Commuting Unchaperoned

Rape Taxi

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;


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.



22 thoughts on “Commuting Unchaperoned

  1. Nice build up, i could feel the tension with the frantic phonecall, then the despair and the sense of impending violation, but then totall let down with the ending.

    Got me self worked up for nuthing.

    P.S watch Irreversable

  2. Yesterday I was walking from my place to Alfredo’s (a 5-8 minute walk) and she wanted me to call her when I got there.

    I didn’t call because i don’t want to encourage her.

    So she called anyway and told me I was too firangi looking and I’ll get put in a van and taken away.

  3. I absolutely love your blogs! They are so quirky, clever and funny! Was great seeing you on Christmas day… Would love to catch up when I’m in London next. Is Leo in London too?

  4. J, that is so stressful! Also, I am not sure your mother’s hysteria is helping with your anxiety. Thanks for pointing me to this post, it was a good read. I have hopes to travel in India this next year when I am back in SE Asia. I would love to hear some do’s and don’ts from you before I go. 🙂

    I know an American woman who was traveling there whose cab was taking her and her female traveling companion the wrong way out of town. The driver stopped and picked up another sketchy fellow, who as it turned out had a gun! But when they finally stopped she beat the shit out of both of them, threw the gun in a field, and stole the cab driving like a bat out of hell back to town.

    People I know seem to have really mixed experiences with traveling in India. Most of my female friends who have done it say it is pretty difficult. But I also know a lot of people who enjoy traveling in India. What do you think?

    • Well I can’t say I’m an experienced traveller by any means, I’ve only travelled a bit and that too with my folks and the one time I’ve travelled with just friends (very rarely since i left at 18) on a road trip something icky has happened (it was a 16 hr bus to goa & some guy behind my seat was trying it on all night. creepy. I couldn’t sleep.)

      I don’t know if it happens to me more because I look like a bimbo or because I’m slightly fairer and look like a foreigner. (The general male attitude is that foreigners are sluts or easy or some such rubbish.)

      One thing I personally would never ever do is travel alone in India. Some people can do it and not be anxious but I couldn’t.

      Some obvious no-nos are camping just out in the open on your own. You need to organise things in advance. I think being sensible and a little paranoid will go a long way.

      I can put you in touch with a friend who can advise you better as he is a seasoned traveller (and indian) but he is also extremely flippant and clueless about safety. Before the whole rape thing blew up he was in total denial about the issue. Indian males don’t get it as much, and its easy for them, never experiencing it to dismiss the small incidents that happen daily as ‘normal’. But perhaps he can advise you better as a dude travelling alone.

      I’m sure I’m not selling my country, but you need to be aware. Then you will have an awesome trip.

      As a general rule i’ve found
      Mixed group of male + females = no real problems.
      Group of females only = as long as its a group its fine or the incidents are minor
      Male + female couple = maybe might have some problems. It depends on context and situation. Mostly you’ll be fine.
      Female alone = Be a little wary. You’ll be fine i’m sure, but just be aware.

    • man that cab story is amazing though. I’m damn impressed with this lady and her friend. they did good!

      I’m glad it had a happy ending. I’ve heard so many different variations of that story from friends and acquaintance. Most of them had happy endings, one got raped 😦

  5. J– I appreciate your honesty about traveling in India. That’s too bad you had a creep trying to creep on you on the bus to goa… That kind of experience can really stick with a person. I understand, too. If you and your friends were excitedly planning a walking tour of the south Bronx in NYC I would probably have some strong opinions about it, too.

    How do foreign men like me generally do traveling alone in India? One male friend of mine was groped by a creep in public at night. No thanks! But then a friend of mine (an older woman in her sixties)just arrived back from months in India with her twenty-something daughter and had nothing but a wonderful time. It’s confusing because it is so inconsistent…

    Do you ever travel with friends when you are home? Do your parents or brother travel much?

    I try to stay vigilant when I am traveling alone, but I prefer to travel with another person at least so I don’t have to always be “on” and totally aware. That can get tiring. It’s funny that you say you look like a bimbo– is that just because you dress in western clothing that men make assumptions about you? Anyway, thank you so much for such a thorough response. Happy drawing!

    • yeah i’m not an experienced traveller so admittedly my perspective is a little off, but bad things dont always happen so dont worry, and although there might occasionally be off- things that happen its part of an adventure of travelling (so i’m told).

      I havent been travelling in india for ages now, i usually only can come down once a year and then i like to stay home since i’m hardly home. or i may go on holiday with my parents and there isn’t the backpacking type thing that usually happens and in a group esp family groups as i said there isn’t the same issues at all.

      Foreign men do just fine. you’ll make friends. if you are with someone thats also pretty good. i dont think your friend’s groping incident will happen too often if at all. so dont worry.

      if you want i can put you in touch with better advisors than me? who are less paranoid and chicken 🙂

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