My mother never let me take a rick until I was 15. She’d tell me how people get taken away and raped in ricks. Like this was standard procedure. This wasn’t the occasional remark either. This rick-rape was drilled into my fragile eggshell brain until it cracked.
She didn’t let me cross the road alone until I was 12. In case I got hit by a truck. Like that too, was standard procedure. This is why I came to the strong belief that she only had two kids so one would be a back up if the other died. (Although this is my theory about why all people have more than one child, a genetic back-up as it were)
The sum result of all this conditioning is that now I have a high level of anxiety when traveling alone at night in Bombay. It doesn’t even have to be particularly late. (I can’t drive yet, and I’ve been in London so long there never seemed to be any point in learning. I can barely afford public transport, much less a car)
After 10pm I start feeling a slight anxiety but it’s still OK, 10 pm isn’t really late. At around 11:00-11:30pm there’s a knot right at the pit of my stomach. I make sure I watch the road incase he tries and leads me down some dead-end alley. After 12 I’m gripping the side of the rick and planning escapes.
One of R.’s friends was telling us a story about how when she was 3 she got lost and now every time she gets lost (if she is driving) she cries. Or if she’s stuck in traffic for ages, she cries. At the time this sounded a bit bonkers, but on reflection I’m very nearly crying when stressed.
So I’m standing with my mother at around 7:30-8:00pm on some hole of a street in Bandra, she’s on her way to Tango classes and I’m on my way to R. classes of smoking.
We find a taxi after 30 minutes of waiting. He’s a young guy. My mom says,
“Hmmmm he looks a bit young….”
But I get in because there are no other taxis around and we have been waiting for ages. I ask him to take me to Worli Naka by the Sea Link. He has to ask another cab for directions. This ought to have been my cue to ditch this cab, but I didn’t. He drove jerkily, slowly and stalling occasionally. This also ought to have been my cue to ditch this cab, but I didn’t.
He kept asking guys in passing ricks and taxis for directions. Go straight they said, and then turn left. I had to stop him from turning after every straight and left. Then he tries to go up on the highway to Pune. I started to wish I could ditch this cab, but I couldn’t.
Then he goes up on the right ramp to the Sea Link at last. I breathe deeply. Now how can he possibly get lost? After 5 minutes I notice he’s taken the exit lane on the right and is going back to where we started.
My mother calls to check up on me;
“Where are you now?”
“This guy can’t drive. He’s on the sea link and has just taken a full chakkar around”
She immediately goes into hysterics;
“GIVE ME THE CAB NUMBER! YOU’RE GOING TO GET RAPED!! HE WILL TAKE YOU AWAY AND RAPE YOU!!! GIVE ME THE CAB NUMBER! PASS HIM THE PHONE!! YOU CAN’T GET OUT OF THE CAB! YOU CAN’T GET OUT OF THE CAB ON THE HIGHWAY!! LISTEN TO ME!! YOU WILL GET RAPED!!”
Do you see why I have anxiety? This is hardly helpful.
I insist I am getting out of this cab, he is fundamentally useless and he can’t even drive. I refuse to even try to take him to Shazu’s house. I don’t know the way and this guy knows even less than me. It is my long-standing belief that at least one person in a moving vehicle ought to know something and I no longer expect this fool of a U.P.ite bhaiya, who left his farm the day-before-yesterday to learn how to drive, to know the streets of Bombay.
My mother forces me to go to Lilavati Hospital by screaming about rape and calling every 5 minutes.
“Mom! I can’t concentrate on anything if you keep calling! I have to get out of this cab! He doesn’t know anything! Fine!! I’ll stop at Lilavati Ok? I’m not going anywhere! We’re stuck in traffic!!”
R. calls to ask me where the hell I am. She tells me I might not get a cab at Lilavati. I insist I am ditching this cab. Shazu calls to tell me he will speak to the cabbie, I say no I am getting out of this cab. Shazu tells me I might not get a cab at Lilavati. I insist I am getting out of this cab. Then I hang up.
So I’m stuck in non-moving traffic on the road to Lilavati for 30 minutes. I could have just hopped out across the road but the taxi was on the right and it could have been awkward. My mother was frantic by this point and it was only 8:00pm. It was maddening, I wanted to cry. Instead I yelled at this cabbie in my fuck-all broken hindi. Why did he waste my time if he doesn’t know where he was going?
I also wished I was someone who could speak better hindi only so I could give galis in a proper, legit way. Like R. or J. or a fisherwoman
Then, to add insult to injury, I even had to pay him.