
He says, people in Pakistan have the same mindset as people in India. They adore Bollywood movies (and he proudly brags that some of these movies release in Karachi first, even before they are released in Mumbai), love Indian cuisine, enjoy watching Sachin Tendulkar, but it pains them when they see the occasional war movie the likes of ‘Border’ and ‘LOC’. He says such movies wont do any good to further diplomatic negotiations!
I have had many such interesting and often inspiring cab rides. If sometimes it’s a Pathan humming the tune to classic old Indian film songs and telling me how much he likes Bollywood, sometimes it’s a tale of a poor Pathan driver who has successfully sent his son to study in the US and sometimes a Pathan who regales me with the story of that dreadful match (if you are an Indian supporter) of how he was at the stadium and saw Javed Miandad hit a six of the last ball of Chetan Sharma.
I have had my fair share of cab rides with these Pathans. I even have some of their mobile numbers stored in my phone, in case I need a taxi urgently. I look at it as a chance to meet another good human who works hard for a living and also get to save 10 dhirams in the process/ aka Rs.125/-. They are jolly good drivers, slightly reckless (even with their battered car), they are chatty and they definitely do stink, no doubt about that. But it is the stink of their sweat. It’s a smell of their effort after a hard day’s work. And it doesn’t smell that bad to me.