Yogendra Prasad Shaw, the taxi driver who helped catch a woman passenger’s tormentor last Thursday. Picture by Tamaghna Banerjee
He was once booked for “mistakenly” jumping a red light and has twice been reported for refusing passengers, cops in plainclothes on both occasions.
If these are rare blots on Yogendra Prasad Shaw’s 25-year career as a taxi driver, last Thursday saw him do something that makes him an oddity in Calcutta’s coarse cabbie culture.
Shaw, 46, not only stood up for a young woman who was being stalked and harassed from a goods vehicle while she was in his taxi but also cornered her tormentor and got him arrested.
When the 26-year-old woman’s four-hour ordeal ended — she had to visit two police stations before her complaint was registered — Shaw didn’t charge a rupee more than the metered fare.
“It’s not in my nature to pick a fight. But I could not stop myself that day,” the taxi driver said of his decision to “go after” the man who had been making lewd gestures at his passenger.
The woman, the manager of a salon on Park Street, credits Shaw with “inspiring” her not to take the harassment as if it were just another incident. “But for him, I couldn’t have mustered the courage to lodge a police complaint,” she had said that evening.
Waiting for passengers at the taxi stand beside RN Tagore Hospital two days later, Shaw told Metro that he had always tried to be nice to people.
“Taxi drivers in this city have ruined their image. Even I refuse passengers when I am headed home at night but I don’t misbehave with them. Passengers understand our problems if we tell them nicely,” said Shaw, who is on the road from 10 in the morning till 10 at night.
Unlike other drivers, he does not carry a “Lunch” board to display on the windshield and use it as an excuse to refuse passengers. Shaw’s employer Raja Rai, whose vehicle he has been driving for more than two years, acknowledges that he is “different” from the infamous Calcutta cabbie prone to refusing, cheating, misbehaving and, sometimes, even assaulting passengers.
“He seldom takes a day off, always reports on time and is extremely honest. I get my payments on time and there has not been a single instance of my taxi being booked for a traffic violation since he started working for me. My earlier drivers would often get into trouble,” Rai said.
Shaw, a Class VIII dropout, came to the city from Bihar’s Madhubani district when he was just 15. He used to stay with his uncle and did odd jobs like cooking and cleaning before learning driving and starting his career as a cabbie at 20.
Since his father died 10 years ago, Shaw has been the breadwinner of his family back in Bihar and supports his mother, wife and three children aged 15, 12 and 6 with his monthly income of Rs 12,000.
Sometimes, Shaw works extra hours at night to earn more. But there is one thing he wouldn’t do: cheat.
“Several of my colleagues have multiple driving licences and they tweak the taxi meters in a way that the fare is always higher than normal. I don’t do such things. I work harder when I need more money but I never cheat,” said Shaw, who lives as a tenant in Mukundapur, off the Bypass.
It was this trait that was noticed and appreciated by the young woman he helped on Thursday morning. She had got into his taxi near her home in Ajoynagar, off the Bypass, and the next four hours proved to her that not every Calcutta cabbie is a rogue.
“A trip from Ajoynagar to Park Street costs Rs 150. I took his taxi till Park Circus before we went to Topsia police station, waited for half an hour and then went back to Pragati Maidan police station and waited for another two hours and the metered fare was only Rs 250,” she recalled.
“I have been travelling alone for the past several years and on most occasions I have come across taxi drivers who cheat and are rude and disrespectful towards women. But this man was so honest that he even refused to take some extra money that I had offered him. To me, he is a real hero and the city can become a much safer place if all taxi drivers were like him,” said the woman, thanking Shaw again.