Through the headlights of a kaali peeli – 1

This is Kolkata, and I am its oldest modern mode of transport. I am a kali peeli – a taxi service which has now become a part of this city’s soul. A kali peeli to Kolkata is probably what a local train is to Bombay. While I may be tattered, my eyes a little tainted, my mirrors a little cracked and my bumper a little lose, still I am the most preferred personal mode of transport in the City of Joy. Kolkata is not like Bombay. While Bombay could be the heart of India, pumping continuously at the same pace, Kolkata is her soul, providing a conscience, a resting place, and I am a part of it. The importance is hard earned and while it glows into molten iron, I am here to tell you tales, the tales of the adventures that I experience in my ventures through the streets, the wide roads and the gullies of the City of Joy.

Today’s tale is of such a street which lights up the eyes of any Bengali, just like the twinkling bulbs on the windows of the walls running along. Today’s tale is about those high street fashion brands who compete to woo those with fat pockets on the sidewalks and make others long for them. Today’s tale is about those eateries which separate the beguni from shepherd’s pie. Park street is every Bengali’s high street and every kaali peeli’s heaven. Park street is in everybody’s book, but everybody doesn’t deserve to be in the books of park street. From Mango to The Park Plaza Hotel, Park street is famous for being the hub of “city fun” in Kolkata, something which has gotten separated from the traditions and street markets of Calcutta. And being a kali peeli, I can expect no less than good money from passengers here.

This street is not only a high street for shopping and eating, but for fun and frolics and better for walks along the sidewalk. What I see are not the shops with blinding lights or the glow signs of hip discos; what I see are the same being reflected in the eyes of those whom I carry to and from their destinations. The awe which inspires them to escape their mundane and get submerged among the many who have come here to get lost for just a couple of hours, whether it be in the endless assortment of drinks or the stunning lights. Even during the day Park street is a stretch to behold. While it may not be alight as it is in the pitch darkness, it stands tall and elegant like ever.

And as I snake through the road, dodging other vehicles, people crossing the road, and street mongers, I show how I am a part of this city’s soul. Calcutta has been famous for its driving ethics and for its roads; it’s one-ways and it’s no ways. I am responsible for their destinations and also at times for them being lost, or at least I was. While I am a part of Calcutta’s soul, like these modern times, people don’t really give any heed to their souls, do they? And as the soul is being neglected, AC taxi services are getting recognised with their courteous drivers and pinpoint drop and pick up. No, I agree, I don’t have GPS, but I do agree, I know Calcutta like the GPS won’t know.  I know the comfort of people in East is not in Air conditions and on leather seats, but rather it’s in being uncomfortable and finding solace nonetheless. People are reluctant, wondering I will fail in delivering them to their kith and kin in time, or at the right place, while it’s me they turn to when there’s a 1.8 times surge on their mobile apps.

I may not be made out of luxury, but I am made out of Calcutta’s soil, and I know its people like they don’t know themselves. I realise this while I have a passenger with his love who has her head lying on his shoulder. I realise this while I make sharp cuts and try to create a route and nobody complains. I realise this when Park street becomes more like a blur of lights and faces to me as I scroll past them.

 

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