Being a cab driver in Calcutta, or India as a whole, isn't an easy job. Underrated, yes, but definitely not the easiest. There's the navigating through our wonderful pothole-filled roads, the abuses hurled at you by customers and pedestrians alike, with the latter crossing at will, the lack of tips because of the failing economy and the most important, no family time. Life on the road can be fun when the destination is picked by you. Unfortunately, that luxury comes too few times in our lifetimes.
You get to meet some pretty interesting people in your travels though. Once, a Bengali man from Bowbazar willingly parted with his wife's special mutton curry because my 5-year-old son was sitting in front with me and the two hit it off discussing the India-Australia match that we lost in. It was really more for him than me, but the gesture was much appreciated. Then there was the lady in the burkha who got on near Park Circus and smoked a cigarette when no one was watching. Every time we stopped at a red signal, she'd hide it and politely smile at me. I'm no one to comment but I admired that woman's guts. Even my wife, who enjoys the occasional bidi, refuses to light one in public, let alone in broad daylight. But I think my favorite customer was Naushik, whose mother has entrusted me with dropping to school and bringing back home five days a week. He tells me, with animated gestures and eyes, about the lunar eclipse taking place that evening and the play of the earth's exact position in the solar system that leads to this phenomenon, about the differences in the way the girls at his school behave compared to his boyish ways, about the jazz music that his father often plays in the evening and dances with his mother to. As eloquently as possible, he paints me a picture of his world and the characters in it and the roles they play. To me, that's more than enough.
Late into the night, after the last shift by obliging a customer who was heading in the direction of my home, when I tell my own son the stories I heard that day and the people I met, he's mildly jealous. Excited, always, but craving experiences of his own to tell me in return. It makes this job seem not so bad after all.