Every morning, I raced against my erratic getting-up ways to rush to the road a stone’s throw from my hostel to sit in the car of TdM, my fellow learner of German. The air in his old blue Maruti 800 usually wafted with old farts and older newspapers, but the option of sitting in it was much more welcome than having to come half an hour early to the roadside and wait for a rickety Delhi Roadways bus, which would take me, and numerous stinky, leery individuals to our destinations. TdM would take me to my destination, right at the doorstep, so his odourous activities could be ignored. But not his choice of music. And timing.
We had decided to meet exactly at 7.45 am at the roadside, because it took 15 minutes to reach our language school, park the car and get inside the classroom for our class at 8.00 am. Some days he waited for me, parked on the roadside; most days, I waited for him. As soon as my person was close enough to the door, he’d open the door, giving me a sweet smile, and beckon me in. Every single time, the music player in his car would play a wistful-sounding man’s voice, narrating, perhaps, his dream — “…and then, we make love…” he’d reminisce, or visualise, in his deep, sexy voice. Every single time. Regardless of whether TdM opened the door for me at 7.45 or 7.42, the singer would invite me inside a tiny car, stuffed with hope and stale gastric gas, his voice gleaming with hope and, perhaps, remembrance.
TdM decided to leave German classes and join cargo arrangements for Lufthansa, but he left behind his very sweet smile, and (no, not any smell) but that one line — … and then, we make love.
Hitch-hiking was an exciting thing for some at the hostel. Some of us post-graduate girls had never lived in a big city, never seen the magic and rubbish of it, so every new thing was, well, new. The girls who had initially begun taking a ride towards their destination to avoid using the sometimes costly and often unpleasant public transport had set some rules, which we were elaborately told as a part of our introduction to hostel life — never take a ride when alone, never ‘hail’ a ride, point your thumb towards the direction you wish to take, never approach a car that has central locking system or tinted glasses, never sit on a two-wheeler. There were more, but I seem to have forgotten them. I do have a propensity to forget important things.
Like we did that evening, Madhulika, Sarita, Meetu and I. We had to rush back to the hostel, it was gate closing time, and there was no time to wait for a bus, so we began to ‘take a hitch’ as we called it, even though it was getting dark, and we weren’t supposed to stop a car (who knew what the driver was expecting). A black sedan stopped. Plush, with central locking system — a rare feature those days. We looked at each other, and decided to take the risk. Sarita sat in the front with the driver, the rest of us at the back.
The driver was chatty. He claimed to be a dry fruits wholesaler. And a lonely, middle-aged, very lonely man. “I have no friends,” he repeated at least fifteen times, and then he asked Sarita, who was by now sweating buckets, “Will you be my friend?” “No,” she cried. “Stop the car,” one of us from the back said in urgency. “Why? You wanted to get down at the crossing. That’s two blocks away!”
“Make him stop,” shrieked Sarita in sheer fright.
“Stop, sir, we have to get down here and meet someone right here. We’d forgotten.”
“Are you sure,” he said in his, now oily, voice.
He stopped the car, we all jumped out. All, except Sarita. He’d locked all the doors after us. And after some too-long seconds, he, just like that, opened the door again, and Sarita darted out.
It goes without saying, of course, that the experience left us shaking and trembling in the chilly Delhi night. But not too frightened for long, because we hitched a ride back to the hostel, and luckily found a not-lonely person who dropped us right where we wanted, and who didn’t have a central locking system.
We were ingenues in a world thronging with ingenues pretending to be experts. We just liked to keep our doors open, with a strong barbed wire guard at helm. And so, we had a lot of fun, too. Like that evening, while coming back from a movie, we were looking for a ‘hitch’ and suddenly one of us shouted, “Smooch, smooch!” The rest of us reacted like a bunch of children being offered a tasty treat for the second time. Second time? There never was a first time for us, but we knew what a smooch was, and since we’d never experienced one — either personally or visually — the word got our attention. Some of us were able to see the unaware couple in a car, smooching, while the others just sighed with regret of having missed an opportunity. All of us, though, had a good laugh.
But fun wasn’t to last long, it was to be replaced with an un-explainable feeling of repulsion. When we reached the main road from where we expected take a ride back to the hostel, there didn’t seem much hope of getting any — it was dark already and people were rushing back home. No time to stop for a strange group of girls. But one did, eventually.
I asked the usual question we had been ‘instructed’ to — “Which are you going, sir?”
“This way,” he said.
“Sorry, I couldn’t…” before I could finish the sentence, Sarita whipped me out of his sight, and he drove off, laughing.
It was then she told me that while I was too busy delivering my perfect line (it was the first time I was saying it), he had unzipped his trousers and was pointing downwards, when he had said, “This way.”
Our experiences weren’t all unpleasant. They were all educational, though. I’ve listed here all that came to my mind, remembering the days when eagerness was a tad greater than precaution. The fear of experiencing unpleasantness didn’t always accompany an outing. When we were younger, a little fancy-free. And yet to experience.