January 2015, from home to airport
Driver: Indian from Punjab, mid-30.
My first flight after the X-mas holidays was to Brisbane. My driver arrived early (nobody wants to miss a drive to the airport), and had to wait for 15 minutes . (Surely, it’s not my problem because I specified the time I needed a taxi). He was a bit upset about the wait.
But as soon as I walked out of the door, he relaxed and we had a very pleasant drive.
For some reason, the roads were empty and it took less time to get there than usual.
We started the routine questions: where from, how long here, family, some background check.
My driver was from Chandigarh. His name was Gigi. He looked fully alert and fresh despite very early hours, totally opposite to me. Apparently he just started his shift, and I was his first passenger today. On the contrary, I struggled to keep my eyes open. We exchanged a few more pleasantries and I asked him if he came here to study cooking or IT. I assumed that as many others, Gigi came here to study and applied for PR after. However, as I found out, my driver came here as a skilled migrant – the same way I did. This fact immediately created a bond between us, because we compared our experience in applying for visa and the difficulties we had in finding jobs as qualified specialists. This guy has been in Australia for almost 10 years now , married with 2 kids, has his own house and a few taxis. He studied tool making in Ludhiana for 4 years and got a Diploma. His study was more directed at operating equipment rather than designing. On arrival to Australia, Gigi tried to find work for a year and finally got a position as CNC operator for a mould manufacturing company in the SE of Melbourne. And then the financial crisis started worldwide. Their main customer from automotive industry closed their plant in Melbourne, a bulk of the orders had basically gone and the employer could keep staff on a part-time basis only. Since Gigi had a large mortgage and a young child, this new work condition didn’t suit him. Therefore, he started to drive a taxi for a friend, and after bought his own license and expanded to four cars. He was thinking of buying more taxis soon to provide for the future of his growing family. In my book, that was a success story in making.
Then it was his turn to probe at my background story. When Gigi found out that I was from Ukraine, he immediately told me that his dad always liked the Soviet Union and was fascinated by our history. His farther actually wanted Gigi to study in the USSR and talked about this very often. The dream diminished with assassination of Indira Gandi, followed by the Soviet Union “going into a liquidation” state. My driver knew a lot about the former USSR and decided to give me his version of the current Russian/Ukrainian conflict. This is a topic I don’t like to discuss, so I decided to distract him.
I mentioned that I worked for a biomedical company before making human implants, and when the company moved to the USA, I had to change my field. As a result, I work in the paint industry now. As any other man who had heard the word ‘implant’, Gigi immediately imagined a breast implant (It works the same way every time, I know). His shy curiosity was amusing. I guess this is not a subject that Indian men can discuss freely with women. However, I am positive that among themselves they discuss even more severe topics. Seeing his genuine interest, I explained a bit more about the whole process, mentioning that part of my job was to source manufacturing moulds for development work. I talked very highly about one company in Melbourne, where the director and the operators were all from India. In the past, I had a very good relationship with the management there and we still keep in touch after all these years. He asked me the name of the company. When I replied he looked at me and said that we were his former employers. Talk about coincidence, right? Apparently we knew the same people. So I gave him the latest news and we gossiped for a bit.
Very happy with himself, Gigi told me that he always had a very good relationship with Russian and Ukrainian people. For example, when he worked for that tooling company, one very nice Ukrainian man was a regular customer. He brought lots of work for the large automotive company. My driver worked with him closely on design and mould manufacturing. Apparently that man was a technical manager at the company. Did I know him by any chance?
I was stunned and could not answer. Did I know him? I knew this man only too well. He had been my ex-husband after all.
P.S. This is a small world… Not only do I know half of the taxi drivers in Melbourne, I also met the one, who had a link to my past.