Category Archives: roads

The Invisible Drivers of Mumbai

I often wonder what kind of lives are led by different people that I encounter in Mumbai. I may see them on the street, or meet them at a party or in the office, it doesn’t really matter. Their sheer diversity fascinates me. You have the South Bombay or SoBo “true” city dweller versus the surburbanite, you have the high flying socialite and the beggar boy next to your car, you have the office workers and the school kids, the professionals and the household help. Disparate individuals leading very different lives, unified only by the city where they live, but invariably living a million miles apart!

The city of Mumbai

Today, I want to talk about one such individual. He’s a car driver for an executive in Mumbai. You see, executives here have great cars, but it is rare that they are actually driving them. More often than not, you see them comfortably resting on the back seat, with a newspaper or a mobile phone in hand.  The driver of that car – ever wonder what his life might be like? Well, I did and I do. Based on my encounters with a few of them, I have created a close approximation of the life of your average car driver in Mumbai.

Here is what his life is like:

  • He lives in tenement housing with his wife and two school age children, roughly within a 10 x 10 ft space.
  • He has worked for the same company for over 10 years and makes $225 per month to support himself and his family.
  • His wife works part-time as a housekeeper-cook and brings in an additional $75 month and his kids go to school.
  • His official working hours are 9am to 6pm, six days a week.  But he has to be available as long as his boss needs him for the day.  And, he’s on call on Sunday as well.  So, often he works 7 days a week.
  • His work day starts when he arrives at his boss’s house in the morning to take him to the office. He has to be there at 8:30 am every morning.
  • He has to take a bus (or two) to work; his commute is about 1.5 hours so he leaves home at 7 am.
  • His work day ends around 9 pm when he drops off his boss at home; then he repeats the commute to his home in reverse.
  • He reaches home at 10:30 pm (if he is lucky). Then he has dinner and sleeps, to wake up again the next morning at 6, and repeat the circuit.
  • Meanwhile, during the day? All he has to do is navigate the chaos of roads and traffic in Mumbai. Or just wait. Sometimes, he waits for hours, until the boss is ready for his next ride to somewhere.

I generalize somewhat, but this is typically the life of your average car driver in Mumbai. It’s hard work and a hard life but you don’t hear too many complaints.  He  normally just does his job, while remaining invisible to most of the people around him.

His satisfaction usually comes from the fact that he is making a living that supports his family and that he has a secure job. If he is lucky, he has a considerate boss. If not, well, that’s life. His goal is to ensure that his kids get an education and have a better quality of life with brighter futures than his own. That’s what it seems to take in order to make everything he does worthwhile.

And, no,  it doesn’t really matter what you or I may think.



Second Photo by: By Biswarup Ganguly (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Give Me a Road to My Village!

I recently had the opportunity to listen to Mr.Ravi Kant, Vice-Chairman of Tata Motors and turnaround specialist extraordinaire address a forum of business people. What I have written here is inspired by a few remarks he made about economic development in rural India. It made me think, and caused me to further explore the topic he raised.

Key foundations of economic development in India are communication and transportation.  In simple terms, what India needs badly are more roads.  Believe it or not, the country has come a long way with road development – from 10 km of new roads per year a few decades ago to 1000 km per year today.  But, of course, it also has a long way to go.

Sure, there is an obvious need to expand the national and state highways, but that is not where I would like to dwell today. Instead, I would like to probe the implicit and significant need to connect the villages of India by road.

Here are just a few reasons why this needs to happen:

  • Roads in India carry 90% of passenger and 65% of freight traffic today
  • Yet, 40% of Indian villages do not have access to roads!   Just think about that.
  • Further, rural areas in India are home to 70% of its population.  Think about that too!
  • Rough calculation.  That means about 336 million people do not have access to roads?!   Hard to believe that that is the case in the 21st century, what with India shining and all.  😦

I have run out of exclamation marks, so let me move on.  Let’s imagine one villager without access to a road that leads from his village to somewhere.  Here’s what I see – someone who is isolated from the rest of the region and world, existing within his small box, probably an agriculturist, most probably living in an ancient time with ancient thinking and with little hope for much growth in any shape or form (or to conceive what that might be!).

Now, let’s imagine that his village gets connected with a single road. By having the ability to move out of his restricted enclosure, what does he have to look forward to? How about the following –

  • New knowledge on what is happening outside his box
  • Trading of his goods or services beyond his small village
  • Schooling for his children
  • Modern medicine and healthcare for his family
  • Expanded thinking, for example, perhaps growing more produce to take to a larger market
  • Access to goods and services that he did not even know existed
  • Contact with different people and hearing new ideas to build new awareness
  • Access to communication – radio, telephone, TV, and therefore to an even larger world and landscape
  • Contemplation of a better future
Now, multiply and proliferate.  Wow!   Just imagine.
Photo: By Adam Jones Adam63 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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