There is no point in sitting in this bus. I will be stuck here for another two or three hours.
I cursed the vice president, I cursed the traffic, I cursed the narrow roads and then I became more sensible and cursed myself.
Then I got off the bus.
When it comes to taking a short cut, I always mess up. I have lived in this city a full three decades and I know all the lanes, bye lanes and dead ends. I know which route is crowded and on which day, which time.
Still, all my knowledge is of no use when there is a traffic restriction in the city. Recently, those from the top at the north have taken a fancy to this city. And I have missed several appointments and received so much of shouting from not only those above me, from those around me as well.
They don’t wait for donkeys, so we do, old joke.
I got out of the bus and hailed an autorikshaw but had second thoughts the way its driver dodged through the thick traffic, abusing those who were on his way and halted near me, with the rattling thing almost upending.
He gave me a glaring look and I got into the torn and oily back seat unwillingly and told him I want to reach the railway station in half an hour, expecting him to shower abuses at me. No one can do it.
But, he changed his gear and took a sharp turn. I closed my eyes and thought he would have done the same too.
We entered a narrow road and then I lost all my sense of direction. Like he was prompted by telepathy, the driver turned back and told me his plan of action. He sounded like the waiter in some cheap vegetarian hotel repeating the menu. I did what I had done on all those occasions. I shook my head.
The ride was really bumpy and he was focused on the curvy road. I tried to relax.
From some narrow lane I was not familiar with we emerged into the main road. God, we won’t make it in time.
Reading my thoughts he asked me not to worry. I don’t believe in prayers. Still I prayed.
We were close to the foot path and I saw a couple, a young man and an old girl walking a few feet in front of us. The driver turned around suddenly and caught my eye. I felt a little nervous.
We caught up with them. They stopped on the foot path and we stopped at the signal. I focused on the numbers on the LCD board.
18, 17, 16, 15, 14
“They are married. At least the girl is married.”
“What did you say?”
“Those ones over there are married.”
We zipped forward.
Without turning back much, he went on.
“There is a difference the way girls walk when they grow from childhood to womanhood. When girls are young they walk, you know, like dancing. Then after puberty, they walk like they are holding something between their thighs. After marriage, they are not bothered. They just walk. Especially when they are with their husbands. You know what they think? Anyway it is obvious I am with my man, then why should I pretend. Hahahhah”
I thought about it. As youngsters we had our own theories of how to tell between a married couple and those who are just in love. If they are looking at each other when they talk, they are not yet married. If they don’t look at each other when they talk, they are recently married and if they are looking around, they have been married a long time and had enough of it.
“But I don’t think she is married to him.”
O, God he is not going to stop. I don’t have a problem with his banter so long as he is not careless in his driving.
But the fact was he was completely careless. He overtook any vehicle from any side of his choice and abused every other driver on his path. Sometimes he abused the pedestrians also.
A lady tried to cross and he waited for her.
“These ones won’t look at us and will do whatever they feel like. They will move forward and backward and then stand still right on our way.”
The lady, for no reason, hurled an abuse towards us and crossed safely to the other side. We moved forward. If no miracles happen, I am going to miss my train. And there is no other way to reach Kollam by eight and keep my appointment.
“She is in for a fling.”
I had a hard time figuring out which woman he was talking about. He was referring to the one with that young man.
“These days the girls are bolder than the boys. Not like our times, sir.”
I looked at him. He is much younger than me. Probably married with at least three children, all attending some poor state schools. Not much age difference between them. I smiled at my own wild imagination.
“You don’t know, sir, what kind of life they lead. I hear these things everyday from people who ride with me.”
“The boys are fine. They study well and become engineers and doctors and collectors.”
That was quite contradictory to many generalizations I had heard so far. I didn’t mention it.
I didn’t want to argue with him. That might encourage him and I may have to listen to dirtier stuff.
I looked at my watch. I visualized my train leaving the platform. I slapped myself when I recalled that was exactly what I should not do.
I tried to imagine the train waiting there for me. Ha, ha!
“Did you hear that one third of those who watch dirty movies are girls. Some one told me. I am sure they are looking for their own clippings. Don’t laugh sir, it is true.
“This autorikshaw is like facebook or whatsapp, sir. You get to know whatever happens in the world by just being on this seat. You can’t get information like that sitting in some office. Sir, do you work in an office?”
“I work at the techno park.”
“Really? Then you know the world. Those from north India. What do you think about them, sir?”
“Beautiful, more beautiful than our girls.”
“No, sir. It is all make up. But I was asking about their behaviour.”
“They are bold and more free with people, if that is what they mean.”
“Yes sir, exactly. But do you know what makes them bold. Nothing to lose. What our girls consider sacred they have already lost. For what? To get money for drinks and grass.”
“Ganja, sir. It is very common now. I have seen girls exchanging it sitting where you are sitting right now.”
I shifted in my seat and looked around as if its traces could be still there.
The traffic had thinned out and now I have a very thin chance of making it if this idiot stops talking and goes faster. But I can’t blame him. In spite of his banter, he is racing ahead of all the other vehicles in the fray. Every one seems to have some train to catch. Hope it is the same train and some lucky ones in those other vehicles might make the miracle happen.
I have selected the wrong man. It is not so good to listen to this kind of talk. I too have a daughter of the same age. If he is going to make more generalizations about girls, I may feel hurt.
Nothing could stop him. He went on talking about the problems with this generation. Most of it was against girls. I can’t say I was not interested at all. A little small talk warms one up.
“There is no need to send girls to college. Any way it is the husband who runs the family. We can’t say these things now but girls get spoiled when they go to college. And they don’t learn what they need to learn. For example how many of them can cook a full meal?”
I lost my interest. He is an uneducated male chauvinist. There are educated people who say such things. So this is only pardonable in this uncouth uneducated autorikshaw driver.
But I still thought how unfair it is to rubbish all girls like this. I have heard many men do this. Some women also entertain such thoughts.
“Sir, there is a hospital I know. They have made a lot of money through illegal secret abortion. Everyone knows that. But isn’t that a necessity? What can we do if these idiots come home pregnant?”
I could understand the anxieties of a parent who has daughters. What all stories do we get to read in the newspapers every day? When that incident happened in Delhi, I didn’t sleep for three days.
The autorikshaw entered a new lane and he was silent for some time. He is surely getting ready for the next blast. I looked out. God, it is very close to the railway station. I thanked him from the bottom of my heart.
“The olden days were much better. This new western culture has spoiled it all.”
Nothing new. This is what everyone says. Mostly those whose English is weak.
“Some people say it is a curse to be born as a girl. Some others say girls come as a curse to the parents.”
“We can’t say that.”
“True sir, even our mother is a woman,” he said with a chuckle.
We took a sharp turn and we were on the main road. I looked at my watch. Five more minutes. I should give him something extra. He doesn’t look poor. But then I thought about his three children. I again smiled at my wild imagination. It is possible for him to have a large family. How much do these people make nowadays? A thousand? Not bad considering that he hasn’t got a boss.
He stopped right at the entrance and shouted at a porter for not moving away.
The meter showed forty-five and I gave him sixty. He gave ten rupee back and opened his purse to give me five rupees.
“No, no, it is all right. Keep it.”
I returned the ten rupee to him.
“Buy some sweets for your children.”
He showed me his purse. There was a tiny photograph. It showed a mother and a little girl.
“Dead sir. Died in an accident. Both of them. Four years back.”
That was the least I expected. I didn’t know what to say. He was smiling.
“Hurry sir, you may still get a comfortable seat.”
I moved away and when I was at he gate, I turned back to look at him.
He was still waving at me.