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SOMNATH BATABYAL
NOMAD NOTES

Somnath Batabyal is a backpacking social theorist. When not travelling, he teaches at SOAS, University of London.

No time for pleasure, none for leisure, we need more time

e came out of the Park Street Metro station sweaty and more than a bit bedraggled. The ride hadn't lasted more than 30 minutes but our year-and-a-bit son had managed to get his cheek pinched every minute by some over-affectionate aunties and the odd uncle. His loud, screaming protests had led to much merriment amongst Kolkata's afternoon commuters.

Taking the public transport when in India was what we had promised ourselves in London and it had taken us three days to gather up enough courage to brave it. As we climbed the stairs, I knew we had been defeated in the very first round.

After dinner, which included a drink or two at the old Park Street establishment Mocambo, we knew we would fare even worse in protecting our son's cheeks. A screaming, hysterical kid in a cabin full of sweaty people and slightly inebriated parents didn't make for a particularly pleasing post dinner sojourn.

An hour later, after one of the city's famous black-and-yellow cab dropped us off, we almost wished we had stuck to the metro. The vehicle was a shuddering mess. The driver, spotting Georgie, insisted on no other language but English though she replied in Hindi and I spoke Bangla. In the triangulation of languages, he conveniently took the longest route possible and I kept wishing that instead of English language lessons, he had taken some in driving. His skills at the wheels left much to be desired and, without a car seat for our son, this was a foolish venture.

The evening's adventure meant that we were stuck indoors for the next few days. Our one option was to hire an expensive car for the entire day, which meant we had to invent innovative reasons to drop in on people to justify the expense. A simple getting out of the house was becoming increasingly difficult.

It was then that I saw a hoarding that advertised an online app for a taxi service. Initially, I had no great hopes from it. I had tried radio cabs in Kolkata before and the service had been deplorable. But given our situation, I was willing to give it another go.

This service was a revelation. Drivers were always on time and the cars clean. The fare metre was dependent on actual kilometres covered. Kolkata opened up to us. We went out in the morning and came back for lunch. In the evening, there was coffee and we stayed out late without worrying about how we were getting back. Our son learnt to catch sleep in the car.

Satisfied and happy, I decided to probe further. During a ride back from the airport, I asked our driver how much he was earning per week. Twelve-thousand, he said. Forty-eight thousand a month. Knowing how much drivers get paid, this was excellent and I was overjoyed. Nothing like my convenience matching my social conscience.

Probing further, I asked him how many hours a week he was working. Eighty-four, the reply came. Twelve hours a day. Seven days a week. Do you not get weekends, my naive questioning followed. One day off every six months, our driver said.

Probing further, I asked him how many hours a week he was working. Eighty-four, the reply came. Twelve hours a day. Seven days a week. Do you not get weekends, my naive questioning followed. One day off every six months, our driver said.

Georgie and I looked at each other aghast. Here we were, unable to negotiate the city's traffic by ourselves, needing air-conditioned cars. And the man driving us did this every day of the week for 12 hours a day. With no inkling of our shame, our driver told us how delighted he was with his earnings. Working conditions did not matter.

That night we listened again to Linton Kwesi Johnson.

we want the shorter working day

give we the shorter working week

longer holiday

we need decent pay

more time for leisure

more time for pleasure

more time for edification

more time for recreation

more time to contemplate

more time to ruminate

more time

we need more time

 
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