8th of May, from airport home, 1.5 hours
Driver: from Hyderabad, mid-forties, IT professional, married, in Australia for the last 16 years.
I arrived at Melbourne a bit earlier than expected, because luckily there were a few seats available on other flights. Got a taxi basically straight away. My driver was an Indian man. Started conversation about weather, flights, where he was from – the usual.
I asked him provocatively for something interesting about Hyderabad. Of course, I was waiting for a byriani spill. But not today!
Surprise No 1: He said that Hyderabad is the Silicone Valley of India. Apparently, it hosts the largest IT facilities in the world after US. (Hm, that was unexpected, but it was true. I found an article about Google opening a new branch there and hiring 10000 specialists in the next four years).
Surprise No 2: Indian soil smells different. He said this with great conviction when I mentioned a different air quality. I am not talking about the horrid smells of rotting rubbish, urine, cow poo or the beautiful aroma of food, spices and flowers. It’s something very unique in the air, which I want to absorb with my skin and fill my lungs every time I walk out from the airport. I’d never thought about the soil. Maybe he is right? I will smell it next time, somewhere far away in the country site.
Surprise No 3: Muslim men don’t expect dowry. According to him, it’s only Hindu men that do that and this tradition is totally embarrassing. A proud Muslim man has to provide everything for his wife himself and does not expect any “hand-outs” from her family.
Surprise No 4: Muslims respect Jesus as a prophet for Allah and his name is mentioned in the Koran 44 times, while Muhammad is mentioned only twice. (Please, don’t kill me- I have not read the Koran myself, it could be wrong).
Surprise No 5: Muslim men can have up to four wives, but there have to be special circumstances for this. An example would be if the couple can’t have kids. The man has to ask his wife if it’s OK to get another wife. If she does not agree, they can resolve this issue by asking for advice from Sharia Law.
Surprise No 6: His wife likes wearing hijab and a head scarf, because it’s part of her culture and upbringing. He does not have any say in how or what she wears. Even at home in front of kids she wears modest clothes, otherwise their daughter will grow up with hypocrisy and double standards in the family.
Surprise No 7: The taxi driver went on pilgrimage to Mecca, which is considered by Muslims the holiest place on Earth. There he had a few “educational lectures” about the life of Muslims in Australia. He said that everybody is equal here, Halal food is available and mosques operate in every city. And the most important message was that western women don’t run naked on the streets as everybody believes in the East because of the propaganda. (So, this is how Asian countries see us. I always thought that Australia is famous because kangaroos are jumping on the street, whereas in Russia bears live in houses. I was so wrong).
Surprise No 8: According to the Koran, Women are much more important than men, because every woman is potentially a mother. And a mother is above everyone else, second in charge after Allah. All the main decisions in the family are made by either a mother or a wife, and kids always must ask mum’s permission first. (That actually reminded me our guide in Vietnam, who told us about the important role and respect for a woman in Cham culture and I did not believe him).
These are the main points of our conversation. Also, he told me about respect for the neighbours, about the situation in Kashmir, his childhood, his “semi-arranged marriage” and lots of small things. Unbelievable, but we stayed in front of my house for 55 minutes after we arrived from the airport. So, taking an earlier flight from Sydney did not make any difference. However, I had a great time talking to him, because I found out so much new information. Maybe I will even try to read the Koran, who knows.
Surprise No 9: Somehow during conversation, the driver mentioned that he never buys anything outright here: only on loans or plans. For example, his phone – the latest model of the Galaxy- is on the $100/month plan, so the phone is basically free (he is kidding himself, of course). All his friends and relatives in India always buy everything straight away and show off their new possessions. Sometimes they even have to cut their funds for food, but still don’t like plans, only prepaid phones. And that rules applies to everything; clothes, furniture, cars. My driver was very disapproving of this fact. I sat in the car listening to him and thinking “OMG, I don’t belong here. I have Indian mentality. I have never ever bought anything on loan, except the house. I AM INDIAN!!! ”
Music – Taxi Theme Song
artist -Bob James, Album – Touchdown, 1978