It was the 31st and we had planned to go to Lonavala to welcome the new year. We were supposed to start at 9 pm from Bandra court. At 8 30 the friend who organised it gets a call from our hired driver, "Saab mereko police ne BKC ke paas pakad liya hai." We go like what, why? "Saab woh main apni girlfriend ke saath gaadi mein baitha tha toh police aake hamko pakad liya." Talk about PDA. Amidst confusion over whether we would go for the trip or not our group that had quite a few crime reporters in it called up the policemen apologising profusely for our 'jawaan hai galti ho gaya' driver. Finally thanks to the goodwill of the crime reporters they let him off with a small fine and we could set out, albeit late to our trip. I remember ribbing him all through the trip about the incident, and quite unabashedly he said, "madam aadha ghanta tha aap logon ke aane mein to maine socha ki usko bula loon waise bhi driving ki wajah se time nahin milta." But that was not the end of the excitement. He was a 20 something driving at top speed on the express highway, so naturally we had to have a tire burst at the speed of 140 kms/hour, during which his hands went wobbly as he screeched in a I-am-here-to-control-the-situation-but-dont-know-how-to voice "Kuch nahin hoga, kuch nahin hoga." This incident probably takes the cake when it comes to my experiences with fleet drivers.
In my two and a half years of TV reporting, every day is filled with experiences with fleet drivers, some witty, some cocky, some funny and some sorely lacking. Breaking news and Khabar har keemat par demand that you get a driver who knows the basic layout of the city and yet more than once I have had drivers who have asked in crucially important times, "Madam CST kidhar padta hai?" WTF? These episodes have always resulted in me breaking off the thin barriers of my patience and yelling at the fleet operators back in office.
Then there are those drivers who love flouting rules. They cant keep lanes, they dont understand traffic signals and they love to speed in cars with faulty brakes. So naturally the neighbourhood Pandu gets hold of them. Sometimes when breaking news demands a hassle free movement, we flash our press cards and tell the cops that we are in a hurry, some cops understand and others get even more wild on seeing the press cards, "Media ke ho to kuch bhi kar loge?" The corrupt ones however steal a glance to see if this interaction is being recorded on camera or not. Then at some other times we let the driver face the music. In such scenarios either of the two things happen, the driver proves to be adept at handling the situation or we and the cop come to know that the dude has more offences listed against him than we could have imagined. "Saab license kal doosra saab ne jabti kar liya, chudane ka hai", "Saab license nahin hai", "Woh saab paper aaj hamara malik ne nahin diya", "Kya Saab aap mereko pakda aur usko jaane diya, woh pehle signal toda to main bhi peeche peeche aaya", "Saab aap Jadhav saheb ko jaante hain, mere maama hai", are some of the common answers but I have even had a young driver who cried in front of the traffic cop pleading to be let off. And when he finally was we thought he would be grateful, instead he took to the gear and started smiling mischievously.
Then there are those who have just learnt to drive or are too old to drive. The effect is that they are so scared of everything, applying brakes, changing gears, absolutely everything, so much so that you fear for your life. But one common characteristic with all of them is that despite not knowing a thing they speed, which scares the passengers even more. Once in fact, the driver was so bad that my cameraperson who thankfully knew how to drive had to take over. Or else we would have surely ended up in hospital that day. Another driver was understandably scared on the night of 27th November and dropped me off somewhere in Colaba at midnight rather than taking me all the way to Nariman house. It took me half an hour to find Nariman house on that scary night with no one around me. I thanked my stars I wasnt a girl roaming the streets in Delhi that night, strange how roaming the streets on the night of a terror attack seemed safer than Delhi to me then.
But there are also drivers who are a great help. Some of the drivers double up as camera assistants, carrying your tripods, helping you around. Some of them are more informed about what is going on in the city than the news channels. Other older drivers give you insights into the city's history and psyche that no one else would give you. And some others are an asset just because they know all the routes and take you to the right place even in the dead of the night. Some of them help you with the local language and some of them know the best and cheapest roadside eateries to take you to. Well enough said now, I gotta go and ask the fleet for a cab to take me to a shoot to far off Mulund, hope I have a good driver today. Oh, did I mention my last driver had the loudest and awfullest ringtone ever or about the one who plays 90's loser songs all the time??