It was a chilly rainy evening when my leave application with the forged signature of my mother got accepted by the hostel warden of Jonas Hall. I was preparing for a surprise visit home since a month and hence felt extremely excited to proceed further.
The bus halted to a stop and I had been nervous since it was my first journey alone in a place like India. It was about midnight and the bus was filled with men alone including a father with 2 children. Unfortunately it was a hot monsoon day with high humidity in the air and no air-condition in the bus.
My travel companions were a middle aged man and a youngster, probably a college student engaged in watching pornography. I found myself restless continuously pushing away the middle aged man trying to lean on my shoulder in between his sleep.
For some reason I couldn’t sleep for a minute. I laid down on the small uncomfortable seat watching the people snore and sleep. In between I tried to read a book and listen to my IPod. As my fellow passenger found it disturbing I and my “porn addicted acquaintance” were compelled to switch off our electronics and the lights. Though it was winter, the inside of the bus was hot, stuffed and humid; hence I was compelled to open the window to get some fresh air though it was drizzling. The windowpane was rusted and the street lights illuminated the roads partially. I found clouds of different and could sense the smell of fresh soil where it rained after a very long time. I also could see the other vehicles passing by in high speed taking advantage of the zero traffic night time.
After a journey of about 5 hours the bus halted again in the midst of a bus station where I got down with my bags to have a cup of coffee. As theft was a common phenomenon in India I was compelled to carry my luggage wherever I went. The toilets were dirty and unhygienic with no water or tissues. I wore an expensive pair of leather stilettoes which my mother gifted me from Dubai for getting good grades in college which got soaked and damaged in the mud and rain water.
With the help of the conductor I managed to load the luggage back into the bus. On the move, I saw the half sleepy and cranky bus driver shouting at the conductor for no specific reason. There were children unattended and crying probably out of thirst or hunger. Their parent was totally drowned in his sleep and was hardly bothered about the noises they made which I considered as sheer insanity. They also played a pirated copy of new Tamil movie on the television fixed above in the front loudly and people still found it peaceful to sleep.
As I managed to get in, I could see myself in the front rare view mirror and could relate myself to a crow sitting on a telephone wire on a rainy day. I found the seat extensively uncomfortable due to the heat and the humidity inside the bus.
In the midst of all the chaos I felt exhausted and fell asleep. I woke up at about 5 am in the morning hearing the whispers, murmurs and loud laughers of the men. I looked around with my droopy eyes and found that the man with children has already left the bus. I also noticed that I was the only woman in the midst of 10 other men including the wide awake middle aged travel companion and the college student who watched pornography the previous night.
I expect to arrive at my home town at about 7 am in the morning and found myself stuck at Palghat near the paddy fields as a tire of the bus got punchered. I got up quickly, grabbed my bags and stepped outside. As I made the conductor opened the luggage space he found a beggar hiding beneath inside traveling with us to Kerala. The men took charge and started chasing him. I was worried about whether any of my belongings were stolen. The other men started to ogle eve tease and make foul comments. I couldn’t stand them a minute longer and hence I picked my belongings and started walking alone into the pitch darkness not bothering to respond to any of their creative statements.
My only companions were the moon, the stars, the clouds and the fields. I walked for about 20 minutes and got exhausted due to the heavy weight of my luggage and the bags. In the meanwhile my phone ran out of charge and I couldn’t even reach out to anyone for help. One my way, I found a tribal woman with a pot on her waist and a kid behind her back. I tried to use a bit of Tamil that I knew to ask about the nearest bus station I could go to. Palghat is a state that shares its border with two states Tamil Nadu and Kerala. She said that there is a government bus stop approximately 6 miles away.
My heavy luggage and bags made me feel like a helpless 9 months pregnant woman on the road. I could not imagine walking all the way with a shoe bite, stilettos, luggage and droopiness.
2 weeks earlier I had read about a girl who got gang raped at Delhi. Thoughts about that incident made my mind trembled; I stopped on the way, opened my bag and kept my pepper spray and Swiss knife ready. I continued my walk alone thinking about what could be done next.
Suddenly it started to rain heavily and I had nothing to shield myself. I found shelter in a small shed made of hay the time being. The rain gained its strength and the heaven started pouring out. I understood that the situation is only going to worsen. I also saw a few drunken teenagers, probably college students passing by in a group in their cars with loud music, alcohol bottles and cigarettes. I removed my stiletto, put on my sports shoes, covered my head with the hood on my jacket and started to walk again.
With blurred vision I could see a small hut far away. As I got closer, I understood that it was an old man’s tea stall where coolie laborers and lorry drivers gathered to have breakfast, tea and read newspapers every morning. Among them were men who were young, middle aged or old. They stared at the helpless drenched woman. Though the men offered help, I did not appreciate the way they gazed at me and hence, quickly had a “1/4th coffee” (half coffee and half froth) and started my walk again. I started seeing autos, tempos, and vans stuffed with school and nursery children pass by. None bothered to help me and hence I felt hopeless in the midst of nowhere.
I could feel the small streams of muddy waters touching my shoe bitten area as I walked. I looked up at the orange sky and suddenly felt a kind of peace, probably because the place was getting lit up by the sun. I saw an old man transporting fresh wet hay on the way. I chased him and asked him on whether I could get a lift. The old man agreed and I loaded my luggage on to the bullock cart. The old man could hardly breathe due to excessive smoking of BD (tobacco roles), yet had to work since his children were studying in college. He proudly said “my daughter passed her earlier semester with second class marks ”. I appreciated him for the job he has done in raising his daughters and agreed that it was a tough job to raise a child. He was delighted to hear my words. We reached the bus stop in about an hour and offered him rupees 100 as a token of gratitude and he refused to accept it.
People gazed at the well-dressed drenched woman who arrived in a bullock cart. I managed to charge my phone from an electrical portal available until the bus arrived. The conductor refused to give me a helping hand since me and my luggage were drenched in muddy rain water. I managed to pull them in myself. It continued to drizzle and I felt a chill through my spine. I saw the window curtains dripping and floating in the air as the bus moved gained its speed. The wind and the warmth of my body combined helped my clothes to dry faster.
On the way I called my mother to check on what she was doing. She told me that she was about to start from our house to go for a retreat. I told her that I was on my way home and I buttered the warden and managed to sneak out. I also told her everything that I had to face on the way. Hearing this I could sense a feeling of fear and happiness in her voice. She said that she was going to speak to the warden in person to ask her on why she let me out without prior permission. She also told that she was going to prepare something special for me when I get back home. She also asked me to let her know about when I would reach the bus station in order to pick me up.
Hearing these, the old lady sitting behind smiled and asked “kutty engotta, ammaye kanan a alle”- meaning “where are you going to? Are you going to see your mother?” At that moment I knew that I found a good travel companion. We started a good conversation about our families and it went on till I reached my hometown. She waved her hand saying goodbye. I felt as though a big burden just got dropped off my shoulders when I saw my mother. I dropped my entire luggage and hugged her and we went home.