How safe is my city? To answer that question, I would have to tell you the story of a day and a night.
I was at one of my regular bus stops, waiting to take a bus home one day. I had already let go two extremely crowded buses that had been threatening to tip over under the weight of the people spilling out of its doors and standing on its footboard. I was beginning to realise that I was going to have to cough up fare for an auto if I wanted to get home that day.
There were plenty of autos coming up behind the buses, counting on people like me. I haggled, as is customary, and let a couple of autos go until one of them agreed to take me home for Rs 100.
“You’re robbing me in plain daylight, madam,” the driver complained as I climbed in.
“I’m giving you 100 rupees for a five kilometre ride. Less, if you take the shortcut. I’m the one being robbed,” I pointed out.
“I don’t know any shortcut, madam.”
“I’ll show you the shortcut. Just follow my directions.” This is my city. I have lived here for more than fifteen years. I was not going to be conned by an auto driver into paying more than what is fair.
The driver complained loudly at every signal and every bump in the road. I ignored him, though his cribbing did remind me of a kindergartner. He cribbed again as I paid him at the end of the trip, but I was firm. I was paying him more than what was fair.
A few days later, I was again waiting for an auto at that bus stop, this time at 11.30 pm. I was returning after travelling out of the city, and got down at my regular bus stop, not realising how late it was.
It was when the bus pulled away that I realised how very quiet the entire bus stop was. I pulled out my phone and saw it was dead. My world got even quieter. I looked around and there wasn’t a single soul in sight. The realisation that I was completely alone sank in, and I pulled my luggage closer in to me.
Twenty minutes passed without a single vehicle going by. At the end of thirty minutes, I was ready to abandon my luggage and travel on the footboard of a crowded bus if it meant getting home safe.
The roads I had walked for years stared back at me like strangers. The awnings I had sought shelter under in the rains were now hiding shadows that scared me. This was my city, my street, and it felt like a landmine, ready to explode, waiting for me to make a single wrong move.
An auto rickshaw driving by was the sweetest sound I’d heard all day. I hailed him and told him where I wanted to go. He hesitated. He was going home, the other way. “Please,” I begged him, “I haven’t seen a single bus go by in the last half an hour and it is almost midnight.”
He looked at me. “300 rupees,” he said.
“Done,” I climbed in.
Breathing got easier as I got closer to home, relieved that the driver was taking the main roads. After he dropped me off at my place, I got down on my knees and gave thanks that all he wanted from me was my money.
How safe is my city? So safe that I felt grateful I was just ripped off and not raped.
Esai Arasi specialises in behavioural change training, and currently works with Aditya Birla Retail. When she isn’t training, she can be found reading, writing and planning the Next Big Novel.