Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A creature of habit

SAGAR TAMANG is arguably the only taxi driver around who has stayed with the same vehicle [a 1994 model Maruti Omni] and the same employer for 17 years now! Even friendships rarely last so long and alliances are known to crumble even sooner. Sagar’s story then becomes an interesting one to share. Excerpts of a conversation with Subash Rai…

Are you young, educated and skilled but still wondering why you are not employed? The story of 38-year-old Sagar Tamang from Shyari in East Sikkim should offer you some points to ponder. Mr. Tamang, a taxi driver by profession, drives a 1994 model Maruti Omni van, the wheels of which have been under his charge since 1997, when, as a strapping 21-year-old, he was employed to drive this taxi. Since then, it has been the same vehicle and the same employer for Mr. Tamang; an exceptionally rare feat for the profession he is in… and he’s loving it! What is more, he is still plying the same route - from Lall Bazaar Stand to 6th Mile Tadong along the National Highway. Subash Rai catches up with him...
NOW: Your vehicle is 21 years old now, the same age as when you first started driving it. What did you do before taking over the keys of this vehicle?
You know, our time was filled with problems. I couldn’t study much, so trained as a driver. I even got employed as a driver on Muster Roll in the Forest Department but could not come to terms with the bureaucratic ways of functioning. Guess my luck also did not favour me so I quit after a year. I still remember the vehicle assigned to me at the Department – it was a Petrol Jeep [and he goes on to spell out its registration number as well].
Any regrets about quitting a Government Job? You would have been among the first groups which got regularized last year?
Frankly, some misgivings arise sometimes. All my friends of that time are regular government employees now. But when I look back and evaluate things, I am satisfied with where I am at present.

What is the secret behind you record association with the same vehicle and the same employer? This is rare in private employmentFirst, my dedication towards the job. Second, my employer, Shri Uttam Sakya of Sakya Jewellers, who has always treated me extremely well – looking out for me like his own son. Third, the friends I have made at our stand and the association [Sikkim Local Taxi Driver’s Association, 6th Mile group], who have nominated me as Advisor of the association, who helped me on every occasions when ever I was in in any sort of trouble. Very few know me by name because, as is the trait of our line, most know me by my old vehicle number - 1426, which I used for 16 long years. My new high security number is SK01T-1939, World War II, ha… ha….

As a taxi driver what changes you experienced?Several changes. When I became taxi driver in 1997-98, the stand was in front of Denzong Cinema Hall. Altogether, we had 30 taxis at this stand to ferry passengers to Deorali, Tadong, 5th Mile, 6th Mile and Ranipool. Now, the stand which has shifted inside the Kanchanjanga shopping complex has 300 taxis to ferry passengers to 5th Mile and 6th Mile! The price of Petrol was around Rs. 17 per litre when I started; now, after some fall in prices, it is still Rs. 60.35. The fare for 6th Mile was Rs. 10 at that time and is now Rs. 40.

What problems are you experiencing at this stage?Personally I have no problems, but in general some major problems like traffic jams, substance abuse by the younger drivers and parking problems are hurting the stands. We barely receive three turns in a day. This could easily have been six turns, but traffic jams play havoc with travel times.

Any solutions to offer?Parents and society should come forward to save the younger generation from drug use. As a senior member of the association, I think a terrace like structure be errected between Super Market building and flyovers and be made into a parking for taxis. Another suggestion I would like to add here is that more and more Sikkimese girls should become taxi drivers. This will certainly ensure better discipline among the drivers and I believe women’s participation will streamline the existing hotch-potch of our profession.

What about the future?I will continue to drive this vehicle until it becomes scrap or the owner sells it. I already mentioned that my employer is very good and has even done my LIC and kept aside some savings for my future. I’ll plan accordingly.

Mr. Sagar Tamang can be contacted at 9749348205.

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