Mumbai, 2019; Whenever, we talk about Mumbai, Kali Peeli (the signature Mumbain taxi), always be in that conversation. This blog is based on my experiences with the Kali Peelis of Mumbai. I’ll start with a little background of these taxis and then move to my encounter.
Mumbai: the city of dreams, hub to one of the most loved talkies’ industries of the world – Bollywood, the city that never sleeps and with distinguished attributes to offer when one is travelling. All the high-rises and low lying coasts are perfectly seamed with an amazing network of Kali Peelis.
Designated Kali Peelis are the Padmini cabs released by Fiat in 1964, these cars shook the market of already existing Ambassador cars. There numbers increased exponentially during ’70s and ’80s. The authorities preferred Padmini over the bulkier Hindustan Motors’ Ambassador (which was the only other car widely available in India at the time) Approximately, 65,000 Padminis plied Mumbai regularly at their peak in the mid-1990s but they gradually made their way out in favor of newer, more environment friendly vehicles. In commensuration with these events, demand of Padminis kept declining in Mumbai and finally the production of these taxi cabs was stopped in the year, 2000. In association with the rules pertaining to vehicular usage the last batch of Padminis had a life span of 20 years and are permanently discontinued from June, 2020. There were less than 50 Padminis left in the city while RTO decided to scrap these taxis. The emotions and significance associated with these cabs are way deep for any visitor to understand.
When I landed in Mumbai (visiting for a conference), all I had in my mind was to capture the essence of this amazing place in my memories, be it the lifestyle, the community or the commute. The best way to understand a city is to understand the movement of its population. I meticulously searched for a Kali Peeli to take me to my accommodation for the trip. I loved how caring and polite these people were to me. Travelling solo, has its own perks. One can capture the true essence of a place in their own way.
I found a kaali peeli standing outside the airport and I booked it. The driver warned me that it might cost me more than a regular cab and it had no air conditioning system. I asked why does it cost more? He said because it runs on diesel and mileage is less. It got me curious about these cabs and I started digging more; I questioned “Dada, kaali peeli kaise chala rahe hai? Cab par shift nhi kiye?….”
This one question took him back fifty years when he came to the city for work. This guy was seventy years old and he started driving taxi after his retirement. He started telling how the city has undergone changes. He came to Mumbai to take a job in a post office. He showed his place of work (the oldest postal building of the city now). It is so bizarre how a place undergo so many variances and all we have left are with layers of memories. We took the Bandra-Worli sea link to reach our destination and I was quite amused with this coastline bridge. Dada narrated how the construction work started and how they all were excited for it to be completed. He is from Nashik and his family used to live there only when he came to city and he worked really hard to get them all here in Mumbai. They live in a chawl but he seemed content with what he has. He showed me around, the Gateway of India, Chhatrapati Shivaji Railway Station, Landmarks is South Bombay and many more. Finally, we stopped at Girgaon Chowpati and had the famous Pav Bhaji for dinner together. Maybe we liked each other’s company too much. He thanked me for listening to him and I was just thankful that we met.
Twinned with nostalgia and astonishment, I reached my destination….