It was November 2013, when I found myself in Delhi, all geared up to set out on my first official trek. It was the first vacation I was taking on my own in years, and I had made a very detailed plan of how things were going to work.
The plan was to reach Delhi in the morning and spend the day with my brother and take a bus to Kathgodam that evening. I thought everything would work like clockwork and I would go from one phase of my vacation to another with ease; after all, I had spent quite a bit of time planning the whole thing, dotting all the I’s and crossing all the t’s.
Little did I know that someone up there had a bit of a sense of humour and I was to be the entertainment for that evening.
It was day 1 of the vacation, and I had arrived in Delhi and spent a grand old time roaming around the city with my brother. As evening approached, my thoughts turned to book a cab to take me from where my brother stayed, to the bus stand.
With casual nonchalance, I pulled out my phone and called the cab company to book a cab but lo and behold; there were none available. With the nonchalance a bit dented, I called another cab company, and they too didn’t have any cabs.
At this point, the nonchalance gave way to a bit of concern. Company after the company told me that they had no cabs available. Now I was knocking on the doors of panic as the clock ticked down to my reporting time at the bus station.
Suddenly my brother declared that he had to get ready because he had to leave for the office soon (he worked the night shift and left for office at about 6 in the evening). I was mortified. I wanted to ask him how he could abandon me when my whole plan was unravelling in front of me!
Luckily for me, he said that he would continue to call cab companies and see if he could book me a cab. A short while later he left, and the first thing that came to my mind was, “Well that’s it then. I’ll be booking a flight back home tomorrow morning. There is no way a cab could turn up now.” After quite a few frantic calls to my brother, I got the news that he MAY have found me a cab and asked me to wait at the gate to his place.
I reached the gate and started pacing up and down; preparing my soul for the crushing defeat my first vacation was turning into. I was in such a state that I didn’t even notice the car trying to reverse near me. Finally, he called and said that the cab was confirmed and that he was already at my location.
I was puzzled since I had seen no cab around me, and I told him I saw no one. He told me to give the guy a call and gave me the number. I called the cab driver, and he told me he had reached and told me the registration number of the car.
I looked around and spotted him immediately, but something was not right; it was the car that I had failed to notice earlier. The car had white plates on it. Cabs, being public transport, are supposed to have yellow plates, not white plates that belong on a private vehicle. But by this time I had barely got 45 min left to reach the bus stand, so I didn’t argue much and identified myself, got in the cab and got ready to set off. The ride started with some small talk, and I told the can guy that I needed to catch a bus to Kathgodam in 40 min.
My usual routine in a car is first to put on the seat belt and then lock the door before setting off, and that is just what I did. Delhi had been making headlines recently, and for all the wrong reasons, so the moment I saw the plates on the car, I was more alert than Jason Bourne.
I kept telling myself that you are also from this region and you speak perfect Hindi so it won’t matter. He’ll never guess you are not from Delhi. As we headed out, the driver told me the two routes he could take and asked me which one to take. Sounding cool as a cucumber, I told him which route to take to which he replied, “You’re not from around here, are you?”
Trying to sound very casual, while going into a full-blown panic inside, I told him I hadn’t been to Delhi for a few months but added, with confidence, that it hadn’t changed much. Which was a lie since the last time I had been to the city was almost a decade ago; even then I was passing through.
He just laughed it off and turned his attention to the drive. Since he was now busy dealing with the traffic, I decided that I had to take action and prepare for the worst.
Switching back to my Jason Bourne mode, I stealthily undid my seatbelt, which of course meant that he immediately noticed that I had undone the seat belt. Thankfully he said nothing and turned his attention once again to driving.
I then carefully unlocked the door and placed my left hand on the handle of the door. With the right, I took out my phone and decided to make a ‘casual’ call to my brother while checking the map to see if we were heading in the right direction but the joy of joys, the battery was low. I still managed to check the map and was shocked to see that he was taking a route that was 4km longer than a suggested route.
In my mind, I could already see the next day’s headlines, and they were not very uplifting! I then decide that shit could hit the proverbial fan at any moment, so I needed to have a plan of action. The plan I came up with was that if trouble starts to rear its ugly head, I would, in one smooth motion, open the door and fling myself out of the car; hence the seat belt and the door lock.
I also messaged my brother and told him under NO circumstances was he to take his eyes off his phone till I call him from the bus stand and sound the ‘all clear’. We still had another 20 minutes to go before we reached my destination, so I set about observing the situation very carefully, making a casual not of my surroundings and keeping an eye on the driver; and by that I mean frantically looking left and right, desperately trying to memorise landmarks.
The cab ride seemed to be going on when suddenly the cab started pulling to the left and slowing down. I decided that this was it! I was ready to hurl myself out of the cab into the middle of the traffic. HE WOULD NOT GET ME! I admit it wasn’t the brightest thing to do, but when you’re in a panic…
The cab came to a halt, and that driver turned to me with a bit of a smile and declared that we had reached. I must have looked like quite an idiot with my hand on the door and body half out of the seat as though ready to spring because the very next thing the driver said was, “I took the longer route in because it doesn’t have as much traffic. If we had taken the shorter route, you would have missed your bus for sure.”
With, what I can only imagine was, a very sheepish look on my face, I got out of the car, collected my bag and paid the fare for the ride. Before parting ways, I asked him why he had white plates to which he replied saying that all his cabs were already engaged, but when he heard that I needed a cab rather urgently, he decides to come in his car.
If I looked sheepish before, I felt downright stupid now. I called my brother to give him the ‘all clear’ and told him what just happened, and he couldn’t stop laughing! He knew the chap from before.