People and places

If Taxi Fabric and #TaxiTops highlight the interiors of the kaali peelis, Jayakumar and Finnish photographer Markku Lahdesmaki wanted to draw attention to those forgotten heroes: the taxi drivers.

In 2011, Lahdesmaki was sitting in a bar in Mumbai thinking of what he could photograph in the next three days, when he decided on the ubiquitous taxi. “A friend and I drove around the city, finding interesting places and then taxis to photograph in that place,” he said. “I noticed that the drivers were very proud of their car. It was something very special for them. I wanted to show that in my photos.” He turned his lens to the exterior of the car and the resultant photo project, Mumbai Taxi Co, has now branched out to include T-shirts and booklets highlighting the car. “These Premier Padmini taxis didn’t feel like vintage or classic cars. They were part of the Mumbai’s culture, monumental pieces of its landscape.”

Mumbai Taxi Co.
Mumbai Taxi Co.
Image: Markku Lahdesmaki

Jayakumar’s Goodbye Padmini series, which she worked on between 2010 and 2011, used the disappearing taxis to tell the story of Mumbai—a city in flux, rapidly changing, ever-ready to throw out the old and embrace the new. “I wanted to go beyond the visuals and look at the larger human story—of immigrants who’ve moved here with dreams and end up being taxi drivers,” she said. “These cars being taken off the roads means these people would lose their livelihoods.” Her series looks at the car as a symbol of society, of movement and change in the lives of these people. The photographs show the hull of the car, drivers sleeping on the hood, the colourful dashboards, the stickers clustered on the glass, and she also showcases the lives of their drivers and their meager quarters.

Jayakumar still has an attachment to the car. “The first time I brought my daughter to Mumbai, I photographed her inside the Padmini,” she said.

Image for article titled In the age of Uber and Ola, Mumbai’s iconic taxis are becoming works of art
Image: Taxi Fabric/Facebook

Though once part of the city’s landscape, it is now rare to find people who will voluntarily step into a Padmini taxi in this age of Ubers, Olas and AC cars. Anjali still does and enjoys her conversations with the drivers. As does Shah —“If I have to hail a cab, I will hop into a kaali peeli purely because of the nostalgia factor. Imagine, you have to change your whole posture to fit into one, deal with a window that doesn’t roll down, and remain unsure about whether the car door clicked.”

He believes that people will notice what a beautiful item the Padmini was only after it is gone. “Everyone in the city will then have their own story or recollection of the taxi,” he said. “It will live on in sentiment.”

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