A Road Side Horror Show

Desolately, the daily newspaper reports on fresh rape and molestation crimes in India’s capital city do not come as a blow to me. Until last week, I was well placed in a position where I stood on an illusionary podium and unrealistically judged the victim’s circumstances. Today, whenever my eyes capture parallel news anywhere, two images rush through my mind – the paranoid man from whose dreadful clutches I escaped unhurt and the cold, callous public apathy in Delhi.

On April 28, I myself experienced the most unexpected and undesirable moments in the life of any woman. The day officially drew curtains on my second year in college as a student of Political Science. Though my desperation for my summer break finally saw the light of the day, I was beginning to feel slightly disheartened because I was going to miss some of the subjects launched in the previous academic year, which I zealously explored beyond the lecture classes. After a sumptuous lunch with my friends at an astonishingly low-priced restaurant, I left for the British Council Library wishing them joyful holidays. Due to my broken Hindi, a ride in an auto rickshaw often costs me more than the usual, but my conversation with the chauffeurs of this public transport vehicles are forever exciting. A similar ride was less exciting on that fateful day as the scorching summer sun was in no mood to spare me. It was like reaching North Pole when I landed up at BCL. I had a lot of backlog to fill in. I was not following any news except for American presidential race for twenty days. It did not take me more than two hours to leave BCL as Eric Hobsbawm and Joseph Stiglitz were sincerely waiting for me to be picked up from the shelves. Even as the needles on my watch had moved beyond 3 pm.,the sun over me was unwilling to bestow some respite from its boiling heat. The four-wheeler public transport system is the one that I make conscious attempts to avoid for various reasons. If resorting to them any day is inevitable, then I atleast try reducing the never-ending hours I am forced to spend in buses. Therefore, on that day, as per my usual routine, I took an auto to Maharani Bagh bus stand. Little did I know then that my journey back home in Noida was going to be the most terrorising and testing moments were lying ahead of me. As I could not hold my temptation to read through Hobsbawm’s words when I got out from the auto, I failed to spot the signals of a forthcoming danger.

It was good five minutes after waiting on the bus stand that I noticed something. There were very few passengers at the bus stand during the busiest hours of the day, especially women. I simply refused to observe the surrounding because most of the times I see someone spitting and giving me a scornful look that screams into my ears that I may not be spared for yet another time if I decide to stand still on the same spot. I pretend to be the stoic and stubborn teenage girl no one has ever seen. The easiest way to do so is to ignore anyone around you but at one’s discretion. Wait a minute! I would now think twice before daring to follow my standard norm.

I was passionately reading Hobsbawm holding the summer hero, the Sun and the widening sex gap in the country responsible for the few female representation on the bus stand. I could not suspect a man’s red eyes to be a cause for the same. I turned to the next page when a girl in a white kurta came very close to me as if she was hiding herself from someone. Even before I could enquire if she required my help, she quickly jumped to a bus that came by. Did she climb into that bus to save herself? Even now I am not sure. At that time I was relieved that she was out of some trouble if she was in one and moreover, I could restrict myself from taking any risk. My eyes were rightfully placed on the book when another girl in a red T-shirt ran across from me to her friends. I finally spotted the danger. A young man with half burned body and face with barbed wires tied to his left hand was following girls carrying an eerie smile on his face trying to harm them. I was at awe to see the public apathy. Neither the passengers waiting at the bus stand nor the folks around the area were anxious. The girls were on phone probably making frantic calls for help. I was not on phone that day. Though my heart started beating twice the normal speed, I managed to wear a courageous smile on my face. Armed without a Swiss knife or a pepper spray, the panic button within me got pressed hard.

When an auto driver remonstrated, the attacker furiously turned to the glasses of his vehicle. On being cowed by the auto drivers, the paranoid man moved away. All this while I was wrecking my nerves to save myself from being marred by the attacker. I steadily moved to the other side of the bus stand, trying to evade from his sight. By then, the girl in the red T-shirt and her friends had escaped in the auto. The attacker was nowhere to be seen. Every minute of my wait was precious for my life. My attention soon turned to the lines where Hobsbawn spoke on the erstwhile Communism in East Europe. Before I finished the seventh line I saw the attacker slowly approaching me with an uncanny smile and red eyes. I closed the book and stared at the man for a second unable to settle on how to react to his advances that was certain to physically twinge me. Running away would be a coward’s act and moreover it would add to the entertainment that the civilized spectators around me were seeking pleasure from. I waited the attacker to approach me with the only weapon – my heavy bag. Now I wonder where in the world I got the mettle to stand strong enough to single-handedly defy my opponent. Then suddenly, I heard someone calling out to me. The voice was familiar “Madamji”. It was the auto driver near my residence in Noida. Not waiting to say or see anything, I swiftly got in. I turned back to realise that the attacker was just a step away. His irritation was vivid on his face. He then laughed aloud celebrating his victory. Ironically he needs to thank the indifferent public who served his purpose better.

The auto driver smelled something wrong. He missed my usual dialogue, “Hello Sir, how are you?” So I politely smiled and enquired about his well being. Gradually opening the page of the book I made a studied effort to concentrate on the words but they were overshadowed with the image of the attacker. It was thirty minutes past four in the evening when I reached home. After a shower I lay down on the couch imagining of what could have happened to women who might have unknowingly come to the bus stand. I have never seen this man before though I frequent this bus stand. He could have moved to the dark by evening. The image that immediately flashed in my mind was of the girl children who reside in slums and squatter settlements. The disturbing images of their plight and the apathy of people in Delhi remained in my mind all through the night. I was well aware of the fact that I cannot expect anyone to be my saviour when I am in trouble. Probably that prevented me from losing my sense and screaming for assistance. Another trip to a bus stand would certainly have me armed with a knife and a pepper spray, if not to help myself but to save other women.

Annapoorna Karthika

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