When Google Maps Failed
The story of a disaster night out
“Oh look, a telephone booth! We can call someone from there!”
“Anjali. You have a smartphone.”
We were passing by an old and dusty telephone booth that looked more like it belonged at a museum than in a dilapidated street corner. But it was way past midnight and we were a bunch of sleep-deprived 20-year-olds, stuck in an unfamiliar street, staring at a cul-de-sac.
How did we get there?
It all started when 7 of us from college decided to go watch a night show at a cinema theatre. Now the issue with a night show is that it’s difficult to get cabs past 10 p.m. This was pre-covid and it was peak hour with everyone hurrying to wind up their nights. And there we were, a bunch of broke-ass University freshers, unwilling to pay for the high cab fare.
“It’s a walkable distance, we should reach campus in an hour”, Ajit* proclaimed. We had already split an expensive cab fare to the theatre and the guilt from the overpriced popcorn buckets at the Multiplex was still fresh, so we decided to walk back.
All of us had recently moved to this place called Hyderabad for college and none of us spoke the local language. It was a recipe for disaster but as naïve students fresh out of school, we trusted our smartphones wholeheartedly and believed we owned the world. Dave* set the destination on Maps and we started that night-long journey, talking, making jokes and laughing boisterously.
The streets were deserted and our group consisted of 4 girls and 3 guys. D.B.* was masculine-presenting and Kay* had recently gotten a pixie undercut and easily passed for a guy. In Southern India, far from the metropolitan part of our city, we looked like a suspicious crowd. For someone who grew up watching romantic urban movies, the risky nature of the situation doesn’t really show. Naturally, the set-up should have been scary, but did I mention we were naïve and stupid?
Our route was supposed to move along the main road, a wide 2-lane path. But Maps decided to go adventurous on us and suggested a shorter route through multiple neighbourhoods and small bastis (ghettos of sorts). We had no clue if we were trespassing that night. These were streets that remained deserted and silent all night long and angry barks emanated from within properties that owned dogs. It was only when a pack of street dogs decided to block our way and forced us to take another route, that we realised this might have been a horrible decision.
Our destination was an hour-long walk and we were in the middle of nowhere even after two hours. It was close to midnight and Kay with the pixie undercut suddenly felt that we kept running into the same of group of men at every street junction. They might have had nothing better to do that midnight and were minding their own business. But they also could have figured we were lost and were trying to corner us. Either way, our fight or flight reflexes kicked in and all of us girls wanted to believe the latter possibility.
That’s when we hit the cul-de-sac. Maps still showed our route ahead, but we were face-to-face with a wall! Dave smiled weakly. I laughed an awkward laugh. Ajit made a final attempt at keeping up our spirits:
Well, let’s walk back a bit, this might reroute.
And so we walked back a bit, only to keep walking back. That’s when I made the telephone booth comment, much to Kay’s annoyance. Finally, we reached a junction at the main road we had passed a while back. How long ago? We don’t know. Time had become a forgotten entity. But while that junction had been deserted earlier, now parked at the roadside, was a police patrol vehicle and three cops surrounding it.
I had an ingenious idea that we ignore and walk past them. Surprise, surprise! It didn’t work.
Had I mentioned that we looked like a suspicious group in a deserted street, past midnight? Well, the officers thought the same. One of them asked us what the hell we were doing that night. Ajit stepped in to show his University issued ID, while the officer lectured us on the perils of women wandering about late. Kay with the pixie undercut was offended that the officer was not looking at her when he said “women”. I was offended that he didn’t think the guys with us were in danger too.
The officer asked us to get a rickshaw or a taxi back to campus and we had to remind him that we could get nothing at 2 a.m. And so we continued walking, after reassuring him that we’d get a taxi at the next junction. We kept walking, like we did since 11 p.m. the previous night. D.B., who’d chosen to remain silent all along, finally spoke up, “Goddammit, let’s get a fucking Uber!”.
Kay immediately searched up an Uber. I was still rambling something about how the officers could have just dropped us off. Some miracle played out meanwhile, and an SUV located wherever the hell we were. Of course we paid dearly. It was a cab at freaking 3 in the morning.
I’m pretty sure we reached college before 5 a.m. It was still dark and my memory is fuzzy. But just as Kay and I walked the stairs to our rooms, the happenings of the night hit us with full force. We panicked for a bit as we realised that things could have gone horribly wrong. We could have gotten abducted. In the middle of the night. And no one would’ve known. I don’t want to generalise men, but all of us girls had had our fair share of nightmarish experiences, and we didn’t want to think about what could have happened to us.
We decided to put this mindless incident behind us for then, hugged and went to sleep. Let’s just say I’m the one digging up this story hopefully for the last time.