Passion Project Still In Progress
I am looking forward this year (now that the pandemic is pretty much over) to getting back to work on my Kolkata Cab story this year. This project came about on a trip to India back in 2017 when my partner in crime Russ @rklika asked me if I would like to go with him to India to photograph the Apatani Women of Ziro Valley and the Konyak Tribe "Headhunters" of Nagaland. Both tribes that will loose a part of their culture when the last tattooed person dies. As I am on these adventures, I am always looking for other projects to sink my teeth in. On this trip we learned that Uber has come into Kolkata and started shutting down the essence of this city by eliminating these colorful cabs and replacing them with Ubers. Essentially losing a part of the cities culture. I was intrigued and started working on it, coming back the following year in 2018 to work more on it with the help of a few awesome Nat Geo editors. I hope you will take the time to see and learn about a project in progress and read an amazing story written by Taylor @tayleenam
City. Home. Hive. Yellow taxi cabs buzz along Kolkata’s hot, honking, congested mess of traffic like bees in a swarm. These vehicles share the streets with rickshaws, tuk tuks, buses and pedestrians carrying suitcases, children and even baskets of good. Rickshaws are labor-intensive. Tuk tuks are small and uncomfortable. Buses are crowded. And one can only travel so far on foot. Yellow taxi cabs, then, are truly what it means to move in and around Kolkata. If anyone needs to get anywhere, a yellow taxi cab is poised, ready to weave a path through the crowd. It has been this way for as long as anyone can remember.
Since August 2013 brought the advent of app-accessible big-corporation driving services like Uber, more and more yellow taxi cabs are left to idle on the very streets they used to dominate. Because the Ambassador cab manufacturer was forced to close in 2014, just months after Uber was introduced to Kolkata, the yellow taxi cabs and their drivers must now face a fast-approaching expiration date.
But wait. This is not a lament about the tragedy of Western World technology infiltrating yet another culture.
This is not a sermon about preserving the old way of life.
This is a love letter; a dedication to the yellow taxi cabs and their drivers who have, for generations, defined Kolkata like a bee colony defines its hive.
A cab driver maneuvers the Kolkata streets at night heading to the Maidan Park area on October 28, 2017.
The landmark yellow Ambassador cabs of Kolkata, India is what has defined this bustling city. However, with the closing of the Ambassador cab manufacturer in 2014, just months after Uber was introduced to Kolkata, the yellow taxi cabs and their community of drivers must now face a fast-approaching expiration date.
Mukesh Shaw & Montu Das play cards on a street corner near the Naba Baghbazar area on July 12, 2018, in North Kolkata.
A cabbie drives by the outside perimeter of the Shyambazar Sunday Kolkata Pet Market in North Kolkata on July 8, 2018. At the market you can find different rare species of bird, rabbit, guinea pig, dog, pigeon, different kind of colorful fishes for aquarium, plants and flowers.
A cab driver maneuvers through the Kolkata streets looking for a fare on July 5, 2018. Though taxi services started in Kolkata as early as 1907, the iconic Ambassador became a standard taxi model only in 1962. Despite its British origins, the Ambassador is considered as a definitive Indian car and is fondly called the "king of Indian roads". The automobile was manufactured by Hindustan Motors at its Uttarpara plant near Kolkata, West Bengal until the plants closure in May 2014.
Cab driver Arun Kumar Bharati, who has been driving an Ambassador yellow cab for 21 years. July 11, 2018.
Parked on the side of a busy street, A cab driver takes a late morning nap in the back seat of his cab on October 28, 2017. In Kolkata, most cabs are painted yellow with a blue strip in the middle.
A couple of plant vendors load up a cab in the Shyambazar Sunday Kolkata Pet Market in North Kolkata on July 8, 2018. One of the Ambassador’s best features are its roomy back seat and enormous trunk.
A mechanic works on a Ambassador steering column in a small shop down the narrow back allies of the Mullick Bazar on October 28, 2017 in Kolkata. Radiator repairman Maserul Hauk says that the Ambassador cabs are his main customers, fixing 8-10 radiators a day. He also sells them for 4-5000 rupee’s with is about $56-$70.00.
An Ambassador cab drives through the Howrah flower market on July 4, 2018 in Central Kolkata.
Yellow cabs may physically disappear from the streets of Kolkata in the coming years, but their legacy will continue–honking and humming and buzzing along the hive track of history.