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A nerve-wracking journey ‘shared’ with a stranger and a gentleman

In Delhi, it was not very long ago when autorickshaws were the more preferred mode of conveyance, cheaper and convenient. “OlaShare” and “Uberpool” had not started competing.

One evening I’d been waiting for quarter of an hour hoping to hitch an auto ride for my meeting, for which I was late. Having suffered eight rejections, I was fluttering my arm at the next one. To my surprise, it stopped! I scampered towards it and came to a surprise halt on noticing a man already in the passenger seat. In mid-sentence, confused and disappointed I started stepping back. But the driver said he was going a certain direction to drop the man on board and I could “share” if I wanted to go in the same direction. I was heading in the same direction, the co-passenger’s destination would require only a small detour; but given another unknown person on board, I was sceptical.

Then I agreed. But before the agreement nod came, my brain did a quick matrix move. The Google map of my brain scanned the route — yes, I knew all the roads, the skyline told me it was still 15 minutes to darkness and the driver and co-passenger both “seemed to be decent”. I would comfortably make it under 15 minutes. I hopped on. The co-passenger shifted into the farther end and I sat on mine.

After driving for a kilometre, the driver and the co-passenger started conversing in a certain dialect of Hindi which I could not comprehend properly. It seemed they knew each other.

I instantly became extra-attentive and extra-cautious. Then the auto took a few turns and I was on unknown roads and unfamiliar localities. I would be lying if I said I hadn’t started getting worried. Darkness had fallen and my expected time of arrival at my destination had exceeded. Alas, the estimation arrived at by my brain’s route map and interpretation of the skyline had gone awry. Had looks also deceived me?

With rising anxiety levels, I shifted levers like a pilot, from a relaxed automated mode to a panic-stricken manual mode — I turned on the GPS and engaged in a mechanical telephonic conversation with a friend while perched at the edge of the seat in discomfort, slightly nudging outwards. The co-passenger seemed to be unfazed, looking out on the other side.

Finally, he spoke in understandable Hindi, asking for the auto to be stopped near a lane. The driver insisted on dropping him at his doorstep, but he replied, “There might be some unruly men in the lane. Dropping here would be best.” I wouldn’t know because I was too occupied with relief.

After paying, the co-passenger turned towards me and politely said, “Ma’am, I’m sorry I made you feel so uneasy and unsafe. That was never my intention. I’m sure your worries stemmed from justifiable reasons and I apologise. I’m ashamed that “we” men have committed such terrible crimes that women are bound to keep their guard up at all times. Today I understand what my mother, sister and girlfriend might have felt on so many occasions and the worry I have for them when they use shared modes of conveyance.” I was simply dumbfounded.

Struggling for words

The man, upon explaining the directions to me added that the auto-driver had been his permanent driver and was a good man. As I sat there struggling for words, he assured me I would be dropped safely. Sorry and thank-you only found expression in gaping like a goldfish as the auto sped off, leaving gratitude and apology stuck in the throat.

At that time, on that day, I thought I was the only person ill at ease. I was wrong. That made two of us. I questioned myself: was there a need for the man to apologise to me? No. He could’ve just walked off, or maybe given me a piece of his mind on how I was over-reacting and being judgmental. Then why was he tendering me an apology and an explanation? I think it’s because he was indeed a very respectable man and his graciousness was indeed remarkable. Seldom do we find people who not only empathise but also take the whole world’s blame upon themselves and apologise.

Should I call it compassion, or should I consider this a one-off event and never let my guard down? I suppose I’ll perpetually be entangled in this fight between trusting people to be righteous versus constant scepticism. It made me realise that in this day and age where we are so quick to question the motives of a man, I must also be more compassionate and be forever grateful towards my fellow-travellers for their support. Since then, I’ve met some interesting people and made some wonderful friends.

senjuti.mallick@gmail.com

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Printable version | Feb 23, 2020 9:17:33 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/A-nerve-wracking-journey-%E2%80%98shared%E2%80%99-with-a-stranger-and-a-gentleman/article17014371.ece

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