Prior to arriving in Mumbai, I had resigned from my banking job for greener pastures in another company. I was busy with HR resignation documents and handed work over to the pathetic sod who was the reason for my leaving, and preparations for this India trip. I didn’t realise how tired I was from all that physical, mental and emotional stress after 5 days of the hustle and bustle of Mumbai city, and the heady experiences of ancient paintings and sculptures in Aurangabad, I wanted to retreat…and longed to rejuvenate my tired soul by the beach of Goa.
I woke up very early in the morning to catch the Jan Shatabdi Express train back to Mumbai. Departure at 6am. I sat in the air-conditioned (AC) chair car. My luggage was placed on the overhead racks. Tray tables stowed at the back of the seats. Plenty of leg room.
The train left Aurangabad station at 6:01am.
The Jan Shatabdi Express was due to arrive at Dadar Railway Station (Mumbai) at 12.30pm but I should have known that trains especially in Asia are never punctual on arrival. I had booked the 3.45pm domestic flight from Mumbai to Goa, and had to be at the airport by 1.45pm. And based from my experiences in Indian airports, check-in and security process take a long time. However I seemed to have forgotten about train delays.
True enough, halfway through the journey, the train halted for quite some time. I can’t remember how long but it felt like an eternity. I tried not to think too much but just continued reading my book, hoping that the train would continue its journey soon enough.
By the time it was 11.30am, I had realised that we were nowhere close to the suburbs of Mumbai. I had spent the last one hour of the journey fretting if I ever was going to make it to the airport on time. Also, I had read on the internet the night before about taxi drivers at Dadar Railway Station fleecing customers, both locals and foreigners. They would often take the longest route and overcharge customers. Or in the case of foreigners, the driver would insist on sightseeing before arriving at destination. As a result of these scams, the railway station has set up a prepaid taxi booth at the entrance/exit of the station. With that in mind, I visualised my plan – prepaid taxi – but wondered how the taxi driver was going to rush through lunchtime traffic to get to the airport pronto!
Time on my mobile phone stated 12.15pm and we were only just reaching Mumbai suburbs. I asked the passenger next to me if he knew what time we would reach Dadar. He said another 45 minutes. That meant 1pm! But he reassured me that it would take 30-40 minutes’ drive from Dadar to the domestic airport. Somehow I didn’t relax. When it was 12.30pm, I told myself, Kat, stop worrying. If I miss my flight, so what? I can always book another flight to Goa and arrive at the guesthouse later at night. Sigh..I wished I had thought about positive affirmations much earlier but sometimes the brain refused to listen! There are times I get so hung up about time, punctuality, etc, that I miss the bigger picture. I have since learnt to let go but every once in a while, these bad habits come back, much to my annoyance.
True enough, the train halted at Dadar at 1pm. As soon as I alighted from the train, a turbaned Sikh taxi driver approached me and asked if I needed a taxi. In normal circumstances, I would not accept at the first offer but there was something about Sardar and his jovial face. Or maybe because I was desperate to depart for the airport.
Me: Prepaid taxi? To domestic airport?
Sardar: Yes, madam. Come follow me, my taxi is outside. (And he took my luggage).
Me: (As I’m walking with him) How much is taxi to domestic airport?
Sardar: Come follow me, I have card. (He has a chart with a list of fares to various destinations).
His car was the ubiquitous Mumbai (non-AC) black and yellow taxi and it was parked right in front of the railway station. I was relieved. As soon as I entered the car, he showed me the chart which stated INR900 to the airport. It was very expensive as comments on Tripadvisor stated that the fares should be INR500 or even less. Now converting that amount to my Malaysian currency, the fare was considered OK for a 30-40 minute drive but I was in a dilemma. It was either to let him overcharge me and I get moving to the airport quickly, or negotiate for a lower fare. The latter also meant that I could walk away and head to the prepaid taxi booth, that is, if I could locate it. Since time was of the essence, I opted for the easiest way out which was the expensive fare 🙁
As Sardar was driving, he asked if I had breakfast. I replied yes. But…
Sardar: You want idly, you want to eat breakfast?
Me: No, nahi, thank you.
Sardar: I buy for you idly, I pay.
Me: No, it’s ok. I had breakfast on the train. Thank you. Sardarji, please airport-drop ya.
Then he asked the usual questions that travellers often get, which country was I from, how long was I going to be in Mumbai, do I like India, what time was my flight, etc. Then as he drove on to the main road and halted at the traffic lights, he mentioned about the Dharavi slum which was located on my right.
Sardar: This is famous slum, Dharavi. You want to go? Many tourists go to see this slum, very famous. You know, Slumdog Millionaire?
Me: No, no sightseeing.
Sardar: Do you want to see Gateway of India, Haji Ali Tomb?
I was thinking to myself, hmm, Sardar wants to take the sightseeing route huh? So I decided to speak a little bit of Hindi that I had learnt over the years, to emphasize the urgent need to head to the airport.
Me: Sardarji, sightseeing nahi, airport drop only yaar. Jaldi karo! (No sightseeing, airport drop only, go quickly!)
Sardar: You are my sister, no tension yaaaarrrrr!
When the traffic light turned green, Sardar sped like crazy to the highway while spitting paan out of the window and signaled to other drivers to make way for him! Once I observed that he was on the correct highway route to the domestic airport, I was able to relax a little.
I arrived at the airport at 1.45pm sharp. I had exactly 2 hours to check in as required.
I do not have INR900 but INR1000. And no, I didn’t want the INR100 change from Sardar because all I wanted to do was to get out of the taxi and to head straight to the departure hall.
Me: Sardarji, INR900 but I give you INR1000, theek hai? Thank you.
Sardar: INR1000? Only INR1000, madam? Madam, I poor man, please give me INR300 more.
Me: No, no, I give you INR1000, that’s more than enough, ok? (And I took my luggage and got down from the car)
Sardar: (He got down from the car too) Madam, please, give me INR300 more. I poor man, yaar? Thank you, please madam.
Me: (With a firm voice) No, INR1000 is enough, theek hai? Bas. Bahut shukria sardarji. Thank you.
And I walked away.
Sardarji indeed saved me from missing my flight with his F1 driving skills though he overcharged me and used “poverty” as an excuse to make an extra buck here and there. He might be less well-off than others but I was very firm in discouraging such practices even though I was already fleeced with that overpriced taxi fare. Oh well, whenever there is a demand, there’s always a supply! To give him credit, Sardar was actually quite jovial in the car, so I wasn’t 100% uptight. He made me laugh at his jokes – hmm, perhaps that was his tactic!
Airport check-in went really well. I boarded the IndiGo flight to Goa where interestingly, for the first time, I heard a recording of pre-flight safety instructions in 3 languages: Hindi, Marathi and English. And the instructions were said very, very fast! The poor flight attendants had to demonstrate the safety procedures three times!
The 55-minute flight was very comfortable , seats were great and plenty of leg-room (unlike Air Asia).
When I landed in Goa, the driver from Heaven Guesthouse in Benaulim, John, met me at the airport. Then everything slowed down. It’s Goa. Chill, relax, no hurry. Speed is only 40km/hour. And finally, after all that anxiety and mad rush during the day, I came to Heaven Guesthouse in the evening, and the view from my balcony was this 🙂