Farewell Princess: Documenting Mumbai’s Iconic Taxicabs

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For foreigners visiting India, one of the most visible markers of change in the past few decades has been cars. From a time when just two models ruled the highway, the country now has an endless variety of automobiles. Still, a part of the soul fondly clings to those simpler times.

It remembers the Hindustan Ambassador, the plain-looking giant that dominated the market in every corner of India with one prominent exception – Mumbai.

In India’s most modern, urbane and glitzy metro, the preferred vehicle of the cashed-up (for, only they could afford them) was the svelte Premier Padmini. Introduced in 1964, and at first marketed as Fiat 1100, the car was rechristened after Rani Padmini of Chittor in the 1970s.

The Padmini or the “Pad” was, in many ways, a technological herald, prefiguring a day when the country would prefer consumer choice, style and design sense above socialist planning and policy.

As it happened, as the millennium turned, the beloved Padmini too had to make way for others. Its factory was shut down, swept aside by a flood of Fords, Hyundais and BMWs.

In Mumbai, the taxi industry kept their fleets of Indianised Fiats rolling despite the shifts of time. Now it too is moving away from the Padmini.

The city fathers, according to Bob Dylan, once endorsed Paul Revere’s horse. But in Mumbai, their counterparts have legislated against the Princess. Like the sun setting into the Arabian Sea, the day of the Padmini is over.

Markku Lahdeshmaki, a Finnish photographer from Los Angeles, had the chance to come to India on assignment in 2011. “I was so excited,” he remembered, “I had been waiting to travel to India.”

His mission was to photograph solar fields for a large New York financial company. Which he did. But, as is his wont, he tacked on three days to the overseas professional assignment for personal work. With so many potential options in such a vast country, Markku wondered what he could focus on. And then, he found his subject – the Padmini.

Camera Indica caught up with Markku through Skype to chat about his wonderful project Mumbai Taxi Company. Though the project was completed in 2012, many of the images in this article are being published for the first time. [My original article with images]

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