As I drove further, I felt like I was entering an abandoned desert. Dry air and dust governed the area. Even though I was in the sanctum of a car, It felt like I was in the middle of a round the clock heat wave. It was hard to imagine that just a few kilometers east of Dadar, lies a place so bitter and coarse even Bombay’s humidity would not dare enter.
On top of a shoddy hill lies this isolated civilization called Wadala. As I drove on in Wadala I continued to follow my google maps as I hustled past large lorries and jumbo water tankers. I took a sharp left that google maps had prescribed and reached a tiny back road. It appeared to be a simple short cut. It did pass a few cows and bullock carts along the way. But more importantly there were no lorries or water tankers.
The further I moved the narrower the road got. The chai stalls and pan shops along the way seemed a lot more close and upfront than they were a few meters behind me. All of the sudden the crowd intensified. There were people coming at me from all corners. I quickly grabbed my phone to check where I was and to find a way out. What happened next hit me like a train.
My phone was dead! I raised my eyes to the crowd. All I saw were men with long pathani kurthas, kajal in their eyes and small oval caps on their head. Among the crowd were women in burkhas and children dressed similar to their adult counterparts. At this moment I was simply petrified.
I had no way to communicate my location. As the crowd kept intensifying I quickly checked if my doors were locked and continued to move on. I was too scared to ask anyone outside for directions, I continuously kept thinking of what my friends and family would think I was doing if I was found dead in a place like this one.
A series of thoughts ran through my mind. What if the locals attacked me right now. What if from the crowd some child was to fake the fact that I ran over his leg with my car. What if I really ran over his leg. What would the mob do to me then.
The crowd was inches from my car. Kids ran their hands over my bonnet as they moved by. The rest looked on at me with disgust as if I had walked right into their living rooms. Shopkeepers gazed at me as I passed by and groups passed comments as they saw me through my windscreen. I tried my best to put on a face of confidence, as if this was not a mistake but my usual route.
As I moved further towards the crowd splitting them like Moses split the Red Sea , I saw a beacon of hope. The gentleman’s khaki stood out like the chequered flag at the end of a Le Mans race. I quickly made my way towards him and rolled down my window. He stopped and looked at me. I sighed in relief and then said
” Bhaiya, how do I get out of here? I need to get to Antop hill”
He stared at me for a moment and then as quick as lightning he looked ahead and kept walking. I raised my voice and asked him again. He simply sauntered off into the crowd.
I continued to follow him but I lost him in the crowd. A few meters ahead I found a reasonably open space. To my surprise I spotted a small police van with a few havaldars and policewomen nearby. On asking them for directions, they simply wouldn’t answer me or they remembered something important they would have to do. I was exhausted. I thought to my self — Where was I? Why would the police not help? Are they afraid of something? or Are they just not bothered?
I sat in the car defeated and panic-stricken. At that point my eyes set upon an elderly gentleman in a red beard and a white Taqiyah. He saw me in distress and came by my window. I rolled down the windows carefully and looked at him.
“Janab, you looked lost. Can I help” said the man as he gently smiled at me
“I need to get to Antop Hill” I stuttered.
In a matter of a few seconds not only did he give me directions but also advised me on which roads I should avoid due to large crowds and narrow lanes. I followed his directions to the hilt. I was out and at my location like a bat out of hell.
I had come to realise that there always comes a time in life when we stereotype people around us. When we judge people on the basis of their cast, creed, religion or simply by their appearance. We segregate people by society’s notion of them. We treat them as if their outcasts. All this is just because we don’t bother to look at what really matters. Their hearts.
If you like this short story you can visit www.hectorcardozo.com — a medium through which I hope to capture my experiences, friendships, thoughts and beliefs. In this blog you will come across a collection of short stories that enunciate brisk episodes in India’s most mesmerizing city, Bombay as well as parts of the world that I have had opportunities to travel.