Do you know that London cabbies were required to pass a test called ‘Knowledge’ to assure authorities, and passengers counting on them on the road, that they knew the labyrinthine layouts of the city’s streets in and out?
Doesn’t that remind you of how once upon a time, not so long back at that, all you had to do was just hop in a taxi or an auto-rickshaw and count on him to take you to the place you want, no matter whether it is tucked behind a zillion paan-shops or needs a road squirrel’s sharp abilities to figure out an approachable alley.
There are more things than that assurance that allowed many of us to enjoy the sometimes-funny-sometimes-adventurous-sometimes-evolutionary experience of hailing a vehicle with a wave of the hand or a shrill whistle (and not with a phone).
Don’t you miss:
- The initial conversation duel with drivers for letting you board in the first place? Oh, the skills of salesmanship, negotiation and persuasion that you sharpened before using them in a board-room or at a dinner-table? Ah! The signature driver-swag that came as a bonus!
- The quirky interiors of the extremely-personalised (for the driver of course) front office/drawing room of a vehicle. Bollywood posters, neon bulbs, flashy quotes and dangling idols for blessings. Not to forget – the timeless playlists of foot-tapping or tear-duct-attacking songs that have become musical cult of this segment.
- The soothing, lyrical sound of Re.1 and 50 paise coins. After all, it was either a delight to get them unexpectedly from the driver as he chose to settle the transaction to the last penny; or a challenging bout of eye-staring and shameless my-foot-will-not-shift-an-inch-till-you-give-me-the-change-back game? What fun and sense of accomplishment it furnished!
- The chance to wringe the best deal out and improve your bargaining skills with every accessory required – eye-brows, mental calculations, smiles, stares, pejoratives and colloquial swear-words too.
- The ability to depend on the extremely-invincible GPS skills of drivers on roads. No landmark, no stray corner, no U-turn, no quick exit was spared in their human algorithm and ever-updated inventory.
- The chance to test your vocal volume and pitch to new levels when you wanted to solicit a fast, evasive, tempting rickshaw or taxi.
- The abandon with which you could stuff the roof, the leg-room or the trunk (who knows if human corpses were also experimented by some) without worrying that the driver would cancel you or rate you with a bad score
- The endless number of stops you could take en route as you shopped, caught up on quick chats with friends appearing on the way, picked groceries, took random detours and picked forgotten bags by going back several signals back. Waiting was a virtue, as long as you paid for it with tangible gratitude and topped it with a smile or a tip.
- Yes, when drivers gave back soul-lifting smiles when you let them ‘keep the change’ or gave you hostile smirks when you did otherwise.
- Bothering to look out of the window instead of in the smartphone and learn a thing or two about a new place, shop, traffic turn, billboard, street-brawl that the vehicle passed by.
If only we knew that technology is going to swipe these joys left, we might have cherished them more. And practised that whistle.