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Photo by Udit Kulshrestha

“Light kyun on karoon (Why should I switch on the lights)?” said M.P. Jha in a remarkably identifiable Bihari accent, “Ujaala toh hai (It’s bright enough out there),” pointing to the tungsten street lamps. Jha is one of the drivers of the iconic yellow Ambassador taxi in Kolkata, who picked me from the Howrah Railway station one late evening. Cruising along Park Street, or lying in wait outside the Ballygunge Phari (tram station), violating minor traffic rules, challenging the tram and making space for itself in the crowded old China Bazar, the old taxis have for decades ferried passengers across the length and breadth of Kolkata. Once a quintessential Kolkata symbol and a long-standing part of the city’s culture, with Hindustan Motors’ (HM) recent announcement of the discontinuation of the Ambassador, 70,000 of Kolkata’s plying big yellow taxis will soon find themselves being taken apart for scrap material. According to Sabyasachi Bagchi (Regional Transport Authority’s Vice Chairman) in August 2013, the state transport had opened the market to “more technologically advanced” vehicles such as Maruti’s Wagon-R and Tata’s Indigo, by extending the cash incentive of Rs 25,000 to newer taxis in a bid to increase self-employment. These air-conditioned radio cabs are white. Dropping me at South Lake City, R.P. Singh, another cab driver tells me the taxi permit and the taxis itself are an investment of Rs 7 lakh. Meters are digital, market competitive. And scrapping the taxis is more profitable than selling them back to HM. Udit Kulshrestha is a Gurgaon-based photographer and visual artist with interests in subjects related to Indian traditions and vanishing culture.

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