Last week, I had to travel to Uttarakhand with a friend for some work. We both were short of time and had to return the next day. UP is not safe to drive in night so we chose to travel by Volvo. The bus was scheduled to depart at 11 and we were at our dual sleeper-seat well before time. On the seat opposite us was lying a girl, barely 18 or 19 who was travelling alone. She was cheerful, frankly talking to the bus conductor and a boy who had a chair-seat below our sleeper and seemed as old as she was. My friend had forgotten his phone-charger. When he asked, the girl readily gave him hers.
Tired of repeated requests, the driver didn’t start. We engaged ourselves in a conversation. The chirpy girl was busy with the boy and occasionally with the conductor. After all the seats were full, the bus finally pulled off at quarter to midnight. Much to our amazement, the boy climbed up to the girl’s sleeper as soon as the bus pushed forward. Many passengers had employed their eyes in witnessing the boy’s act while the conductor watched it with his mouth open. I wondered how the two adequately built adolescents will manage in a two-feet broad sleeper.
While my co-passengers had a shine of amusement in their eyes imagining what the young couple were up to, I was concerned about the vulnerability they were inviting. I am not orthodox and having passed the greater part of my life teaching adolescents, I could approve of them seeking fun in a night-journey, though partially.
The duo settled in the scant place and didn’t close the cabin door. Separated by the narrow passage, it was difficult for our eyes not to wander in their direction. Snuggled. they had started watching a video. The bus conductor and some other passengers had started sauntering through the passage to have a chucklesome spectacle. UP is still not habitual of seeing a couple getting cosy as a live action.
The eyes rolled and the hearts missed some beats when the boy slid the cabin door still leaving a slit. The lights in the bus were on and I could sense the movement in the not-fully-closed sleeper opposite me. I turned my back towards them to avoid embarrassment but could feel the commutation in the passage.
The cabin door slid open to half after about fifteen minutes. The conductor took three rounds up and down before settling on a chair behind the driver. We succumbed to sleep that was discontinued shortly when the bus stopped at a ‘dhaba’ at Hapur. We got down to relieve ourselves. I had a good look at the boy in the washroom. He was wearing a very narrow and cheap denim pants that ended well before ankles. His soiled off-white hoodie and bathroom slippers also defied that he could woo a girl during a journey.
They closed their cabin door again after the journey resumed. This time the driver had switched off the lights but the restlessness of some passengers continued. The conductor too kept hovering near the site of action. Already disturbed by the gruesome Hyderabad rape case that had happened just three days back, I was susceptive of the intentions of the bus conductor. Though I despised their unrestrained behaviour, I had made my mind to intervene in case someone tried to take advantage of her promiscuous behaviour. The youngsters were of my children’s age and I could not keep a blind eye.
Another young guy from the back joined the conductor after a short stint of conversing in signs and signals. They were most restless when the cabin door slid close the third time about an hour before the end of the journey. The bus was to halt at Khateema and it was the conductor’s duty to arrange for our further journey.
When the doors opened, the boy came down to his seat. Ten minutes after, the bus stopped and the conductor told the boy that it was his destination. There was no goodbye bidding. No parting gestures. No looking at each other. I was stunned. The boy got down and the bus went forth. I was still untangling the events of the night when the conductor lodged himself on the boy’s seat, staring unceasingly at the girl.
The bus finally reached its destination. The conductor hastily arranged the cab for the seven passengers including us. The girl pleaded with him to take out her luggage from the bus-box but he insisted on sending us away before. I intervened but the conductor told that the girl had to go in other direction. The girl affirmed by nodding. I didn’t want to leave her alone and wished to talk to her by taking her aside. After pondering for a while, I decided to go, reluctantly though, because she seemed comfortable.
When the cab departed, we kept looking back until it turned. I prayed that she remained safe.
A week after returning home, I still think about that girl. Was she unaware of the rape cases that happen more frequently than the road accidents? Did she not know how things are in UP? Had she no fear? Did they know each other before boarding the bus? Was it a one-night-stand?
Excess of liberty is more dangerous than excess of pocket-money. You are never sure what you can buy from it but if you fritter away insanely, it can cost you your life. A lone woman at night is never safe. Doing the unexpected and the unusual, that too not keeping in mind the reservations that the environment you are in permits, would only make you vulnerable. I advocate equal rights to women but sanity lies in practising those rights wisely. Taking small precautions would help and would save regrets.