It’s the end of the line for the Padmini, the traditional Indian taxi based on the Fiat 1100D. Long relegated to the history books in Italy, their Indian counterparts still carry customers and recall the attention of tourists and nostalgic Mumbaikars, but their time left on the roads in limited. Little more than 8,000 still ply the roads, a far cry from the 63,000 in circulation at the end of the 1990’s. In those days, their black and yellow livery dominated the city streets. But now their destiny is certain: they will die off without a substitute. An environmental protection ordinance in the state of Maharashtra has banned taxis more than 25 years old from the roads, and their production ceased in 2008, when in any case very few were still being made. With the fading of the Padmini – the Sanksrit name of a 14th century Rajput princess – so goes a symbol of India’s first industrialization and a memory of post-colonial Mumbai.
Production began in 1964 under a Fiat license, and only in 1973 were they given the name Padmini to inaugurate the vehicles being built on the Premier Automobiles Limited production lines. Although the agreement between the two companies lasted only nine years, Mumbai’s signature taxi has always been recognized as a Fiat product. Its characteristics dovetail with the needs of a poor country embarking on the road to motorization. It was solid, durable, and required little maintenance. Weighing 900kg made it safe, although it occupied less space than the bulky Hindustan Ambassador, its primary rival in India’s big cities. It was the ideal solution for taxi drivers, their clients, and its administrators, which is why it has lasted through the years. Today it is being replaced with lighter, more eco-friendly models that meet the conditions for more modern applications, and its destiny is to be relegated to historic automobile races and retro-themed displays.
Along with the old taxi, other icons of old Mumbai are also disappearing. The textile factories have moved north, far from the excess of the city skyscrapers that have replaced them. The art deco buildings are being left to their own decadence- it’s easier to tear them down than to restore them. The neighborhoods next to the train station, with their specialized stores, are now seeing the rise of unprecedented shopping centers. The city of business, the new middle class, and the tourists that crowd the Taj Mahal Hotel all demand space and comfort. The charms of the past are now relegated to specific locales, to be visited with taxis other than the Padmini: newer, faster, and with air conditioning.