Dear friends and visitors to Mumbai.
Welcome to our fascinating city and welcome to India. I am Kishore Kisan Khare. I am a taxi driver in Mumbai. On most days, I wait for passengers at the majestic Taj Mahal Hotel across from the Gateway of India. On advance notice, you can hire me for about Rs.2,500 (about $50) for a day of travel within Mumbai. I drive a blue-colored cool cab – a comfortable air-conditioned 5-passenger mini-van (including the driver).
I was born in 1965 and have been a taxi-driver in Mumbai since 1981 when I was 17. I have worked as a tour guide for the last 30 years including as a contractor for BBC. I did not finish school due to financial reasons and can speak, read and write in elementory-grade English and fluently in my native Marathi language and in Hindi. The rest of my education I received on the streets of Mumbai and from travelers like yourself.
I support my family include my wife and two children, Kumar and Shantaram; my late brother, Prabhakar Kishan Khare’s family – wife and his son Praveen, my parents Rukhmabai and father Kishan Mango Khare. From the Rs.2,500 I earn, Rs. 1,000 are paid to the taxi owner and the remaining Rs. 1,500 pays for the livelihood of 1 senior, 5 adults and 3 children. Kumar and Praveen sometimes help me on the tour but I am hoping they strive for better-earning careers.
If our names sound familiar to you, you may have read Gregory David Roberts’ worldwide bestseller book Shantaram in which he has described his long association with my family. He lived with us for a few year in the 80s while recovering from his drug addition to heroin and cocaine. He was given the name Shantaram by my mother. We taught him Gregory (a.k.a Lin or Lin Baba) to speak Marathi and Hindi, took him to our village and looked after him as he lived the life of crime and drug addiction in Mumbai after escaping as a convict from Australia. 1980s was a very tumultuous decade in our city’s history – it was the era of the great mafia wars, rampant influx of drugs, especially cocaine that brought in many foreigners looking for a cheap access to drugs. There were riots due to communal tensions caused by Babri Masjid dispute, the economy was in dire state and turf battles among a tapestry of political parties, trade unions and organized crime for control of constituencies divided our people by caste, religion and wealth, Bollywood was all about megastars like Amitabh Bachchan.
A lot has changed (and has not changed) since then – Since the liberalization that began in the 90s, wealth has grown rapidly among the rich, brought access to luxuries to the middle class and a trickle of benefits to the poor. On the other side, a chaotic city has become even more chaotic as a new frenzy for wealth has taken over. Greater wealth has resulted in greater power and greater greed. I invite you to take the Shantaram Tour with me as I walk you through the past, present and future of Mumbai as I see it. Your curiosity will encourage questions, answers and debate. Together, we will enjoy a fascinating journey in time when the novel was written and see a city transform and reinvent itself.