Mumbai Takes Its Vintage Padmini Taxis Off The Road For Good
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
About a generation ago, India's financial capital Bombay became Mumbai. Its cotton mills were redeveloped into swanky malls and offices. Hipster bars replaced the city's historic cafes. And now another Mumbai icon is riding off into the sunset, the vintage black-yellow taxi.
NPR's Mumbai producer Sushmita Pathak hails one before it's too late.
(SOUNDBITE OF WATER POURING)
SUSHMITA PATHAK, BYLINE: Taxi driver Abdul Kareem pours water into the radiator of his cab. The car is unlike any other on this busy Mumbai street. It's kind of boxy with bulbous headlights.
ABDUL KAREEM: (Speaking Hindi).
PATHAK: One the streets, Kareem people point out the taxi to their kids. The car is called Premier Padmini, after a legendary Indian queen. It was manufactured by a small Indian company. The taxi used to rule Mumbai streets. It even made frequent cameos in Bollywood movies.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM)
UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Taxi, taxi, taxi.
PATHAK: A few decades ago, almost all of the city's cabs were Premier Padminis. There were some 60,000 of them during the 1990s, says AL Quadros. He's head of the Mumbai Taxi Union.
AL QUADROS: It's iconic car. And this cars served millions of people.
PATHAK: When India's economy opened up in 1991, the locally made Padmini, which hadn't had an update in decades, had to compete with modern foreign cars. Its manufacturers suffered huge losses and stopped production in 2000. Then a few years later, the government of the state of Maharashtra, whose capital is Mumbai, banned all cabs older than 20 years. Thousands of taxi drivers were forced to give up their Padmini cars. Ram Vilas Maurya was one of them.
RAM VILAS MAURYA: (Speaking Hindi).
PATHAK: I miss Padmini, he says. She was a tough car. The modern car he now drives gets a dent even at the slightest collision. He says Padmini wasn't like that. By 2020, even the youngest Padminis will have to go. It's already very hard to spot one. Only about 50 are left now.
RACHEL LOPEZ: It's wonderful to miss it. But it's also very respectful to bid adieu to a car whose time has come and gone.
PATHAK: Rachel Lopez has been travelling in Mumbai taxis all her life. She says you needed good upper-body strength to travel in a Padmini cab.
LOPEZ: They wouldn't close with a polite, little click. They needed a bit of a jam, you know? You had to really kind of bash them in. And then you hear a thud, like a metallic thud. And you knew the car door had closed.
PATHAK: The disappearance of these classic taxis symbolizes how Mumbai operates, she says.
LOPEZ: Something old has to go to make room for something new.
(SOUNDBITE OF CAR HOOD CLOSING)
PATHAK: Abdul Kareem closes the hood of his Padmini taxi. He offers to take me for a spin.
Now, I'm getting in. It's a very different interior compared to the modern cars nowadays. There's no fancy dashboard or anything. There's only one windshield wiper. The back seat has a really nice, funky cover. It's zebra print. But it's a red and black instead of black and white.
(SOUNDBITE OF CAR ENGINE STARTING)
PATHAK: As the taxi rattles along a quiet, leafy lane, Kareem tells me a recent incident.
KARREM: (Speaking Hindi).
PATHAK: A few days ago, he picked up a passenger near a railway station. The man had a high-end, chauffeur-driven car waiting for him. But he got into the cab instead and asked Kareem to follow his car. The man just wanted to take a mini taxi for old time's sake. For NPR News, I'm Sushmita Pathak in Mumbai.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TAXI-TAXIE")
UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Taxi, taxi taxi, taxi, taxi, taxi.
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