Where???

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Blank stares.  Gesturing.  Questions in Hindi (or maybe it’s Marathi—I don’t know since I can’t speak either).  I’ve been getting everything except a look of recognition from taxi drivers when I ask them to drive me home. 

Since I live in the suburbs of Mumbai, I’ve been commuting to work by taxi.  Taxis are plentiful, as are auto rickshaws—but the cheaper rickshaws aren’t allowed to enter the part of the city where I work.  So I’ve been taking the regular taxis.  They have fare meters, but they’re outdated and the drivers use a conversion chart which multiplies the displayed fare by a factor of roughly 13 to get the actual fare (just when you thought the taxi zones in Washington, DC were as confusing as it gets…).  A kind colleague gave me a copy of the fare conversion chart—a useful thing to have to ensure honesty among the drivers.

While the taxi drivers have been able to get me to my office, not one has yet been able to get me home without stopping to ask several people on the way.  This is partly because many of the drivers speak very little English and we have a mutually difficult time understanding each other’s accents.  I think the bigger reason, though, is the lack of regular street addresses where I live.  My address, such as it is, goes on for eight lines, describing the housing complex, the name of the complex across the street, the neighborhood, etc. 

The key to giving directions in this huge city is to use landmarks.  So, after first saying that I want to go to the Kalina neighborhood in the Santa Cruz area near the airport, I then say that I’m near Mumbai University and across from the Honda showroom.  The first part drivers recognize, but the part about the showroom draws quizzical looks.  Each time, the driver ends up taking the sheet of paper I carry with me that has my address written on it and shows it to the nearest passers by.  After several additional wrong turns, we finally arrive.  And so far, each time we’ve approached from a different direction and on a different road.  (I really need a compass.)  All this makes me wonder about the inefficiencies of doing business in such a large city with no systematic addresses.  The key, it seems, is to rely on knowledgeable locals.  For foreigners like me, it’s often the completely unexpected things that we find we take for granted. 

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One Response to “Where???”

  1. Eugene Kim Says:

    Chris,

    Do they have GPS over there?

    Eugene

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