The roller coaster autorickshaw ride or the daily adventure — call it what you will.
A horde of vehicles flashed past. I made as if to run. Just then, a bus came from nowhere and blundered ahead, foiling my efforts. After about a minute of dilly-dallying, which appeared to me like hours, I dashed across the road, as if my life depended on it. Without stopping at the security entrance, I urged my legs to run faster. And even faster. And then finally! The moment I had been waiting for, finally arrived. I flashed a card at a device glowing red and beeping assent, making me feel as if I had just secured my entry into the FBI headquarters. Phew! But it was not 935 Pennsylvania Avenue. Welcome to a regular day of a regular week at work!
My friends often ask me, “Why don’t you take a cab or something?” My usual response is: “There are hardly any people coming from my end. Anyway, let’s see how long it lasts.”
Yes, I too am a proponent of the chalta hai movement. As long as it works, as far as it goes. Always pushing the envelope, always testing the limits. “You could bring a car, you know,” someone suggested. And spend an hour and a half staring at the ball of fire, turning red, green or orange, with my hands stuck to the steering wheel, switching between radio channels trying to locate one devoid of garrulous cranks trying to mobilise support for elections or selling products? Thank you, I’m fine. My friends fail to see my reasons for opting for public transport.
A nine-hour desk job involving sitting in front of the computer screen, letting the monitor radiation bore into my nearly empty head, is not exactly exciting. On the other hand, a bumpy roller coaster ride in a shared auto while eavesdropping on the conversations of the innocuous and unsuspecting passengers, who assume that no one would be interested in their lives (perhaps no one would, except crackpots like me) is the kind of thing that fires me up for the day. Although the clichéd corny old songs that mark the ambience of the vehicle warrant the use of cotton earplugs, they sort of provide a comic contrast to the severe and focussed attitude of the passengers, making me giggle into my shirt, providing much-needed jocular relief.
So, why wait for the weekend to shell out a precious bunch of notes to experience ‘adventure’ in a wonderland when there are ready-made amusement parks along the roads, what with speed breakers, potholes and construction sites; with autorickshaws and buses doubling up as roller coasters to give you the ultimate theme park experience every day?
Are you the daring and plucky sort? Well, that is even better since there are no safety precautions or security latches on these improvised swings. Come to think of it, the daily sprint before boarding the bus to the dash after alighting from it to the race between me and the steady competitor of time, to the punching machine of my office, actually ensures that I get a decent amount of exercise and helps keep me in shape.
Add to that the pleasure of anonymity it offers. No questions asked except ‘where to?’; no answers needed except a currency note with a photograph of the Mahatma printed on it. No uncomfortable conversations or vexing gossip, no exchange of plastic smiles or inane worldly goings-on. Just plain staring into space, dozing off or wondering about the lofty but useless ideals like the origin of man and the stars and the world…
For a potential flaneur, I can’t envisage a better start to the day. Especially for a woman, who has practically no chance of perambulation in the rape-stained society today, this method of flanerie is a blessing in disguise.
Can the sombre confined cab climate with a poker-faced driver and stuck-up crotchety cab-fellows match the vibrant, unpredictable motley of people, events and the atmosphere of the bus or autorickshaw? Add to that the exorbitant amount of monthly charges coupled with extra sops to be paid to the driver for change of timings or weekend travel, besides the walking out of a certain passenger or the clash of timings with some other, and the pros for public transport keep mounting. Did I forget to mention the recent sexual assault in a hired cab? But let us not grade cab service by a one-off mishap, because in that strain, one could cite the Nirbhaya episode that happened in a bus.
My family might not approve of my idea of adventure but in the face of drab desk life, paucity of time and limited opportunities for women to wander, this appears to be my best shot.