“Ask him”, my friend whispers while nudging me gently. We’re on our way to the airport and our Uber driver is gently tapping the steering wheel while humming Chikni Chameli, a Red FM favorite. Sigh. So I clear my throat and introduce myself, he looks puzzled and disinterested to say the least. After hearing my question, his immediate response is, “Company wale kadhun taktil naukri varna” (They will fire me).
After assuring him that this would be completely anonymous, he smiles and voila! What a transformation! He looks visibly relaxed, even turns off the radio and then begins excitedly-
“It’s good really, much better than driving a private taxi. We have to be answerable to the company and the customers do tend to get exhausting, but it’s a much secure job. We have shifts, sometimes voluntary shifts. This was the reason I took this job, it gives me enough time to work somewhere else as well. I have another job in a factory”
“Kasay na, it gets boring sometimes at night. On off days, there are no customers and we have to play cards or watch a movie to kill time. Luckily, Pune is much safer and lenient than Mumbai. When I was in Mumbai, we weren’t allowed to pick up some customers from specific areas. The Rickshaw union was threatening us and the company didn’t know what to do. A lot of my fellow drivers had to quit or transfer because of the slow working rate and the threats. It’s much better now, I’ve heard, but even the rickshaw drivers have their families to look after. Violent competition shouldn’t come down to a riot though.” He looks at my friend and she nods sympathetically.
“Lately, the police haven’t been too nice to us as well. I don’t know why. In some city areas, we’re stopped unnecessarily for a license check. We get told that our names and our driver IDs will be notified to the company. I’m sure it’s an empty threat, but it makes you wonder about how much trust Uber has in its drivers. “
“I didn’t choose OLA because Uber approached me first. It was risky at first but I’ve been told by a few friends working for OLA that Uber is steadier and safer. Their drivers go through controversy and then the entire company is at risk, so it’s not a safe job and you drive with a lot of tension. There have been few such incidents at Uber as well, but luckily, they were all resolved quickly and peacefully.”
“I would like to say a few things to Punekars. We are one of you, we are human as well. We make mistakes, there’s miscommunication and yes, we pay for it. However, we just expect a little cooperation. We are working in hectic conditions and it gets rough sometimes, but we try our best. Uber, Ola or Rickshaw drivers, we just want a little respect. Treat us like we are a part of this city, as it so happens, many Punekars don’t trust us. It affects our performance review and even a slight misunderstanding can make us lose our jobs. There are a lot of drivers waiting for a job so the competition is tough. Just be a little patient and help us to keep our jobs.”