My belly full of way too much food, a cigarette dangling from my fingers I was walking down the main lane of Hauz Khas Village with four other girls. Time : 10:30 pm. I hear someone call out a few times, "Excuse me!". I walk on assuming it's to someone else. But he follows and asks if I know the location of some restaurant. I don't. I say he should ask a shopkeeper. He says they don't know either. He steps closer, gets a strange smile on his face. My friend is quicker on the uptake. She tells him that's not what he's looking for. What does he want? He says why don't you come into the car and I'll show you what I have.
In my head the warning bells aren't ringing, they're clanging. I'm out with four foreigners. We're taking autos back home. What if these guys force us into their car? We're in a crowded space but who'll help? What if they follow the autos? My heart is racing, I'm breathless. I'm remembering every warning I've ever heard and wishing I'd called my dad to pick me up.
We walk to an auto and after several refuse one guy agrees. The whole way I stare at him. Every hand movement is scrutinized. I don't even pull out my cellphone when a message alert comes for fear that if I get distracted and look away he'll make a move. I engage in an internal debate over which route leaves no possibility of an empty stretch of road. He takes out his cellphone. Will he call his friends and ask them to stand at a point we pass, help him pull me out of the auto or rape me in it? I told my parents my friends will drop me, good lord I shouldn't have lied. He touches his leg, is he feeling a weapon? I am crippled with fear. I can't move, I can't breathe, I can't take my eyes off this man. Except to briefly look back and make sure I am not being followed by the other. A distance of four and a half kilometers, which takes barely 15 mins to cover and I am a nervous wreck.
I reach my house and relief washes over me in waves. Nothing happened. I'm safe.
But is that really true? Did nothing happen? I spent fifteen minutes condemning a man as a rapist just because he agreed to drop me home in his auto at 10:30 pm. He may be a simple guy. Might have a family he works hard to earn for. May be he has nothing but respect for women. And as I say thank you bhaiya to him while paying his tariff he doesn't even know how I vilified him. I wonder if he'd smile and say goodnight the same way if he did.
Am I safe? If I were, I doubt I would be in this state just because I took an auto after dark. The fear I felt, the magnitude of it, shook me. I couldn't shake it off, I didn't sleep well at night. I kept replaying everything in my head just with different endings. What would have happened if that man had taken me into his car? What if he had followed me? What if the auto guy hadn't been a decent bloke? What if he'd called more friends? I can barely imagine myself overpowering one man, but more than one? Impossible. How different my life would be right now if any of that had happened. I surely wouldn't be sending my son off to school and writing a blog!!!In a few minutes everything that I've been reading in papers became so real.
It rattled my notion of myself as a strong, independent type woman. Every single patriarchal notion flashed through my head in those twenty minutes. I shouldn't be out so late. I shouldn't take public transport. I should have asked my father to pick me up. I'm glad I didn't dress provocatively. What are the other girls wearing? No skin show? Phew! Are they being too loud? We shouldn't attract to much attention.
Every thing I protest against.
And as I came home, each member of my family looked at me accusingly and asked how I'd come home. Why didn't I call to be picked up? Had I been stupid enough to take an auto alone at that time of night? I lied. Of course not, I'm not a stupid teenager. I didn't come alone. We were five girls together, my friends dropped me.