It was Saturday and I left my office a bit late at 8 pm. I have full day office on Saturdays as well and that day was very busy and hectic. On top of that, Mom kept on calling me and reminding me to leave the office soon before it gets late.
“Kirti, do come home early. It is Saturday; there will not be much crowd.
Mumbai is not safe for woman to travel late,” she said, in worried voice.
I ridiculed her worries and assured her that I will leave office as soon as I finish my pending work. As I promised, I left office soon after my work was finished. Tired to walk, I hired a cab from my office till Dadar station, which was the nearest station from where I could catch a train to Kalyan.
When I reached Dadar station, I found it unusually deserted, which is a very rare thing. I thought, it might be because it is a weekend and I was late to
leave the office.
I usually leave office by 6 PM, which is the peak hour where Mumbai locals and stations are crowded than ever. Moreover, these are the hours when we feel safe while travelling. Looking at the deserted station, I felt restless.
Don’t worry. Kalyan trains come after every 10 minutes. I won’t have to wait here for long. I reassured myself. I had a monthly railway pass, so without wasting any time I walked briskly towards platform no. 4 to catch a fast train to Kalyan. The indicator on platform No. 4 displayed 8:24 pm Dombivali train.
Dombivali station comes before Kalyan, so this train was of no use to me, as I would had have to catch a Kalyan train again from Dombivali station. So, I decided to catch the train which was scheduled after Dombivali. As there was still a few minutes left for train to arrive on platform, I walked to central ladies at my own pace. While walking, I heard heavy footsteps coming from behind.
As an instant reaction, I turned my head to check who it was, trying to make it look casual. A man in his late twenties, with dusty and torn clothes on his body was walking just behind me. He looked filthy and it gave a feeling, as he might not have bathed for a week or so. He gave a dirty smile and winked at me.
Disgusted, I increased my pace and did not stop until I reached middle ladies. Unfortunately, there were only two ladies on the platform at that time. I stood besides them as a safety measure, but my focus was on the disgusting man who was still following me.
He stopped about fifteen steps away from me, but his eyes were still on me. I felt uneasy by his sordid gaze as he scanned me from head to toe.
What should I do now? was Was the question I kept repeating to myself.
Then the announcement was made and Dombivali train arrived on platform. The two ladies, near whom I was standing, boarded in the train quickly. That left me alone on the platform, with that filthy man.
I made a quick decision and lurched in the Dombivali train without giving it a second thought. At that point, I just wanted to go to some safe place and for
me Dombivali train was safest, as it would take me away from that man’s dirty gaze.
I was relieved when the train left the station, leaving behind my fears.
I decided to get down at Vikrohli station and catch Kalyan train that was scheduled right after this train. I expected Vikroli station would be crowded and thus it would be safe to wait there. Getting off from the train on at Vikhroli station, I stood at same platform to catch the next train.
Unlike my expectation, Vikhroli station was also less crowded at that time. However, I was relaxed, as the next train was expected to arrive in minute or so. I stood there with my arms folded and tapping my right foot, impatiently waiting for the train to arrive.
All of sudden, a cold hand grabbed my left shoulder. I jumped in horror and turned to see the same sickening man standing right behind me. For few seconds, I kept staring at him in horror, unable to understand how he managed to come here. He must have followed me through train to Vikhroli station, was my initial thought. He was looking at me with his hungry yellow eyes.
I looked around for help, but the platform was deserted. There was hardly anyone on the platform. I spotted few people, far away, waiting for train. I started walking in that direction, with a hope of getting some help.
The stalker followed me and to my surprise he yanked my right hand and growled “Stop!!” Astonished by his fearless act, I stood there trembling in fear. My brain said Shout for help!! but I was so terrorized that my vocal cords failed to produce any sound. His grip tightened on my hand.
“Do not shout! Just come with me,” he barked.
I felt dizzy on his touch and his image. My head was already spinning in anguish. It was then; Kalyan train arrived on the platform. I knew this was the only escape point and I have to make it at any cost. Mustering some courage, I gripped my handbag tight in my other hand. And with a sudden lurch, I hit his face with my handbag. He growled in pain and his grip loosened, giving me chance to escape and board the train. Before he knew anything, I was in ladies compartment and the train was already in motion.
When the train left Vikhroli platform, I rubbed my hand in disgust with an attempt to clean his dirty touch.
This time I did not wanted to take any chances, as he might be there on the next platform. I walked inside the ladies compartment and sat beside a lady in
green sari. The train was not crowded, leaving enough vacant benches for me to sit.
But I preferred to sit beside a lady, as sitting alone made me shudder in fear. The lady who was sitting next to me was in her late forties with pleasing personality.
“Aunty, where are you getting down?” I asked her.
She smiled and replied “Kalyan.”
I gave a sigh of relief on hearing ‘Kalyan’.
Finally, I had someone with me till Kalyan. “Aunty, please stay with me till Kalyan,” I said in shaky voice.
Sensing my restlessness, she asked,
“What happened?” I decided to tell her everything what I experienced just now.
“There is one man who is following me and on Vikhroli station he grabbed my hand. I doubt he is following me again,” I babbled, in anxiety.
The lady’s face changed on hearing my problem. Holding my hand, she said, “Don’t worry. If he follows, we will complain to police on Kalyan station. I will come with you.”
Her words were enough for me to cool down. I pulled out my cell phone from my bag and called my dad. I requested him to come to Kalyan station to
receive me. The reason I gave was different from the actual one.
I said it was late and I wanted a company to come back home. He agreed without questioning me on this any further. I decided not to tell my parents about this incident until I reached home.
All along the journey from Vikhroli to Kalyan station, I replayed the incident in my mind. I flinched every time his image flashed in my mind. I
didn’t even wanted to think of what would have happened, if Kalyan train would have not arrived on time. Mom’s words lingered in my mind ‘Mumbai is not safe for woman to travel so late.’ It was then I realized that she was right.
When the train arrived at Kalyan station, my heartbeats fastened in fright. I started imagining the stalker to spring in front of me any time and grab my hand again. As I got down from train, I scanned the entire platform with my uneasy eyes. The stalker was no where to be seen. Finally, I came to conclusion that he is no more following me.
“Thank you, Aunty,” I said to the lady, who supported me. “No problem. This can happen to my daughter as well. I very well understand what all things young girls go through on railway platforms,” she said in soft tone.
“This was the worst experience I had until now,” I muttered. “Are you sure he is not here? We can still go and complain the police,” she said briskly. Scanning the platform again, I made sure he was not there.
“No, he is not here. So there is no point in complaining now,” I replied. “And I have called my dad. He is waiting outside for me.”
Giving a small pat on my cheek, she said, “Take care and go home safe.” And without any further word she left. I stood there for few seconds looking at the angelic figure going away.
Without wasting any further time, I walked outside the railway station to find dad. I spotted him standing beside the rickshaw stand, occasionally
checking time on his wristwatch.
As soon as I saw him, I was not able to hold back my tears. Sensing my mood, he came running in my direction.
“What happened? Why are you crying? Is everything alright?” he bombarded me with questions.
“Nothing dad, everything is fine,” I assured him.
“Okay, let’s go home first. We will talk about this later,” he said and gestured one of the vacant rickshaw to come forward.
Wiping my tears, I sat in the rickshaw with my dad besides me. I knew he was worried, but he tried to keep his calm. We did not talk anything while we
were in the rickshaw. This gave me time to think of what happened and how it affected my mind.
How come that stalker gathered so much courage to hold a girl’s hand? This question was bugging me. If he did this to me, then must be doing this to many other girls. And there are still many such stalkers roaming around in the Mumbai. How can we protect our self from them? I wondered and kept on wondering.
The first thing I did the next morning was to put a packet of red chilli powder in my handbag. One lesson I learnt that day was ‘Better be safe than sorry.’