To the adventures of a solo trip.
Thank you all the Good Men of the world, Thank you.
This is going to be a bit long with real life experiences in details. Read at your own risk. Rantings ahead 😀
It was only a month ago, that I was found arguing with a friend on how men never understand equality. I was mad angry and I kept blabbering that all men were alike, and the society is so biased with them, that no matter what they do, they always find a way out of the mess, they get in. And, we suffer for their deeds. My friend is very patient. She kept calming me down and trying to make a valid point by mentioning how good her father is and how good my father was, and that should be our standard to judge men and not some random guy who is molesting, abusing another woman to satisfy their ego. Howsoever I was not convinced. The woman in me was reminded of the broken marriage one of my closest friends’ is going through, how much her husband tortured her before she finally let go of him. The girl in me was reminded of the threat I read in the newspapers daily about the molestation and rapes that were happening in the various parts of our country. The young professional in me reminded me of the gender-bias I faced when I just started working. The seventeen year old was reminded how much I had to struggle after my father passed away, just because I was a girl. There were men who told me, girls are meant to be married off and their father’s property and business to be divided among people who had sons. I was reminded how my mother was warned to not trust a girl child with her property and that the girl might run away with all the money. So, I was not convinced. I had too many reasons to call men privileged and the society biased.
One week after this incident,
I was travelling to Chennai for some work. I was mad late for my flight. I didn’t pre-book my tickets. And they only had a middle seat to offer me. I enquired about the aile and window seat beside me, which they informed were occupied by two middle-aged men. Now, I was super uncomfortable. I walked back to the Spice jet guy and told him if he could change my seat. He informed me that seats were filled and that he couldn’t help. Almost a minute later, he called me back to inform me that he would upgrade me to a SpiceMax seat without any extra charge, and that he understands that it would be uncomfortable for a girl to sit in between two strangers. I thanked him, boarded my flight happy and smiling.
Reaching Chennai, I had to go to Kancheepuram, a 70kms drive from the airport. I booked a cab. The girl in me scared with the innumerous molestation events we hear each day about the girls who travel solo, and considering it was evening time. The car broke down midway at a place which had bare population. Exactly what I was fearing. I had no water, no food, the night was nearing and the place I was about to stay at, for the workshop closes at 10 pm. I didn’t even know what to voice, I saw him making some phone calls, talking in Tamil. I was shit scared. Airtel net wasn’t working and I couldn’t even send my location to a friend or family. Out of fear and panic, I spoke nothing and waited till the driver fixes the car, praying God that I don’t get into the newspapers the next morning for being killed for travelling solo. Half an hour later, a group of four men came and were talking to the driver. The driver knocked at my window to offer me water. He informed me, that it would take 20 mins and they would fix the car, that he had the mechanic come up. I still did not believe him, but I didn’t have the guts to argue. Half an hour later, he started the car and took me to my destination, dropped me safe and sound. Said a sorry meekly for the inconvenience caused and left. He also mentioned that if he left the car, to get the parts repaired, it would have been faster, but he didn’t want to leave me alone, for it was unsafe. I thanked my stars. And, realised how wrong I had judged these men. I looked up at the sky and smiled. Voiced a thank you silently.
When I reached the venue, it was 10:30 at night. The gates were closed by 10. I somehow managed to get in for I knew for sure no food was waiting for me that night, and I had to sleep food-less that night. The place looked like those age-old holiday homes. I entered my room, unpacked, refreshed and around 11:15, there was a knock in my door. I was super sceptical to open it. I opened it slightly to see an old man standing with what seemed like food in his hand. He came inside the room and sat himself on the chair and asked me to eat. . It had Sambar, Rice and some potatoes semi-fried. I was like *what the F? Nobody does that to me?* in my mind. He had mistaken me for Tamil, because of my brown skin colour. I told him that I was a bong. He had poor English but I loved how he wanted to communicate with me. He told me that he is the cook here, he is being working here since the last 50 years. It is his duty to feed everyone before he sleeps. That he has a granddaughter who would be of my age, and that he had not seen her in the last 12 years. Finally when I was done eating and he was going away he shocked me by saying, that he saw me entering the gate all tired and hungry, its not his job to serve after 10 but he went to the kitchen cooked and brought me this meal hoping that if he is good to me today, someone somewhere will also be good and kind to his granddaughter. I was so touched. Till that day I only believed woman that a kind hearts. That Man changed my rigid thought I was stuck with since the last 10 years I have lived without my father. I thanked him and dozed off to sleep.
2 days later, when I was done with the workshop I wanted to visit Pondicherry. Excited with the good days and good people I was living with. I realised, a happy woman is only the result of good men around her. I booked zoom car to drive to Pondicherry. I was out of my cage. I felt free. I found a place where I felt safe. Chennai to Pondicherry is like 155kms drive on the ECR- Eastern Coastal Road. It took me 3.5 hours to reach Pondicherry. The beautiful blue Bay of Bengal on the one side of the ECR and greens on the other side. That drive was the most peaceful thing that happened to me in the last 10 years, it was that serene.
I reached a different India. By then, I had begun to wonder if its just Tamil Nadu which was this safe or is it my perspective towards men that needs to change. And suddenly from the nagging and sulking young woman to the extremely happy young girl. I felt good. I took a quick walk in and around the streets to see the place I was living at, before I called it off as the happiest day of my life. I lost my way back to the hotel. My phone was drained out of charge and dead. I had no idea how I would return back for I believed cities like this shut down sooner than ours. And I was right. I found no autos. There were very few people in the streets and they barely understood what I spoke. I was walking aimlessly to find atleast some help, and then I bumped into this guy and he only spoke Tamil. “No English” as they say. I tried explaining him by naming my hotel a 100 times. He signalled me to follow him. I was sceptical but I had no way anyways. I was mad scared for it was dark, roads were empty and I had no other option but to take a chance and trust him. I prayed to the almighty and followed him. 2 mins later, I spotted my hotel. How dumb of me! I was wandering two streets away and couldn’t find my way back. Howsoever the Tamil boy nodded and greeted and went away. True Indeed.. I was in a different India.
Next morning, I walked up to the roof of the restaurant for my breakfast. Most hotels in Pondicherry have roof top restaurants. Wow isn’t it? So after my breakfast was done, I met this girl. She introduced herself as the social marketing head of the hotel. Assuming she would be a local, I asked her what is the best way to get to Auroville. And, I just couldn’t believe what she uttered after that. To quote her exactly, “You are a solo girl travelling? I don’t think you should go to Auroville all alone. You know its all forest and unsafe there. Even if you take a driver, whats the guarantee you would be safe? The driver could be unsafe too.” I was like but I came all the way from Calcutta, I can’t miss Auroville. Infact, I was thinking of driving myself to the place. And she said, “Look I am nobody to ask you not to but if you are really that brave please go but do carry some pepper spray along with you. Last time my friends went there they were robbed, inspite of being in a group.” I bid her and walked down with mixed feelings. Because I had heard all good things about Auroville. But she was a local and she had negative things to say. I didn’t know whom to believe. Howsoever I went out to see more of the city. I hired a Vespa to get wings to fly around 😛 So I visited the churches, the temples, the Sri Aurobindo ashram, the beaches, the french café. I kept asking the same question to almost everyone I met that day.. is Auroville unsafe? So the Tamils claimed it to be dominated by foreigners so anything can go wrong; and the migrants said the local Tamils in the village can rob you on the road. I received a mix response. I had always been a stubborn kid all my life. I found a sense of thrill in doing the things that were forbidden. I decided to drive the next morning to Auroville. It was around 12kms from the place I lived in. Almost a cake walk for me, but I had never driven to any village before. I was such a city person. I lost my way. The de-route took me 6 kms extra. After driving for 25 odd minutes I reached somewhere near the Auroville Beach. I had a left turn to take and drive another 7 kms. Initial 2 kms had hotels and people but post that it was all empty. And, to be honest I was a bit scared of the tyres. What if they punctured, whom would I seek help from? Howsoever very soon I reached a place so green that I had almost forgotten all fears and was busy appreciating nature at its best.. clicking pictures, collecting flowers and studying trees. Yes almost. 😀
And suddenly Airtel had no network. I didn’t know which way to go. I waved to a running vehicle to stop him. I knew he wouldn’t stop. For we the city people barely stop in these situations. We are taught not to stop on empty roads. We fear to be robbed. But that man stopped. I asked him about the way and he asked me to follow him. It was not his way. He went out of his way to guide me to the right route. I had started pinching myself by then asking myself if I was dreaming. Wasn’t it to good to be true? That’s how we are conditioned to grow. We are asked to not believe strangers, who knew strangers were so good. After around 10 mins, he pointed me to the centre. I thanked him and my stars. He left. I wonder if these men didn’t exist what would we women do.
I got a pass to the Matrimandir. Drove to the beach, ate at the bakery and was reading an informative that I collected from the Visitors Centre. Suddenly I recollected what my father always said, “Never punish the second person you meet for the wrong encounter with you had with the first. For every bad man that you meet, there is four good that you will see.” I never really belived him for the life I had seen after him, without him was very tough on me. But that moment, with so much of goodness around: all that he said made sense to me for the first time. My thoughts took me back to the life I had spent as a fatherless daughter in the last 10 years flashed in front of my eyes. Yes, there were cousins who wanted to break me emotionally, but there was a brother, not related to me by my blood who stood by me through every emotional low. Yes, he was my father’s brother who insulted me and challenged my capability as a girl child, but there was an uncle, not related to me by my blood who believed I would overcome every hurdle that would come by. Yes, she was my aunt who warned my mother that I would run away with a boy with all the money, but there was a teacher who believed I would turn into one of the finest women living. Yes, there were too many selfish people that I always talked about. But rarely have I acknowledged the good men who have supported me when I was losing it out on humanity. To every jerk who stares at women as if they are going to eat you up, there are men who understand its uncomfortable for a girl to sit in between two men in a flight. To every uber incident that we hear every other day about women being harassed, there are men like Shakti Anna, who drove me safe to my destination inspite of the breakdown. To every mysterious old man tales we read in the newspapers who turn out to be serial killers, there are men like Gopal Pattan who gave me food at almost midnight. To every passerby who ignores people at trouble, there are men like that Tamil boy who helped me despite not knowing my language. To every road robberies and rapes we hear of each day, there are men like the one I met on my way to Auroville who went out of his way to help me for nothing in return.
Dear Good men, It is for you, we feel safe. It is for you, we feel privileged. It is for you we still hope to bump into a better human being, and that not all of you are rapists and opportunists. And this trip changed my perspective. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart from all the people I mentioned in the above instances to the people I couldn’t. I thank you all. There were more instances like so but mentioning them here will only lengthen this post. But before I end this, to all the woman who have suffered inequality for being a girl child.. Know that not every man is alike. Some men are good and they treat you like they treat their mothers and sisters at home. Raise your boys well, teaching them equality and they will make the world a better place to live in.
But before I stop typing.. one thing that I need to mention: Be careful too, not all men are good either. If I fell into the hands of one bad man in the whole trip. I wouldn’t be alive to tell you this story. And if something bad would have happened, you would have blamed me for taking all these risks that I did. Because, the good and the bad, they all look good in the beginning. What I learnt was, think good and trust people. If everybody out there was bad, the world would have no longer been a place to live. Its always a balance between the good and the bad. Choose wisely!