Why an Indian Uber ride is anything but silent
With city administrations struggling to manage burgeoning populations, traveling at rush hour in Indian cities can be painful, to say the least. But Uber and its local competitor Ola have spelt a drastic change in the commuting experience. From noisy, chaotic navigation on different modes of transport, they’ve ushered in a smooth, air-conditioned glide across the city.
Sriharsh Mallela, Associate Director at Flamingo Mumbai and a regular Uber user
Even physically, unlike public transport in the West, Indian cabs never had screens separating the driver and passengers, nor do local trains have doors. And the famous tuk-tuks or ‘auto rickshaws’ of India are essentially just three wheels and two seats with a tarpaulin cover.
Not surprisingly, this transition from chaos to calm could hardly have been seamless. So Indians found their own way to inject some noise and liveliness into their Uber journeys – Google Maps. Unlike other countries where the driver is plugged into a headset while navigating, it is far more common in India to sit through an hour-long journey listening to each and every instruction the app’s navigation system calls out. Subliminally, this performs a dual function. On the one hand, it addresses the constant Indian fear of being duped by the cab driver, and on the other, it re-creates the noisy traveling environment we’re used to.
Bhawana Dawani, Project & Client Manager at Flamingo, on her Uber experience
For a culture that thrives on constant human interaction, this way of traveling felt very new. Traveling in India had always been about accepting uncertainty, a certain expectation of disruptions, delays and chance encounters. Specific rituals were invoked to bless an impending journey – a spoonful of sweetened yoghurt or the cracking open of a coconut before a departing vehicle was intended to help overcome any challenges that may come one’s way.
The change from relying on passers-by to find an address in an unknown neighbourhood to traveling in an air-conditioned bubble guided by a computer, seemed too sterile and alien to lived realities. The act of listening to the directions together on loudspeaker thus became a common ground for the driver and passenger, restoring comfort and balance.
While technology is rapidly pushing us to give up control over what we see, hear and even think, listening to Google Maps could be seen as a small victory. It’s a refusal to be blindly led, but instead to attempt to find one’s own way, like we’ve always done, with a little added assistance.
- Article by Ipsita Bandyopadhyay