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Friday, December 12, 2014

Some “Over-friendly” Auto-drivers in Delhi – A true incident

First published on Springtide on 12th December 2014

Perhaps it is not the right time to share what I faced in Delhi, not after “the Uber incident”. But then, there’s never a right time. And no matter what hour it is, reality is always the invincible truth.

I’ve been staying in Mumbai from the past one year. I’ve been to Delhi before, but from Mumbai my first visit would be only last week.

It was at around 4:45pm when I took a train from INA metro station to Kashmere Gate. I had to transport my luggage from my friend’s place at Yamuna Vihar to another friend’s place at Katwaria Sarai. It was my first evening there in Delhi and I did a quick imprecise calculation and assumed that I’d reach Katwaria Sarai after picking my luggage, at around 7:00pm.

I assumed that dusk would fall at around 7:00pm like it is the case in Mumbai.

I was a little disappointed to realize that by the time I reached Kashmere Gate it was almost dark although it was only around 5:30pm.

After being rejected by three auto-drivers, I finally found an auto-driver who was willing to take me to Yamuna Bihar, B Block with the condition that I should pay him 30 INR extra as he might not get a customer while returning. I told him I had to return back to the station and thus, the to-and-fro drive was fixed at 200 INR. I was quite happy that I saved a few 10-rupee notes.

The battery in my cell-phone had only 3% charge, and the faulty phone wasn’t even getting charged by the battery bank I was carrying. Opening Google maps on my phone was out of question.

I was also carrying a tab but I, the lazy person that I am, was feeling too tired to search my bag for my tab. I trusted the driver and almost dozed off in the backseat of the auto while he drove using his best judgment of the shortest of routes leading to Yamuna Vihar.

It was after a drive of five minutes or so, that I woke up from a very short nap and I realized that I should try to be alert from then on. I looked outside and it was a narrow road – definitely not a main road.

It was dark enough to scare me. The devil in my mind reminded me of the all the bad incidents that happened to girls and women who were found alone by rapists and muggers. I was reminded of the incident where an acquaintance of mine was raped at 8:00pm, who was picked from a crowded place by a taxi driver luring her by quoting a low-price for the drive.

I had mentally noted the number on the auto-rickshaw’s number plate before getting inside; so, I, in my fear, quickly sent the number to around three friends via Whatsapp. That moment, I was thankful to my faulty phone for not giving up the 3% battery it had.

Within a couple of minutes I realized the auto just stopped in the middle of that dark, narrow and deserted road.

My heart skipped a beat; I clenched my fist, I picked my bag and slid myself towards the exit to be able to run from the auto at the very next second.

Before jumping out, I gave the driver a last-chance and asked in an angry tone, “Why have you stopped it?”

He turned his head to look at me with a stupidly wide grin on his face as he spoke, “A cat just crossed the road.”

I was more scared than angry and I realized that even if I jumped out of the auto, there was not a single person on that narrow road to help me out of that mess.

In that tiny moment, I, the not-so-religious person, quickly muttered the name of God. I asked him, this time in a louder voice, “Move, now.”

He laughed a little and started driving; my heart was in my mouth until we reached the main road full of traffic again. By then I also had opened Google navigation on my tab.

It was when the driver started talking that I realized that he is constantly smiling. He was talking of superstitions such as the cat crossing a road might bring bad luck to the person who didn’t stop for a minute or two as the cat went. I was just uttering a “yes” in regular intervals as he talked; I just wished he stopped talking.

As we reached Yamuna vihar, a traffic jam blocked us so that no vehicle can move ahead towards Yamuna Vihar B Block. The path to return was jam-free.

I gave the driver a 100-rupee note and I instructed him to take a U-turn whenever he gets the chance to and wait for me near the traffic signal for the return journey while I’d walk towards my destination, which was hardly 500m far and get my luggage.

Somehow I misread the navigation on the tab and walked towards C block. I ditched technology and started asking women I found walking on the street, for directions.

I was warned the previous day that that area was not so safe for women, especially after dark. I was again not feeling very safe.

After asking here and there I finally found my friend’s house, I picked my luggage and then returned towards the signal. The jam was still there. There was not much space for even pedestrians to cross the road. I looked at my watch and it was already 7:30pm – almost half an hour gone in searching for the house and bringing the luggage. I doubted that the auto-driver would be there – he would either be stuck in the jam or he would have left via the free road.

I asked almost ten auto-drivers to take me back to Kashmere gate; all of them scorned my question by saying who would go anywhere in this jam. My baggage was heavy and I somehow crossed the road near the traffic signal, in the verge of breaking down into tears.

And then I saw the same auto-driver waiting near the signal for me, on the free road. My lips formed a genuine smile and I asked him if he wondered I have left. He replied to me with the same smile, the smile which now seemed quite innocent to me, and said, “Why would you?”

P.S. This is a true-incident which almost seems like a fairy-tale now that I look back at it. It may not be a big-deal for people who experience kindness and humanity every day. Neither do I intend to encourage such affairs nor to trust strangers. Safety first, always. But some men, some auto-drivers, may be simply misunderstood. Needless to say, he drove me back safe to Kashmere metro station and I paid him a little more because in that helpless moment of mine he restored my faith on humanity.