Taxi Fabric Is Jazzing Up Mumbai's Taxis With Special Creations By India's Young Designers
By: Avinash Kumai on Jul 28th, 2015

Taxi Fabric is a concept that brings the people of Bombay closer to visual art and design. The quirky platform connects designers with taxi drivers – turning seat covers into a canvas, where designers from India can show off their design talent and storytelling skills. This not only creates a platform for the artists, but unconsciously plants the appreciation of art in the psyche of the people. "Also something which has a pass on value,” enthuse Sanket Avlani (one of the designers and brainchild of the project). The initiative went live in April with a year of planning. The team has finish six taxis so far, and the seventh one is in the works. 

Image credit: Taxi Fabric

Picking taxis from among other modes of transport was not random, Avlani tells us. “Taxis in India, particularly in Mumbai, are not only the most convenient form of transport, but have also become an iconic piece of culture. There is a personal connect,” clarifies Avlani. And interestingly enough, Avlani and his team did not have to do much to get the drivers to sign up – a polite request, some cutting chai and word of mouth did the job! Since the drivers did not have to spend a single dime for the designs, they were excited and more than happy to let the artists experiment.

Like any project, they faced challenges too, like talking to vendors and working with designers. Using the right quality fabric and educating the driver about taking the right care of it was also a task. But despite that, Avlani is happy about the fact that mediums like these will give people something to talk about and connect with. Their plans for the future? “Redesigning more taxis, of course, but we are also on the lookout [for] collaborating with designers,” ends Avlani.

Gaurav Ogale and Nassimuddin
Image credit: Sushant Kadam

A quirky chat with the driver got designer Gaurav Ogale flipping through his sketchbooks. Since Bombay has been an integral part of Ogale's work, Nasimuddin chacha instantly picked the elements which he liked – and the kabootars (pigeons) were one of them! “Chacha was keen on having a bold colour palette, different from my usual palette of work. So I thought, why not throw in colours and give it a pop art look, [but] at the same time keep the elements basic and bold. I wanted it to be his story; the people he meets, he relates to,” says Ogale. That’s how the cutting chai and the ‘buddhi ke baal wala’ (candy floss) came into the picture.

Image credit: Sushant Kadam

“Chacha mentioned a lot of hawkers who are his friends, and they usually catch up at traffic signals. It instantly reminded me of a boy called Istaq Ali, a hawker I met in my hometown, Pune, a year back. This boy had the dream of selling candy floss on Marine Drive promenade someday. So you will see Istaq Ali on the seat cover as well,” expresses Ogale.

Sanket Avlani and Rama Kant Yadav
Image credit: Sushant Kadam

There are four characters in this taxi – the Dabbawalla delivering his dabbas, the last man standing in the train compartment, the taxi driver dodging traffic, and you, battling time.

Avlani got chatting with Yadav (the taxi driver) and they both felt that it’ll be great to have people in his taxi who don’t usually take them to travel around Mumbai. Eventually, Avlani decided on illustrating dabbawallas who usually cycle around the city and those who are local train loyalists. “It also somewhere connects with me, I couldn’t function without eating my mum’s food every day, delivered by dabbawallas, and at a point of time I too travelled by the trains and didn’t really like it. Which is why I switched to taking taxis,” recalls Avlani. 

Image credit: Sushant Kadam

There is a fascinating colour coding that goes around with both these topics. The dabbawallas have an elaborate colour-naming and numbering system which helps them identify the zones and areas the dabbas have to be delivered to. Also, the local trains are coloured according to the lines they operate on. The colours used in the fabrics are inspired from these systems.

“Every day, without fail, somebody or the other asks me about the tiffins. Once a 55-year-old lady said she’s never seen such beautiful dabbas before and that she’ll never forget my taxi,” says driver Rama Kant Yadav.

Tasneem Amiruddin and Jayant Bhai
Image credit: Vinit Bhatt

Ace illustrator Amiruddin’s design is about the little stories and happenings in the daily life of a Mumbaikar. It’s the little things that make life so bubbling in such a large and busy city like Mumbai. “Just a few days before I got on to this project, I was at Crawford market, this random lady came up to me randomly and offered a daisy to me. These are the little things that have touched my heart, so I tried to show it in my design,” remembers Amiruddin. 

Image credit: Vinit Bhatt

The theme is actually an interaction between the little stories that all of us come across, being a part of the city, and the iconic landmarks and structures like the Gateway of India, the Arabian Sea, the rustic buildings and much more, the designer reflects.

On the taxi driver's reaction, she says, “well, I had not met the taxi driver until after I designed the taxi, but he absolutely loved it and vouched that all the passengers that [had] sat in it till now were fascinated with it.”

Lokesh Karekar and Tara Singh
Image credit: Amey Kadam

Singh's taxi was inspired by the fashionable, retro, local, intricate, organic, bold but unique nature of the city. “This city has so much character to explore and observe from the window of a taxi. The Fiat Premier Padmini’s iconic quality of the eighties was one of the inspirations for the style of illustration,” says Karekar. He adds, “The challenge was to work in that size [and] not make it too heavy to the eye, because you to have to sit in a taxi for at least half an hour.”

Image credit: Amey Kadam

“I moved here 40 years ago from Amritsar, and since then I’ve been driving taxis. I never imagined one of India’s finest talents would be working on my taxi. All my friends, taxi drivers, want one as well,” declares Singh. 

Pranita Kocharekar and Mohammed Irfan
Image credit: Amey Kadam

Kocharekar's design also revolves around Mumbai and how she sees it. It’s more or less Irfan's (the taxi owner) views about Mumbai. He finds that everybody from Mumbai is really busy, and leads a busy life. While Kocharekar  thinks of Mumbai as a stylish city, everyone from a businesswoman to a bhajjiwala has their own style. The city is made of its people, hence the people-centric illustration. “‘You & I’ is about the people, their busy lives, and the lively city,” she states. 

Image credit: Amey Kadam

During the design process, Kocharekar experienced something serendipitous with Irfan. “About a couple weeks before I started working on this project, I’d hailed a cab to Bhiwandi to unload some goods in a warehouse. The cabbiewala was kind enough to help me unload the goods, and I forgot to tip him after. I call it a beautiful coincidence to be able to design the same cabbie’s seat covers just weeks after! That itself was a huge motivation to work on this project. After the taxi was redesigned, Irfan bumped into a couple of people clicking selfies in his cab, he mentioned that. Also, one kind man called me one morning from the cab, and said 'Thank you for this, it was a wonderful experience!' I love how a taxi cover design could spark a conversation between a customer, the cabbie and the designer,” illustrates Kocharekar with a smile.

Shweta Malhotra and Agzar Ali
Image credit: Vinit Bhatt

Shweta Malhotra’s theme for the taxi was ‘Chowpatty’ – inspired by the colours, chaos and memories of Juhu Chowpatty in Mumbai, where she grew up.

Image credit: Vinit Bhatt

“Born and brought up in Bombay, I wanted to do something inspired from the city. I decided to use the vibrant colours of objects you see on the beach, specifically Juhu, where I’d spent a lot of time as a kid. The immediate memories and colours that come to mind when I think of my time spent there as a child was my inspiration,” she points out. The taxi driver also related it to the beach immediately and said that his son loves to ride the taxi, she tells us.

Pavithra Dikshit and Pritam Singh
Image credit: Aashim Tyagi

Having grown-up with greens around her, it’s a natural extension of how Dikshit feels Bombay is to her. “I’m always noticing new trees, fruits, flowers growing in the hedges, sides of roads,” she tells us. "As Bombay is growing towards becoming a crazy metropolis with fancier buildings coming up, the green cover is shrinking." she adds. Her taxi aims to be a part recovery from this madness and the theme is inspired by nature, of course! 

Image credit: Aashim Tyagi

As far as sharing anecdotes of her taxi driver, Dikshit tells us that he (Pritam Singh) wanted the design to be nice, shiny and bright. “When he saw it at the end, he was really excited and insisted on feeding Mahak (the production head) and I some sumptuous home-cooked chicken curry,” clarifies Dikshit. Adding “He’s too nice and salutes to me every time he sees me. He’s always enthusiastic to come anywhere we want him to and says, ‘aapko kabhi bhi taxi chahiye, toh tell me’ (if you need a taxi, just let me know).” enthuse Dikshit laughing. 


Taxi Fabric has started a Kickstarter campaign to keep this idea alive, and are looking for contributions to their campaign. Learn more about the initiative and make donations here.

Follow them on Facebook here.

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Avinash Kumai
Avinash is a dreamer, a music connoisseur and is constantly seeking new things that catch his fancy. Enjoys the silence of his one-bedroom-apartment and loves cooking alone. He prefers genres like rock and blues, and is obsessed with what an instrument can do if it's in the right hands. His all time favourite jams are Comfortably Numb and...   Read more
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