Tariq’s path to New York City and taxi driving is about as circuitous as it gets.
Born in the Indian section of Kashmir, he traveled to Pakistan, lived and worked in the United Arab Emirates, France, Germany and Turkey before coming to New York for a visit in 1982. A friend persuaded him to stay.
Sometime between his travels, he married, had four kids, and got a job at a textile factory in Brooklyn. Ten years ago, the factory closed, and he started driving a cab.
“There are good opportunities in New York if you work hard,” Tariq said, “Some friends say there are no jobs. But I will always have a job. Any job.”
We were cruising uptown on First Avenue approaching 60th St. when I asked him about his favorite thing to eat.
“At home,” he said, “Home food is better. My wife cooks.”
Still, he takes his family out to dinner every so often: to Sahara Restaurant in Brooklyn, where the Turkish food reminds him of his time in Istanbul and Ankara.
Tariq is also a big fan of Curry in a Hurry on Lexington Ave., which was old news to me until he told me that it’s the only Indian-Pakistani restaurant in New York where he’s able to find achar (an Indian pickle with carrots, green chili, and ginger that’s marinated in oil for 15 days).
When his wife wants to make her own achar, she gets her ingredients at Eastern Fruit & Vegetable, Inc., a Kashmiri grocery store on Coney Island Ave.
The mood in the taxi shifted when I told Tariq I was a fan of Curry in a Hurry and that I planned to check out Sahara and Eastern Fruit. The cabbie’s eyes brightened. His shoulders dropped. He turned to look at me through the plexiglass partition.
I noticed the beads of sweat on his upper lip and asked him if he planned on staying in New York:
“I don’t know. If I ask my kids they tell me Dubai. They like school [there]. Nobody bother them. Now Muslim have problem in school [in New York].”
And does he have a problem in his cab?
“All the time,” he nodded with his whole body, “After September 11, people think the cabbie is a terrorist. When somebody doing something wrong, people thinks all Muslims…I understand. When somebody is asking too many questions, I can feel it. I don’t want to answer. Be quiet. No answer. No argue. But it’s OK. No problem. I understand.”
After Tariq dropped me off on the corner of 85th and 3rd., I was still wondering what was at the root of his understanding. Was it his family? His faith? His travels? Or was it something innate?
I don’t think I’ll ever figure out the answer, but at least I can taste his food.
Note: If you’re hungry, curious and in New York on Saturday at lunch time, you’re welcome to meet me at Sahara Restaurant and head over to check out the goodies at Eastern Fruit & Grocery afterwards. Send me an email if you’re interested and we can work out the details.