It's morning, time for me to go to whichever office I am working out of today. Post run or gym, post shower, I am standing in the kitchen, suited and booted, buttering a slice of toast and making a mug of cappuccino on the trusted ten year old Rancillio espresso maker. In between toast and cappuccino I make a few light taps on the iPhone to order my cab for the day, having chucked up on driving a few months ago. Kumud and the young ladies are at the dining table, Tarini getting ready for school and Mira getting ready to read in the way of university students.
Within seconds of me ordering the cab the phone rings, it's the driver asking where he has to come for the pick up. The map on his smartphone serves no purpose whatsoever. I answer the phone with a just-about-patient "aap kahan se aa rahen hain?", and the family members exchange looks among themselves. 'Dad's ordered a cab, let's see how it goes today', i.e. 'what level of volatility will we reach before he boards the cab and leaves?'
My "where are you coming from?" question is not for my benefit but for his. I can see where he is but those first seconds are key to figuring out if the driver knows where he is, how he got there and most importantly, how he will get to me.
Most conversations involve some arm waiving at my end, telling the man which landmark to come to etc. If I think he is well on his way and has a fighting chance of getting to me I put the phone down, finish my toast and wait for the app to ping and tell me that Azim, or Shaikh or Rajkumar Dubey has indeed arrived for the pickup.
If however the first reaction is "Uhhhh, sar, uhhhh, yahaan ek building hai (there is a building here) then this man was really plucked from his bed in Bhandup and dropped from the sky into Nariman Point, and then we have a major problem. In these mission critical cases I watch for a few minutes to see in which direction he starts to drive, to see if he starts driving away from me, towards the sea for example, or if the two minute wait time changes to a seven minute wait time. In those cases my frantic arm waiving (of no use until Uber installs an Augmented Reality app on their driver phones) is accompanied by very loud "AAP KAHAN JAA RAHEN HAIN??" (WHERE ARE YOU GOING??). At these times the family keeps its head down, exchanging looks and smiles.
I've gotten better at dealing with these ET Phone Home types and pressing the cancel button sooner, within the five minute window. The other day I did actually, against better judgement, board one of these cabs and the first few minutes were frustration filled as he was indeed intent on driving us into the sea. 'How did you get here??' I asked, 'do you not know anything about this city?' 'No sir', came the reply, 'this is a Vashi car', as if the City of Vashi had programmed the car to drive and he was but a helpless onlooker. Google Drive, here we come baby.
Every once in a while though, there is a Ramandeep. I tap the screen and order my cab and within seconds there is a call from a soft spoken young man asking what the name of our building is. I tell him and he says thank you and hangs up, leaving me staring at the phone for a bit. Two minutes later the phone rings again, and the driver, Ramandeep, says "sir, I have reached your building and am waiting a little away from the entry gate". Excuse me?? You know where I live, you know what an entry gate is? How much weirder is this going to get?
I get into the car with both my bags, juggling my cappuccino mug, without any fear of messing up the seats as Ramandeep has, in good Punjabi style, kept the original plastic covers on. "Good morning sir, where will we be going to today?" I lean back into the seats, a sense of relaxation taking over. Hundred meters into the drive and Ramandeep taps something on his dashboard and some Sonu Nigam type vague instrumental music starts to play, and I put up with it till my first call, ten minutes later. By the time I am dropped off at my destination, an hour's drive away in Powai, Ramandeep turns around and asks me to give him five stars. This man has my vote.
So is Uber uber alles? Not yet, the old black and yellow cabs are a relief at times with their ability to actually find streets, but these young Indian entrepreneurs, which is what each and every one of these cab drivers is, are changing the game. Be patient ET, we'll get you home.
Btw, the banner photo was taken from our holiday home outside of San Gimignano at 6.20 am. What light! It lasted all of five minutes.