My Unforgettable Taxi Rides

Would you let someone else decide about your future? How about leaving your life in the hands of a taxi driver?

I am someone who likes to be in control. Not that I am a total freak, but I am known to be stubborn. “Pig-headed”. “Stubborn as a mule”. “Like a dog with a bone” . . . you get the gist . . . I do not let go.

You will probably understand how I feel, when someone else suggests they know how to run things better than me. Especially when it comes to my children’s education, work ethics or personal life. It irritates me to the core. Most of the time, I grind my teeth and bear it in silence, but I am also aware hell’s gates are about to be unleashed.

A few years ago, while touring India’s golden triangle, I booked a private car with driver from a reputable Tourist Agency. I looked forward to the 200 kms journey from New Delhi to Agra, excited to visit one of the wonders of the world as well as experience local life and architecture, while staying away from extreme chaotic crowds. It was meant to be straight forward.

So, I thought!

My companions and I left early morning to avoid rush hour traffic. Less traffic meant less dangerous driving. Quiet roads, a few bumps here and there, rising heat, I soon fell asleep. Some time later, I was rudely awoken from sleep by a panicked voice.

 “What’s that in the middle of the road?”

We were driving through a quiet village with only a few houses jotted here and there. A stray cow with protruding bones stood in the middle of the road. I asked the driver to slow down, only to get a “No worry,” thrown over his shoulder before putting his foot on the accelerator. The inevitable happened. The car screeched to a stop, and I heard a loud thud.

I was propelled forward as I was not wearing a seatbelt. In those days, many cars in India did not have rear seat belts. Maybe they did not anticipate stupid crashes on quiet roads. My head bobbed up and down as if I were on a rollercoaster ride. I screamed but now I am certain it was more of a blasphemy of swear words than calling for help.

I asked the incompetent dangerous driver to check on the cow. My request fell on deaf ears. Instead, he reversed the car and tried to flee. Out of nowhere, a few locals appeared and circled our car. Some checked on the cow which was now on its side while others tried to open the driver’s door. An argument exploded, the tone rushed and loud. Our driver was about to stand trial on the spot. Who was the victim, man, or cow? At that moment, I understood the awkward situation we were in.

The cow is a sacred animal for Hindus and protected from harm. They are allowed to roam freely. They get fed and are often seen with a wreath of flowers around their neck.  Although I was worried about the animal’s well-being, I was more scared what the villagers would do to our driver. My heart was racing. My imagination started to run wild fearing what they might do to him. What could I do? We were tourists, in the middle of nowhere. Would we get arrested too?

Fortunately, the cow was not injured. She got up with the help of the locals and was led away to the other side of the road. The apathetic driver took the opportunity to speed off. Reaching our destination, I checked the front of the car and noticed the impact on the bonnet. I was lucky to come away from the accident with only a scare and a slight shock to the neck.

Take me back to London!

Every country, every town has its share of daredevil drivers. I favour an Uber ride when I am unsure of how to reach a location, or I am in a hurry. I believe they have a more profound knowledge of the area than I do. When I need to be at work at the crack of dawn or due to catch a plane in the next hour, I expect an uneventful smooth ride.

One early morning, I opened the door of my ride, and was instantly hit by a stench of morning breath mixed with lingering smell of fried food. I gasped and heaved. Lucky for me that I had started my day on an empty stomach or else I am sure I would have plastered the back of the car with projectile vomit.

I debated fast. If I cancelled my ride, I would have to wait a long time for another. But would I be able to endure a 20-minute ride while gagging behind my mask? That was, assuming I survived the trip without an accident or breathing issues. I could not afford to be late. I double wrapped my thick woollen scarf round my nose and mouth and breathed in my luxurious rose perfume which I had dabbed earlier in the crook of my neck. I stayed like this for the entire journey.

My most ridiculous and unforgettable taxi ride was a trip to the local airport. What should have taken 15 minutes ended up in a 75-minute drive onto the highway and through several towns. My stress level was mounting. I trusted the driver and his GPS and never thought he would fake his knowledge to get where I wanted to go. He told me he was not a local and asked me for directions. That long detour cost me three times the original cost and barely made it through security without stopping for duty free or coffee.

Of course, I can complain and demand a refund. Especially when I see that a driver has accepted the ride, then disappears off the app and another driver take the ride, and to also disappear as well.  How many times, have I seen “3 minutes away” turns into 10 or 15 minutes! Or, after 5 minutes, the car has not moved at all. Is it my name and location that make them weary of picking me up or just pure laziness or greed for lack of distance?

In the meantime, fingers crossed, hope for the best.

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