Conversations with cab drivers make for sweet nostalgia

Malavika Varadan

Last updated on April 22, 2021 at 2.23 pm

Earlier this week, the RTA announced a new initiative. One where they replaced the yellow “TAXI” signs atop Dubai Taxis, with a glowing yellow pointer that reads the name of the cab driver.

Ibrahim, Adil, Kumar, Iqbal, Joe.

A simple gesture that meant so much, it reminded me of the everyday heroes who kept this city moving, through an incredibly difficult year. While all of us had the luxury of working from home, taxi drivers around this city were out on the streets — moving people from homes to hospitals to grocery stores — hoping that soon, the pandemic would end and their earnings would go back to what they used to be.

It reminded me of the countless conversations I’ve had with kind cabbies in this city. I remember one particular Friday morning when I took a cab from Barsha to Bur Dubai. As soon as I got in, I noticed the driver was smiling ear to ear. “What’s making you so happy?” I asked him. He pulled out a newspaper clipping from his glove compartment. “I am in the papers,” he said. He was the hero of the day because he had returned the Dh900,000 he found in the backseat of his car to the police station. He went on to tell me the story in great detail, who the customer was, how he found the money, the reaction of the police — beaming through every sentence.

Dh900,000 would be 1000 times the money he sent home every month. “Why did you do it?” I asked him. And his response stays with me till today — “Because it was the right thing to do.”

Another taxi driver was so taken by my singing along to his favourite old Hindi songs that he asked if I might like to marry his 21-year-old son, a fresh graduate in Karachi.

On one trip to Sharjah airport, I remember meeting a cab driver who, through our 40-minute journey, told me the story of his wife. He had brought her to the UAE on a visit visa and she was looking for a job. I remember his shy smile as he described how they had gone shopping the previous day for pants and a blazer. “In this country, ma’am, you have to look ‘tip-top’ for job interviews.” She was applying for the job of an accountant, and would hopefully have a more successful career than his, he told me.

One evening, in the Ramadan of 2019, I happened to be in a taxi during iftar time. The cab driver asked me if I had anyone waiting for me at home, and when I told him I lived alone — he offered me a bottle of juice and a sandwich roll he had just bought at the petrol station. “You have had a long day at work, ma’am. You will not have the energy to cook”.

I remember every one of these stories, because I have told them and retold them over and over again. But I must sadly admit that I don’t remember their names.

I wish I did.

Because these men and women are heroes. They are the first people we see in the morning, they keep us moving, they take us home safe. Like the food delivery guys and the grocery store boys — they were out every single day during the peak of lockdown, making sure that the city did not stop.

What I want to leave you with is this.

Do you remember a time someone new, someone important to you said your name for the first time? Do you remember that spark of joy — that feeling of being seen and heard — when your name echoed? So, the next time you take a cab, or meet a delivery driver, I hope you remember to ask his name and thank him.

I know I am going to try.