I checked the make-up kit in my handbag twice, before leaving my city and each time I touched the small black object I breathed in assurance. Lip balm, sunscreen, musk, lipsticks, face mirror, shades, and of course, the pepper spray. That was a last minute buy from the departmental store, the previous night.
The entire world knows what happened to Nirbhaya and Suzette. The entire world knows all about the Mukesh Singhs and the Qader Khans as well. But still then the most FAQ that I have to face from my well wishers is “…. Holy Crap! Why she has to travel alone, all the time at odd hours???”
And the most FAQ I revert them back almost immediately is…. “…. Holy Crap! Why can’t I travel alone all the time at odd hours???????
I just can’t make them understand, “Oh you gals and guys! Forget about social get-togethers, late night parties and night clubs…. but err…what about a medical emergency…. a late arrival in the station or an early flight or to pick up a relative coming from abroad at the wee hours……?????
The answer to the above questions is obviously a “NO” you can’t. If you are born under the “F”- sex category in our country you literally cannot, you cannot step out of your house at odd hours. That’s a man thing. The predators sometimes in groups or sometimes just a lone wolf will grab you, rip you and eat you up in the most possible brutal way once you become a circumstantial victim. And do remember the strict guidelines set by the “Woman-Eaters”…cover yourself in a burqa if you dare to take the venture…western outfits provoke them instantly and once the wide-mouthed filthy- teethed salivating crocs corner you never ever protest…receive them with smiling faces, “Welcome , you hungry crocs…please have your share.” Otherwise you will meet your doom.
At this juncture of my writing, I have to make a clean breast that despite knowing all these facts, I still travel alone and readers at this point of my writing have already started cursing my “out of the ordinary lifestyle” gritting their teeth uttering, “Foolish lady…..damn with your accursed lifestyle……why you have to travel alone all the time…you fishy lady…a single mother…??? A divorcee…???? A young widow….???? Its real fishy lady!… .After all we are not fools.
As the sky cruise ended, I departed from Dabolim Airport with my young one and waited for the pick up from the hotel. It was almost sundown. The next morning we were supposed to attend a wedding invitation at Utorda Beach in Goa. One might call me a MANIAC, but at home I have taught my youngster “Remember what is a good touch and what is a bad touch and if you ever see somebody hurting your body inappropriately use the pepper spray. Target it into the eyes of the Green-eyed Horny Monster”.
Ummm…that’s right guys you call me a MANIAC and not them….those gaping CROCS who are ready to devour women at the slightest pretext. And they have a voracious appetite indeed….they don’t even spare the minors and the elderly …so succulent and tender women of all ages are!
Apart from the inner turbulent thoughts running occasionally through my mind, we were in great spirits…mother and child…. there’s a wedding at the beach! We city birds have never attended any beach wedding before and of course we were free at last to smell the fresh breeze of the ocean and dreamt of rolling over and over the white sands and play and run…. and waited breathlessly to have endless encounters with the roaring foaming waves. The only nightmare that haunted us was the “monster cabbies.”
My eyes searched for the Mr. Right who was supposed to pick us up and I was scrutinizing the crowd. In the pool of drivers I spotted one woman in uniform among her other male counterparts holding a placard with my name written on it…A woman cabbie…I thought I was hallucinating for some unknown reasons. No sooner I went near her than she presented her card to me and very politely pronounced, “Candice…Candice Fernandes-the authorized travel hostess from GTDC.”
“Oh! My…..my….” I fumbled, followed her obediently and boarded the cab with hesitant steps. While she started the engine, she told me, “M’am if you ever need any cab during your stay in Goa then do give me a tinkle in the number printed in the card.” I took the card in my hand-it was as if I delivered a baby after having several days of rigorous labor pain. Yes! My belly stopped cramping after I met Candice Fernandes.
Gliding past the highways, I engaged myself in constant conversation with Candice-she refused to be called herself “a woman cabbie” and instead addressed her as a “travel hostess”. She was the Team Leader in GTDC-“Goa Tourism Development Corporation” which has started operating an all women’s taxi drivers’ service in North Goa. At present there are around twenty such brave hearts who not only drive cabs but have prior training of self defense, first aid, refined etiquette and other soft skills. They also have sound knowledge about popular tourist destinations and renowned eateries.
I came to know that these cabs are meant exclusively for women travelers and their families. The most important point was that they don’t allow single male passengers or all male groups in their cabs. To add to my happiness, I learnt that there are both AC and non AC cabs, they all are equipped with GPS and have electronic fare meters. The contact number for the cabs was linked directly to the nearest GTDC control room, so in case of any disaster, travelers can make a direct call to the control room. The rate chart is always there with the cabbies-we can cross- check if we have any inkling of doubt regarding the rates.
On reaching our destination, Candice smiled and nodded at me, a soft spoken person she was. She took the exact fare and hurried for her next passenger. “M’am if you need our service during your stay in Goa, please make an advance booking to avoid rush”…..these were her parting words.
I waved goodbye to her, my eyes were moist by now…. had it been in New Delhi or Kolkata some years before, Nirbhaya and Suzette or the software techie in Uber, they would all have lived happily today enjoying multiple safe and joyrides in cabs.