I got out of Bangalore airport with my American colleague and looked for the taxi driver who normally picked up my colleague. He was smiling and waving and pretty soon we were on our way to the city. I had decided to share my colleagues cab this time as it was hired for a whole days run, my facilities staff had informed me. That would save us some serious monies in cab bills. On the way he chatted with my colleague and my colleague asked him questions about his family and other general stuff like the weather. The two had known each other for two years since my American colleague started his quarterly trips to India.
It felt good to see the bond between the American and this smiling man from India’s vast lower class. The driver spoke in broken English but managed to make himself understood. He had been talking English for some time now and was fairly good at it.
My colleague told me of the drivers sister’s wedding and how he had contributed to it by buying the wedding saree and some jewelry. It had helped the family a lot and they had become family friends.
We drove into the Oberoi and I watched as the driver quickly retrieved the bags and deposited it with the bell boy. Shaking my colleague’s hands and bidding him good night and promising him to pick him up in the morning, the driver came back to the car. He got in looked around and asked me tersely where I wanted to be dropped. The sudden change in tone of this amiable man was startling. He drove out quietly when I gave him my address. I asked him a few questions about the road near my house that was under repair. I wanted to avoid it. First he refused to answer and then when I repeated the question snapped that it was still under repair. I asked him to bypass the road and gave him directions to the bypass. He replied rudely that if he was going to deviate then it would cost me more. By this time I had had enough and snapped that if he charged me more than whole days hire rate then he can find himself another company to work for.
He fell silent. A few yards away from my house he stopped the car and asked me to get out. I refused and told him to drop me to the gate. He drove to the gate a couple of hundred yards from where we had stopped grumbling under his breath.
I got out and he opened the boot sullenly. I removed my bag and thanked him. He replied by banging the cover of the hood with a thud and getting into the car without looking back.
As he drove away I couldn’t help marveling at his change in behavior because I was Indian. And it is not only me but a whole lot of my colleagues who report the same behavior by cab drivers and another people associated with the hospitality industry. Let us just say that we Indians are second class citizens in a certain sector of the economy now :)