The taxi driver

1 montage + 1 audio

Esan has been driving passengers around Jaffna in his trusty Morris Oxford for nearly twenty years. He remembers the times of scarcity following government embargoes on fuel and the need to adapt to survive. Photography by Kannan Arunasalam.

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  • Kannan Arunasalam says:

    Whenever I visit Jaffna, I hire Esan as my driver. His trusty Morris Oxford has not just helped him make a living, but also helped his passengers to survive the war. Esan told me how he once took twenty people in his Morris Oxford to safety during the embargo of the 1990s.

    These days Japanese vans and super bikes are common in Jaffna, but it’s the classic British cars that have caught my eye as they rattled along the pockmarked, dusty roads. Despite the often bumpy ride in these cars, you quickly ease into the gentle pace of Jaffna life.

    I saw elegant Morris Oxfords, the Austin Cambridge and the Morris Minors. If you’re lucky you might spot the rarer Austin A40, popular it seemed with temple priests and their entourage. These cars handle the war beaten roads remarkably well and Esan insists that the more modern Japanese cars are useless on these roads.

    But there was another quality that distinguished these British cars from the newer Japanese ones: adapting their engines or making spare parts out of scrap iron was easier with the Austin and the Morris models of cars. They engines could also be converted to run differently. With restrictions on fuel and engine oil, Esan and other drivers experimented with alternatives. Kerosene was more freely available and quickly became the main substitute to petrol. And when engine oil was in short supply, the mechanics and cab drivers experimented with all kinds of household oils. It seemed that not even the embargo on fuel or the war beaten roads could stop these cars running.

    Cab drivers are usually keen to strike up a conversation with their passengers and often difficult to shut up. But Esan is quiet and cool. When I asked him how he coped during the days of scarcity as a cab driver, he said he owed everything to these “lucky cars”, and played down his role in helping the people of Jaffna. I quickly realised that Esan and these cars were both survivors and Jaffna’s local heroes.

    Reply
  • (@iam_project) (@iam_project) says:

    Doha bound for the Aljazeera documentary festival where the short film ‘Kerosene’ is going to be screened, featuring Esan http://iam.lk/the-taxi-driver from series one

    Reply

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