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  • Aditi Surie

‘Uber-ed: Bengaluru’s platform economy and urban subjectivities

Updated: Sep 15, 2019

Mukul Kesavan and I decode popular narratives around platform drivers in India.

I hosted a public conversation with Mukul at City Scripts 2018 around questions that are becoming increasingly important for the future of the city, for the future of work and of workers. These questions brought together insights from years of my research into the platform economy with Mukul's moral imagination that are valuable in decoding the future of life to come.

I've always loved reading Mukul Kesavan's public writing. It always displays a curiosity and intuition. I found his insights in 2016 article on the NDTV Blog on the mark when brought out how unfair the Indian consumer public's reaction to a popularly critiqued aspect of mobility platforms - surge pricing. Dynamic fares for cab rides has peeved off consumers and many governments around India. Mukul brought out how the perception of unfairness didn't echo through to other kinds of public transport we are used to in our cities. Autorickshaws are notoriously known to up the fare at peak traffic time, during the monsoon, at night, in under serviced neighborhoods. Drivers are cursed, yelled at, and demeaned most often in response. Mukul points out the hypocrisy in his NDTV blog,

"So, the argument goes, auto-drivers ought to be allowed surge-pricing as long as they are agents of aggregators. Once they are assimilated into the algorithm, they become part of a surge-priced solution, whereas alone they are merely perverse malcontents."

He notes in our conversation,

"Uber has transformed middle class lives in India...[giving us] a sense of predictability and security in a city like New Delhi...In the Indian imagination,...there is a magical perfection to the way it works leaving us feeling incredulous. Then, which leads me to think there must be wrong with something that appears so good. It changes sociability in the city, how we respond to service providers."

Watch more here:

City Scripts at IIHS

With a commitment to catalysing discourse around urban issues in the global south, IIHS envisaged CityScripts – a three-day celebration of city writings. Since 2016, the festival has brought together eminent authors, journalists, architects, poets, artists and others, and centre-staged writing of various kinds through conversations, readings, panel discussions and workshops. City Scripts 2018 will build on these conversations through different modes of engagement including masterclasses, walks, poetry sessions, live art and installations, panel discussions and workshops.

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