Making A Difference

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We meet innumerable people on a daily basis and often before we realise they have begun making a difference in our lives. Such are these two, Rajubhai the driver & conductor. Both with distinct personalities, as a cohesive team ply the AS4 (NMMT) Bus for the #BEST. From Oshiwara to Backbay Reclamation Depot. The first time I stood at the stop, I was taken aback. Smoothly the bus halted right near my step, not a breath to be wasted. I was greeted by an absolute warm smile and “Good morning,” by Rajubhai. A while later, the conductor, who I call Mr. versatile came in gold earring, photochromatic glasses, smart phone and spoke in pure English. “Good morning, where to? Are you going to be a regular traveller?” Wow! Never before has any conductor or BEST bus person shown Such curtesy to any commuter. I returned the smile, thanked and said, yes I would love to be a life time commuter in any airconditioned bus. there struck an unusual bond between the three of us, that was to remain.

Every morning unfailingly from a distance I could see white set of smiling teeth, a wave and a welcoming nod with good morning and while I got inside the bus, if Mr. versatile was not dozing off (well after the small naps he would get energised), he would come with folded hands and speak a new language waiting with the ticket machine. Mr. versatile knows and can speak English, Bhojpuri, Gujarati, Kuchchi, Punjabi, Marathi and I am sure few other languages. He has been featured in an English newspaper, can recognise gadgets at a distance and has a love interest to whom he would coo softly on the phone. He knows every regular commuter’s name, profession, cellphone number (never asked for mine as he thought in the initial days I am someone connected with the government or media!) and addresses. He is like the bus shrink, talked to all, inquired about their weekends, work, bosses, parents, in-laws etc. the young and old all seemed to connect with him. He distributed sweets on the day his son passed with a first class and was the first to announce he hadn’t expected as he thought his son was useless and uninterested in studies.

The duo kept us entertained, they are well informed and would discuss latest news and happenings. At the end of every trip when my destination would arrive there always was a thank you, have a good day. With Mr. Versatile being rather filmi and Rajubhai waving hia hand. Not a word of this is an exaggeration, may be understated but nothing excessive. Those few seconds of greetings made an impact. Even though the timings would vary, I never felt agitated waiting for this duo. I would want to smile, step in feeling wanted, a
Welcome that was heartfelt and everyday each commuter is being made to feel like a family of AS4. I stopped taking this bus after the change of job. I had absolutely no idea when next I would board this bus and meet this friendly duo. Then in the last week of December I had to go to Shivaji Park to meet a police officer. I waited for the 83, 84 ltd bus, but fervently wished I could get the aircon bus. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine or expect my 2 friends to stop the bus.

The minute the bus came to a smooth a halt, the big beaming smile greeted me with a bigger laugh and “arre madam gd morning. Kitna achcha laga apko milke,” and Rajubhai called out to Mr. versatile. “Dekho kaun aya!” My happiness too knew no bounds, I was like yay my old bus team, my year ends well and I am confident 2016 will go well. The two friends told me they miss me every morning. “Hum roj Subah baat karte hai, madam ayegi, ek din zaroor ayegi. We look out for you in the Roxy lane, bus bhi slow leke jatey hai.” I can’t tell you how important it made me feel. There is no need for these two to butter me, because I don’t take this bus everyday. The point is, there are most genuine and sincere people, who make such a difference in the lives of others, especially when they are not expected to. While most often bus drivers and conductors behave like they are participating in formula one races, are rude, often sound miffed, as if they are doing us a favour, snappy and never stop for commuters. Here is by far the best team I have come across. They are warm, polite, wait if they see anyone run for the bus, even stop in the middle of the road if someone waves out.

All I can say is that there truly is hope in this city. I am so thankful and lucky to have met these two and can wish them and their families happiness and only the best, always.

Fight instead of being taken for a ride

When I say this, the first thing a Mumbaikar/Bombayite will say, “we’re used to it, now we can tell which cabbie is honest or not.” This is NOT about taxiwalas being honest. This is about YOUR right as a passenger.

Firstly, there are many rules in the constitution of the Taximen’s Union-remember it is still registered as a Union, hence they have to draft a constitution & are compelled to abide by it-Which has many pro-passenger rights, likewise protection of the cabbies’ rights.

Now trace your memory back by few minutes or hours. How many times has it happened that you are left stranded on the road feeling like absolute piece of shit only because these arrogant b#$%^*%s smirked, didn’t even to respond or mocked listening to your destination? You’ve felt road rage, wanted to beat, few like me say, “chutiye dombivli jana hai kya?” or I simply open the door & leave it, threaten to beat or hit the bonnet.

Let me tell you, we do NOT have the time or we simply don’t bother to take down number plate details, send it to the taximen union at Navjeevan society & copy of that complaint to the police station. Traffic police launched a campaign in our-passenger’s –favour. They have a set of complaint cards. We have to write details. If a cabbie refuses, they can be taken to the police, they have to wear their uniforms, their badges. If they don’t you can complain. we say how many to complain against?

Write their badge nos, vehicle no, badge nos. But we simply won’t do it. We are in this terrible Mumbai’s mad rush. “Kisko padi hai. Kaun is jhanjhat mein padega?” But the fact is you can’t be refused.

Coming to another important fact is that few know the taxi night fare was first based on the fuel pricing. May be before many were born, or my generation & above till when we were in school the petrol & diesel prices would vary in the morning & night. The scarcity of fuel drove the union to form this pricing policy. Then came into being day & night meter charges. Now many think it is because of the night shift. No this night shift may have been an additional incentive but that was NOT the cause for this pricing.

Having covered the civic beat for half my life & more so many a taxiwala has been my source, they will tell you the gory truths about their occupation. There are only handful who will NEVER say NO. they take passengers even for short distances. Most refuse. Many others have ‘setting’ deal with regular customers. Mind you that works 50-50 for both the cabbie & passenger.

Why then do we take a cabbie at night & say ‘day charge mein chalega?’ and if it were based on night shift system, why would they agree? Quadros the taximen union will admit (which has on record), no one has ever challenged the night shift meter concept. Till the CNG came into being. CNG as a fuel option was forced by the Bombay High Court. Pl a lot of good we have in the society today is ONLY thanks to our activists & the judiciary. The courts have asked the ancient, fuel guzzling, pollution emitting vehicles Premier Padminis to go off the roads they don’t. They said within 6 months compulsory change to CNG. We breathe easier today. The padminis give back ache, they are beyond their expiry date, yet we allow. We say poor things. Take a break guys.

There are laws & the govt with the unions has helped the taximen make the change. They have 4 compulsory shifts. It is across board. There are authentic license holders &  those that are not. There is a lot we don’t know about ONLY because we as citizens don’t bother to learn, find out. Yes, many may accuse me that being a journalist I know all of this. No, you will be surprised. I ALWAYS get the same response. “Leave it Neeta, how many will you fight with, how many people will you try to change.” Why not? Why should I let be? Why can’t I as a citizen get my right?

How many stop the taxi at midnight pay the cabbie the day charge & then ask him to drop the meter again? How many even know of this? We don’t because we never bother to ask anyone. The taximen’s union has made it mandatory to have the rules in the taxi like meter card. How many have it? How many of us bother to read & ask for it.?

The taximen will admit, the RULE says –at midnight wherever the passenger is takes the taxi to side, pays the charges according to the day rate & then the taxiwala has to drop the meter again as per the night charges. Wherever you may be, this is in favour of the passenger.

Now the fuel has changed, every time prices fluctuate rules are meter card to change. Whenever there has been a roll back, the taximen Union has NOT rolled back the fare. Does anyone know the cost of CNG per litre? The minimum fare? Now that fare is same at day & night how much more the commuter is paying? Well you are paying well over the real cost. The taxiwalas themselves will tell you, and say, “Abhi hum kya kar sakte mehengayi badh rahi hai?” Yes but over-charging can’t be the excuse for inflation.

Only the Mumbai Grahak Panchayat took the BEST & Taximen union to the Consumer & then to Bombay High Court. Challenging the disparity in the meter & then no roll-back. Interestingly, no one even bothered to read about it, forget being happy of the result. The BEST earlier would charge us 0.5p for army welfare persons. Did we ever bother to find out whether any army person ever got any money? Whether BEST sent the amount, how much was it? It was well over 50 years.

Also, you can complain to the BEST HQ at worli. I did once & the officer showed me 50 written complaints, mostly senior citizens & women.  There are some who want to fight for their rights & are doing. If you are wronged, bus doesn’t stop at the stop, at least note the bus no & exact time, go & lodge a complaint. The BEST has thorough route maps & details, they book the erring conductors, drivers even for misbehaviour. They have proper hearings & are unbiased.

The fact that BEST fare also was based on petrol on diesel & now fuel switch has been to CNG. What is cost effectiveness? We don’t want to. Excuses are galore. The night shifts have always got double charges. May be pre-free economy. Once Indian economy too became global we come under NO govt rules. There are NO night shift charges now, especially in the [private sector. ONLY in the government sector there were, now there isn’t extra charge. The hours have been adjusted and the workers night shift concept has changed.

That apart. The hysteria, masses coming out on the streets, feeling frustrated is all fine. Stop think, introspect. Have we done enough ourselves? Remember what the real Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change that you want.”

We have to be curious about everything. We can’t take this stand “this doesn’t affect me so forget it,” and that is why where we are today. Each one of us can, in baby steps in our own lives. more important –do things for yourselves. Even if it means giving that extra time for your own right. Don’t be taken for a ride & then say, “I’m a victim.”

Ticket ghya…chala

Look at the 2 sets of tickets, they both are BrihanMumbai Electric Supply & Transport-BEST, bus tickets. The one above is one which till my generation all have seen since childhood. While the one below is new, exactly like the paper used for receipts after paying at any place with debit or credit cards. slippery, with ink that fades in a day or 2. I’m told its thermal paper.

I don’t like think all things old are the best. But for once i say thumbs down to BEST’s new ticket. Limp, lifeless like a darn used condom. Both the tickets are as different as a cotton fabric & one that is slinky Georgette. Cotton has character, needs to be taken care of & can last plus environmentally friendly. This fax paper ticket is like Georgette, pokes, slippery and you don’t want to save it.

And what’s with the fading ink? It’s pathetic. The old ticket has a distinct personality.

The old BEST ticket is full of numbers, as a kid believe me it was very, very fascinating. I remember as kids when we’d travel by BEST bus we used to collect these tickets. Do you know the number of games kids can play with this? without a pen or pencil…

Then in school, someone had told us we should count the  numbers right on top. Which then one is supposed to divide by 9 if i can recollect. Don’t ask me why, how, coz me & maths during school days were like north & south pole. Those are to be directed to my sister types, who’d give some convincing answer. For me BEST bus ticket was for sheer fun. Then the digit one would eventually get after all calculations-imagine there weren’t ever decibels. Not possible, but true. Then for every digit there was a fortune like the fortune cookie. so from 1-9 pre-decided predictions. Can’t remember, usual types, you will pass/fail, marry/not marry, get children -1,2,3…These are vague memories of childhood but i’m sure many Bombayites will share their experiences.

Then there was  a game of calculating vertically & horizontally. So you memorise a number then go through a game of various combinations & calculations. Basically this ticket made the bus journey vv enjoyable.

The old ticket also there used to be a message once upon a time. Like many mysterious ways the social message has been erased permanently. Every BEST bus ticket would have imprinted 0.10paise charge, which said would be contributed for the war veterans’ funds.  I fail to understand why this excellent social message has been permanently erased. I felt nice when I’d read. Not like the modern beauty pageant types that i feel safe. Honestly i felt nice as a Bombayite, that our transport corporation collected a minimum surcharge & that was being used for the war veterans. 0.10 paise for every ticket on every route on a daily basis from lakhs of commuters must’ve been a bomb in those days. That means it was a considerable contribution on part of the Bombay citizens. That was the most constructive action i think.

Where is the message today? Gone, erased permanently. I even heard like the other scams, the BEST officials had oft & on not made those contributions, for which we commuters had paid! Corruption in India can fall to low levels.

Now the tickets have various colours. They are for the all the routes on the BEST map. In fact as all of you would know we have ordinary & Limited number buses. That doesn’t mean the routes or num of buses are limited. It means the number of bus stops the bus will halt at. Usually these are quick routes & stops are far lesser than the normal routes. So the tickets have these digits & numbers.

Each stands for a route. The digits mean the bust stop number & the total number of stops So like there can be 26 bus stops on a route (see box left ticket). So when we embark on the bus & tell the conductor or master as we call them in Bambaiya lingo, with their clipper they clip on a particular digit. That indicates the stop at which you disembark.

Also there are 2 columns of digits that indicates whether one is on-way or on return journey. It’s really very interesting to see such at a first-glance complex but so detailed & easy method to understand a ticket. See, that’s why i said this ticket has a distinct character.

Now check the new ticket. Soo very boring. It has imprinted bust stop you embark at -in this case Pt Paluskar Chowk as in Opera House to my destination which is Sitladevi Temple bus stop. Rs15 cost of the ticket. Slimy paper with BEST watermark in red. eeks. So freaking characterless, boring. What’s the fun in this ticket? Why would any Bombayite feel happy, proud of this ticket?

Now the 0.10p has been increased as 0.15p surcharge. But the different colours, numbers gave BEST travel a marvellous experience. It was keepsake ticket. Definitely a souvenir to take back home. This slippery chit deserves to be trashed.