We are all used to taxi drivers demanding more than the metered fare. In fact we usually budget for it. However one is in for a pleasant and touching surprise when the only ‘extra demand’ made by the driver is that the passengers must plant a sapling each.
Dhananjay Chakraborty, a 40-year-old who drives a yellow Ambassador is the taxi driver we are talking about. He has cleverly installed a bed of real grass on the roof of his taxi along with eight potted plants placed on the tray behind the rear seat. The green interior goes well with his message of saving the environment and taking care of trees.
While he has always been close to nature, Dhananjay found his green calling more than a decade after he started driving a taxi. According to him, three years ago, he found an empty liquor bottle with a lovely shape in the back seat of my taxi at night. He put a money plant in the bottle and fixed it on the tray behind the rear seat. The plant survived and, within a few weeks, it was touching the edges of the rear window. Many passengers liked it; and that’s when he decided to plant more trees and ask others to do the same.
He has named his vehicle ‘Sabuj Rath’, which means ‘green chariot’ in Bengali. It has been quite a sight on the streets of Kolkata amid the humdrum and the heavy traffic. Dhananjay unveiled Sabuj Rath only a couple of weeks ago and has picked up quite a fan following since. The idea of the green roof came from a photograph of a taxi with a similar look that a friend of Dhananjay's had found on the internet. “He suggested that I try it, which I did,” smiled the proud driver of Kolkata’s first taxi with a mini-lawn on top.
Dhananjay taking pains to create Sabuj Rath (Facebook/Bapi Green Taxi)
The tray weighs around 65 kg. Its weight has been distributed equally across the green bed to ensure that the car roof isn't damaged. Its key feature is that the grass on top keeps the interior cooler than usual. This goes a long way for any passenger travelling within the city during the sweltering summer that Kolkata endures. The professional taxi driver of 14 years says that he takes pride in the fact that his taxi is a lot cooler than any other non-AC car.
The base of the green bed is made of metal. Dhananjay spread a layer of soil, white sand, stone chips and netting over the tray before planting the grass. There are tiny holes at the base of the tray to drain out any excess water.
Dhananjay has also decorated the taxi stand at Tollygunge Karunamoyee with flower pots and regularly distributes seeds and saplings to passengers and passersby who show interest in his taxi.
Dhananjay ‘watering’ his taxi (The Telegraph)
According to Dhananjay, he loved trees from childhood and participated regularly in plantation programmes of various organisations. He have noticed that trees are planted but nobody takes care of them and soon they wither away and die. So he decided to spread the message that trees must be planted and cared for; and wherever he travels in the city, he asks his passengers to do the same. His love for trees has resulted in his nickname, Bapi giving way to the rather leafy Gechho Bapi (‘tree-loving Bapi’). Such is his passion for the green cause that he has spent approximately Rs 22,000 on recreating his green taxi. This amount is equivalent to his average earning after working for a month-and-a-half.
Inside the Sabuj Rath (Bongodorshon)
Dhananjay doesn't own the taxi that has become the vehicle of his crusade as he was forced to sell his own taxi eight years ago to arrange funds for his treatment following an accident.
Amrish Singh, who owns the car, has known Dhananjay for a long time and respects his passion for the green cause. Amrish says that Dhananjay is one of the safest drivers around and also maintains the vehicle better than most. He is happy to be a part of his green cause.
Sayak Mitra, a regular passenger of Dhananjay’s, says that he considers him to be an environmental activist. According to Sayak, this taxi is like a mobile garden and getting into it is such a pleasant relief from the heat outside. Also, Bapi is very well-spoken and his cab is spotlessly clean. All these make for enjoyable taxi rides.
Dhananjay supporting his cause (Photo: Facebook/Bapi Green Taxi)
Dhananjay's is a green taxi in every sense. His unique endeavour hasn't stopped at turning his taxi into a green zone. He takes initiative to spread awareness about the cause by handing out leaflets to passengers and anyone curious enough to strike up a conversation with him. These leaflets contain small poems and sketches which he has himself created. The content relates to environmental preservation. The design for the leaflets was done by one of his passengers who went on to become his friend and contributor to his cause.
The excess weight of the tray increases his fuel consumption but he doesn’t mind. His cause is more important to him. Initially, he was ridiculed by his fellow taxi drivers; some thought he had lost his mind. Today, most of them are supportive of his initiative.
Environment activist Bonani Kakkar, on hearing about Dhananjay and his green taxi, says that Dhananjay seems to be a crazy person but maybe our society needs more crazy people like him.
Dhananjay has a Facebook account called ‘Bapi Green Taxi’ and his email ID is firstname.lastname@example.org, where passengers, well-wishers and supporters of his cause can write in with their thoughts, suggestions and pledges.
Lead image: The Telegraph