A Late Night Cab Ride in New Delhi

Posted on May 28, 2015

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I am an Indian who has been living in the West for over four years. In the last few years, I have been as enraged as my fellow country folk at the gruesome rapes being reported one after the other. In 2012, I was as deeply anguished, shocked and helpless as the women in my country felt as we heard/watched in disbelief the tragic end of Nirbhaya and the subsequent administration failure.  Every few months, as I contemplate moving back to India, I hesitate. India is no longer as safe as it used to be; I remind myself.

I am, by no means, a sheltered girl from a small town. I was born and raised in Ahmedabad. Our city is well-known as being safe for women. My teens and 20s were spent riding my two-wheeler all over town at 2AM, going from one garba venue to another. My female friends and I had no fear going up to dingy paan shops and buying mints or cigarettes or chewing gum or water pouches at any time of the day and night. Today, when I ask my friends and family who still live in the city, if they would feel safe if their daughters were to do the same, the answer is a vehement NO. Mind you, we live in the cell-phone era. I grew up when there were no mobile phones and it would be hard for parents to track us down. But rarely did my parents feel the need to stop me from going anywhere. Mostly, it was a group of several girls and boys on our two-wheelers.

During my yearly trip this year, I decided to surprise my best friend who lives in Noida by landing up at her place. I informed her husband and he arranged for a cab driver to meet me at the international airport in New Delhi. My flight was to land at 11.30PM. As I left home, I could feel my father’s displeasure as he heard that I was going to take a cab, late at night, and THAT IN NEW DELHI TOO! He simply said, “You think you’re too smart! Delhi is not safe for women. Don’t you read the news.” After he said this a few times, I began to worry a little. Was I being naive? Was I being stupid? Was I asking for trouble? My friend’s husband is someone I trust. He is years older than me and I rationalized that he wouldn’t put my life in jeopardy.

As luck would have it, my flight was 30 minutes late. While landing, I looked at the time, and I began to panic. I had visions of my father having a heart attack because my phone was unreachable 20 minutes after the expected arrival time. (I didn’t expect he would think of checking the flight status!) As soon as I landed, I called him and let him know that my flight was late and that I would call him the moment I reached. It was 12.30AM by the time I got out the airport and looked for the cab driver who was to meet me.The airport was full of people. Outside too, there were a fair number of people. Some loitering aimlessly, some trying to get passengers, some waiting for their loved ones. I expected to be stared at and even harangued by pesky cab drivers. I was pleasantly surprised that no one gave me a second look.

I finally found the cab driver. He seemed to be a young man in his 20s. He took my bag humbly and opened the door for me to sit in. He sweetly inquired if I had any trouble in finding him. I apoligized for making him wait. He replied, aapki galti thodi hai! “It’s not your fault,” he said with a smile. And thus began our 40-minute cab ride to Noida. As we began cruising into the city, I saw that it was milling with vehicles. As a car full of young men pulled alongside the cab, I felt my heart skip a beat. What if they see me, a lone woman, in a cab and do something! However, they too did not give me a second look. I guess people in New Delhi have better things to do than come sabotage my surprise! Quite contrary to what the media would have me believe, eh?!

In a few minutes, I found myself relaxing into the seat. I looked outside idly and then it dawned on me. I was no longer afraid. I was not feeling the need to be hyper-vigilant. I messaged my dad and told him that the cab driver was very sweet. My friend’s husband called and let me know that he was waiting up for me. And then I began doing what I love to do, speaking to the cabbie! My conversations led me to find out that he had grown up in Delhi. He lived with his family at the border of New Delhi and Noida. After I received a few messages from my dad, I told the cabbie that he was worried because of all the rape news from Delhi. He said simply, “Ek macchli poore taalab ko ganda kar deti hai.” Translated it means, “One fish can pollute the whole lake.”

As I pulled into my friend’s neighborhood, I was glad to have this experience. I felt like I was taking back the night. But soon I realized, there was a huge element of class in the whole equation. Can every woman in Delhi afford to take a cab that costs Rs. 1000? Can every woman afford to take a cab everywhere? This was a cab driver that my friend and her husband have used several times over the last few years. Are all cab drivers safe? What about the Uber rape? So was it just a stroke of luck that I got home safe and sound? I don’t have the answers. But I can’t help feeling a wee bit empowered by taking a cab ride in New Delhi late at night.

Thank you, Ashok Bhaiya for taking me home safe!

Epilogue: Ashok Bhaiya drove me to the airport two days later. It was a mid-morning flight. As I sat in the cab, I told him that I would be paying him. He looked very uncomfortable. My friend came out and let him know it was okay to take the money as she had given it to me. He finally relaxed and agreed.

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Posted in: Travel