Working mum takes an Uber

Dear Uber

Let me tell you about my day. As a working mother-who-never-has-her-shit-together, I was again late to drop my 3 year-old son off to his second day of school. I do not like driving. And Uber has been a tech-send! So as I stood outside my building, simultaneously toggling between the Uber app and my fidgety son, I was hoping that the day will be saved by you, as it usually is.

Sigh, it was surge pricing time. I had little choice but then I also raised my arm and finally an auto stopped. I muscled my child and myself inside because the difference between 40 bucks in an auto for a 10-minute ride that is ready to go and 250 bucks for the same ride with an 11-minute wait, for a child already late for school is immense. Let me share a bit of my inner monologue here though. I was mad at the auto wallahs for being so finicky about where they will go. “Why can’t they learn from Uber?” I mused. I promised myself that from tomorrow I will be better planned and factor in a 10-minute time frame for an Uber to reach me.

School ended, a happy but tired kid and I made our way back home. I dropped him off, showered him with kisses and untangled his tiny arms from my neck as he howled for me not to leave, to finally head to work. He cried, I ducked and ran. I booked an Uber and found it waiting outside my building. I sank back in the seat and proceeded to place order for groceries, do online payment for dry cleaning and restart my milk subscription from that place with the nice milk bottles. After half an hour, I finally had some time to myself. I whipped out my kindle and a small meal that I usually have on my way to work because the one-hour-each-way commute gives me the maximum time to myself in the day. With only a cup of coffee in me, which my son’s school graciously supplies to anxious new moms, my stomach was by now an acid pit. I clicked open The Little Life from where I had left. Man, that book is depressing but un-putdown-able in a weird masochistic sense. Anyway, I digress.

Suddenly I hear a polite but firm voice, “Aapko khane se pehle permission leni chahiye.” Now as I mentioned before, I am a working parent of a toddler. Meal times are usually had over the sink where I am also simultaneously washing the only plate that he will have food in. The second best place is in a cab commuting to & from work because I finally there is utter peace and quiet, an hour which I gainfully employ reading and grabbing a quick (and neat) bite. I objected. I had never faced such a restriction from any driver before, I told him. To clarify, I was eating an idli, nothing smelly, nothing messy. He gave me sweeping reply of the fact that he is probably the first driver to inform me of this Uber policy. I agreed and continued to debate his right to stop me from eating.

I was by now, well and truly irritated. My heckles raised, I told him that if he wanted me to stop eating, he should ask me to stop eating, not admonish me for not seeking his permission. He is as far as I know, no one I had earlier met or had an equation with, that he could enforce his opinion on me. The ‘why’ of his imposition was only answered with a vague reply of “har kyu ka jawab nahi hota’. That made me persist more. I am a mother of a 3 year-old after all. I have an unlimited supply of ‘why’s. He countered that the next passenger could find the smell objectionable. To which I informed him that I am eating an idli, nothing that would ever smell, especially since I had made it just a few hours before. He proceeded to tell me that he couldn’t see what I was eating, so how is he to know whether it smelled or not.

This is where I was flummoxed. Since he couldn’t see what I was eating and definitely could not smell an idli, he was objecting to just the act of eating. I now realised that he was probably fasting. The fact however is I have happily munched through many a rides the past few days with no objection from any quarter including drivers who were probably fasting. Now, his fasting is pure conjecture, let me clarify. But I really did not find any other reason that could explain his behaviour.

And if he had asked me to stop eating to help him continue his fast, I probably would have. But he did not. He insisted that I was in the wrong. I did not stop eating. I finished my meal as he ranted about how “aap log” will write to Uber about his misconduct. I told him it is a two way street. He rates me too. And he is free to rate me as little as he wants. And I rated him a 4 star because his driving was really good and smooth. I boarded his cab for that specific service., not for his eating habits.

So to Uber, I would question this. Am I allowed to eat in Uber cabs if I keep it neat? I have photos to prove that I did not drop food or filthy his cab in anyway. I am not going to attach them but can share them with you if you want. And secondly, as a person am I allowed to reject an (implied religious) imposition that your driver should try to impose on me?

This is, of course a part of a larger point that has been going around in my head for a while. What is tolerance? Of course the driver is allowed to tell me to not eat in the car. There are enough people who are super-sensitive about crumbs in their car. And if I was a hungry hippo just munching and spitting and spewing everything within chewable distance, yes I should have been disembarked. But I wasn’t. For once, I was neat, keeping my tiffin like nerdy kids (aka me) do in school (lid positioned to partially cover the tiffin. A habit that I unconsciously slip into). I was eating idly, the least likely food to spill, with thick peanut chutney that did not drip or run. I made no loud noises (as far as I know), there was no crunch, tear or rip that the food elicited. Just a soft, mushy mouthful of food, fit for toddlers, people in need of soft food or mothers who will eat only what they make for their kids because really, who has the freaking time to make the aaloo ka paratha that we really crave?!

Should I have conceded to him? I don’t know. I did not feel like it. It was an intrusion, his telling me and not asking me. It also felt duplicitous. For a part of me is sure that he asked me to stop eating for religious reasons. This is pure conjecture, let me clarify again. But his excuses were feeble and nothing that could lead back to my specific behaviour. I also specifically told him that if Uber sends me a mail, like he claimed that Uber has sent him a list of Dos & Don’ts about what a passenger can do in the car, with a list of rules, then and only then could I agree to his point.

I cannot say I was 100% happy with my behaviour. If it were actually for religious reasons, I would probably have conceded. But the fact that he would not tell me a straight answer to why my behaviour was unacceptable to him is also equally telling.

Who wass intolerant? Was I? Or was he? Could he tell me not to eat? Or could I tell him to stop enforcing his views on me? I think I can speak for both of us that we felt a quandary, an impasse in the situation. It was his car. I was paying for a service. Is there a wronged party here? And which one is it? Where do I draw the line between my right to practise my life and somebody else’s right to practise their life? What is encroachment and what is communal?

Uber, I know you cannot answer all these questions for me (and some about eating in a cab, you can). And, well, you have a lot of other shit to deal with right now, bro. But anyway, I am writing this to let you know what happened. But its only afternoon yet, and maybe things will get better.