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Tariq on the corner of 3rd Ave & 85th St.
Tariq on the corner of 3rd Ave & 85th St.

Leads & Lessons from a Kashmiri Traveler

Tariq on the corner of 3rd Ave & 85th St.

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.

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3 comments

  1. My father used to drive a cab. The people in your blog are so real, which is perhaps why I enjoy reading your blog. My favorite story was on a guy named Tariq.

    You know the one that loves “Curry in a Hurry”.”Achar” I Was wondering if you could do another interview of him and a few others.

    • Hi Shelly,
      Thanks for your comment. I live in Berlin now, so I don’t think I’ll be able to do another interview with those NY cabbies anytime soon. But you’re right that follow-up definitely adds to the story. As for pictures, I ask every cabby I meet if they’ll let me take their photo, but not all of them are open to it, for privacy reasons.
      Best wishes and thanks for reading,
      Layne

  2. Forgot to mention, the pics of the cabbies makes your story very personable. Please include their pics as well.

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