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How To Hire A Mumbai Driver

How To Hire A Mumbai Driver

June 30, 2012
Poorna Harjani

The serial-driver tester: How an NRI's obsession to find the perfect driver led her back to square one.

I’m notoriously known for the amount of Driver’s names and numbers I have stored in my Blackberry phonebook in India.

I have a Raj, Raj Kumar, Chotu, Chotu’s brother-in-law, Prakash, Pandit, and the list goes on.

Towards the end of my trip, I had to label each new Driver as ‘Driver99’, ‘Drive new’, and then go for the superlative ‘Driver newest’ – whatever popped into my head on a monsoon morning.

Sounds ridiculous, I know.

First quality: Road Intelligence.

The inherent problem in finding a driver in Mumbai is that they’re only specialised in either South Mumbai/Bandra/Andheri.

South Mumbai is old Mumbai where the landmarks of Taj and Oberoi are found.

Bandra is über-cool, funky and can only be compared to the Brooklyn of New York.

Andheri is even further out than Bandra, and a media hub with Yash Raj Studios, Balaji Studios and CNN.

So if a driver isn’t familiar with say Andheri, you depend on him being able to pull up, and ask for directions.

Simple stuff.

But it’s a three-step process. Drivers need to know who to target for directions, how to ask (sometimes Indian pedestrians wilfully ignore you), and most importantly, how to follow these directions.

Directions are given as: ‘Opposite the Metro cinema, behind the Radio Club’ for example.

With the crazy head bopping, it’s an art to understand.

There are no street names, so local knowledge is vital.

It’s the vegetable vendors, paanwallahs and rickshaw drivers that really make India’s infrastructure work. They’re the human walking, talking road maps.

When I’ve been lost, I’d ask a man selling coconuts than a policeman first.

Second quality: Reliability.

Drivers will suddenly tell you, that they need to go back to their ‘village’ for a ‘religious festival.’

It’s an old classic - just when you thought they were Sikh or Jain, they’re also following a second sub-culture.

It’s unacceptable to cut any pay for these village trips too.

You’d just seem impious yourself.

Third quality: Hygiene.

Think about it – Drivers take their naps, chew horrid tobacco-paan, and do all daily rituals besides the one….inside the vehicle.

By the end of the day, the inside is as polluted as outside.

Windows, rolled down.

The end-of-the-day car smell had to be factored into the hire process.

But, in the end, I just invested in boxes of air-freshners.

After months spanned, no driver made the final cut.

One driver left me stranded for work (Unreliable). Another could only figure out directions in relation to where the Taj was located (Low Road Intelligence), and another kept giving me fake parking tickets – miscellaneous category.

I just didn’t find my Perfect Raj or Perfect Chotu.

And one fine day, I took to the wheel myself.

I felt liberated, worry-free and an adrenaline rush.

Being in control.

In a city where everything is done for you (even a liftman to press floor buttons), this was a rare stroke of independence.

Many people have since asked me what it’s like to drive in India.

It’s a whole other story, but can only be described as real-life Super Mario Kart, without a Luigi to rescue you.

So how do you hire a driver in Mumbai?

You do what no other local Indian resident would tell you to do.

You drive yourself.

Photo credit: swamiflickr.blogspot.co.uk

9 Comments

  • krishnakacker
    By
    krishnakacker
    07.07.12 01:14 PM
    Your ultimate suggestion, Drive Yourself, is ok for the young,middle aged and not so middle aged.But what about old people, say 80 years or so? Their natural faculties are giving way,particularly eyesight, hearing and reaction time, and who cannot use the "alternate" transport otherwise available in India?
  • Britul
    By
    Britul
    04.07.12 09:47 PM
    @Bhavna: liked your imagination ... :-)
  • Britul
    By
    Britul
    04.07.12 09:46 PM
    @Rajpriya : well suggested.

    @Poorna : You said, you have stored the nos in your Blackberry... that means you have a blackberry ... then why don't you use GPS navigation ? .. at least problems related to direction which compels you to hire a driver who knows the directions well, will be reduced.
  • Britul
    By
    Britul
    04.07.12 09:43 PM
    excellent post.

    I was at kolkata for few years and at that time I also used to store lot of drivers contact numbers in my phone. But I used to follow a nomenclature format .. say , "Driver_airport to office_bapi" ... here the 1st portion is always "driver" ... this helps me to find out the contact number even if i don't remember his name. ... just type d - r - i .. and all the drivers' name are shown in a row. ... next portion is the purpose .. i.e. for what reason i had to hire him ... and the third portion is part of his name(optional - only if I can remember)... all the three portions are separated by an underscore . .. I am following the same method till date without any single occasion of failure or missed out important drivers' contact no. ..... you can try ..
  • Noel
    By
    Noel
    02.07.12 04:10 AM
    A well written article... But honestly isn't having a driver a bit of a tiny bit posh? For me, when go to a new city the best possible way for me to learn places and routes are to use public transport for a while before getting my own car.. relying on a driver sorta makes me feel a bit dependent (and thats something i hate!).. or like some others have pointed out use the GPS function on your smartphone to get you places (I'm pretty sure that the maps nokia and google have of mumbai are pretty detailed!).. worked like a charm when i moved to Birmingham, UK a couple of years back! Hope you do get the driver of your dreams..or atleast manage to drive yourself ;)
  • bhavana
    By
    bhavana
    01.07.12 05:04 PM
    what a topic!!!! LOL. But imagine if a taxi driver were to write a post on how to choose your employer....
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    30.06.12 10:28 AM
    It’s a funny story getting lost in Mumbai in the digital era. But I don’t know why with so much technological advancement in India no one uses navigation systems to get about in Mumbai. http://www.mapsofindia.com/maps/mumbai/mumbai_road.htm#

    A Nokia C5-03 is an inexpensive touch screen smartphone that gives one the comfort of telling the driver how to get to a destination with the least hassle.

    I do exactly that. Tell the hotel driver how to get to my destination and that surprises him. Of course I do my home work the previous night.

    Aren’t there any cars with AC in Mumbai to keep the driver smelling good? Spray the guy with your own perfume from head to toe before you get into the car.

    It is true after our dream stints abroad we land back to realities of our roots and do nothing to change or at least sort out our day-to-day problems with the intelligence we acquired abroad and be in control.

    If we invent a way of sending the 1.22 billion population of India to western countries for a few years may be India would:-

    1. Be a better place to come back to
    2. Be totally deserted with no one wanting to come back.
    3. Accept the things we can not change.
  • Sameer Anand
    By
    Sameer Anand
    30.06.12 08:07 AM
    Its always difficult to find direction in INDIA
  • C. Suresh
    By
    C. Suresh
    30.06.12 07:40 AM
    Mmm! Hope your current driver(!) pleases you:):)

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