Once, taking a Bombay cab alone meant a chatty drive. Politics, urban development and 'mamas' i.e. traffic cops were the opening subjects. And then, personal life. Many a cabbie discussed their marriages and love lives with me. These conversations taught me much about human nature.
In Ubers and Olas, conversation is sparse. But there are endlessly revealing conversations about a new lover in the cab drivers' lives:
Some use the electronic map as a passive aggressive resistance. "Bhai sa'ab, where are you?" you ask desperately after a long wait.
"I'm at the location."
"I don't see you. Tell me something you see around you."
"I'm at the location only ma'am, as the GPS showed."
Like Salman Khan, these people have the permanent belligerence of adolescents who would rather die than admit to a mistake.
Similarly, others use the navigation tools — not to find the way, but to cast doubt on your competence. "Do you really want me to take this route? But the map is showing this one." When you insist on them listening to you they shrug, as if to say, 'ok, it's your funeral.' In life, such people, in the face of a crisis, rather than comforting you, tell you all the reasons its your fault.
Others display deep tentativeness, an inherent indecisiveness. "Madam it is saying there's a big jam ahead. Should I take the Santa Cruz-Chembur Link Road?" "Umm, ok, if you want." Accordingly, we skip a flyover. Then a voice emerges from the front seat. "Now it is saying there is a jam on the expressway but the route ahead suddenly shows clear. Shall we go straight ahead?"
"Ok," you respond, busy with email.
"Or do you think we should take the expressway only, now the jam seems to have improved."
Exasperation overtakes you. "Just choose any road and stick to it! We'll have to deal with traffic sometime in life no!"
These are the same people who keep running from Platform 3 to Platform 4 depending on what the station lady announcer says about the fast train. Unable to take responsibility, they'd rather someone else chose for them.
Others refuse to follow the GPS. They talk about her as if she were a fickle woman leading them on, but are unable to disconnect from her. They keep muttering about the GPS through the route. When neither of you know the way, an outburst will ensue. "Why can't you follow the map?" you will expostulate. "No. She misleads you. She takes you down the wrong road."
Then will begin a litany of navigation tragedies, recounted just like the many wrong turns of a love affair — the moment when you should have seen the truth but were too innocent (yaniki, deliberately blind). As with other people's romantic turbulence it's best to be quiet instead of making rational suggestions, and send
a text stating, "Hey, I may be 10 minutes late."
Our relationship with apps intimately reflects our relationship with power and governments — giving in to it, controlling it or paranoias about being controlled make it a stressful trip. Sometimes we find a cheerful driver who trusts the app but also has confidence in himself and trust in passengers. Then getting to the destination becomes peaceful teamwork. Less an app, more a map to finding your way in life (or democracy).
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevipictures.com