Mr. R looks confused and squints into the darkness. There’s light afar, right at the end of the road, where it merges into another famous roundabout of the Capital. All roads look similar here. Dark parallel stretches of tree-lined avenues merging into these merry-go-rounds – the circular green oases heavily dotting the cityscape at regular intervals.
The high beams from the vehicles speeding past intervenes with the darkness. But these are sporadic, shifting patches of light desperately trying to fight with but in the long run getting sucked into the all engulfing black cesspool of the moonless night. The road is wide flanked by open land, green in daylight, now merely dark silhouettes looming large against the night sky.
Its mid December. Bitterly cold. Sitting late in the office is not my choice-work-culture but Mr. R, in whose car we all pool in, leaves us with no other choice as he loves to pretend hard work after office hours. Alternate transport is next to nil. Result - stuck up at Baarah Murthy, hungry, angry and late.
K sleeps peacefully. It’s cozy inside the car. The windows are pulled up. We are five of us in a Maruti 800 including Mr. R who myopically scans the desolate landscape and suddenly asks “Isko Baarah Murthy kyon kahate hain?”
What difference does it make Mr. R whether it is Baarah Murthy or Teen Murthy once you have lost your way!!! I curse the Government silently and its decision to decentralize the commercial and office areas of the city without sufficient transport network connecting to the residential suburbs.
Mr. R rotates the steering wheel indecisively. A, his secretary, tries to guide him to the right direction. A futile exercise as he is as knowledgeable as our driver is. I, who is famous for loosing my way home, do not want to enlighten Mr. R with my superior road sense.
A few more minutes pass by in indecision. Mr. R takes a turn. We move on in the darkness knowing not whether it is the right way. I try to lighten the atmosphere with an “amusing anecdote”.
Another desolate, winter night. A long, winding stretch of dark road. An autowallah is returning home when he is stopped by a beautiful girl dressed in bridal attire. She flaunts a cascade of long mane rippling down to her waist and a beatific smile to compliment her breath taking looks. She requests the auto driver to drop her home a short distance away as her car has suddenly broken down and the thoughtful driver has toed the vehicle away to the Workshop leaving her waiting in the darkness. She is scared and pleads help. The driver takes pity and agrees to drop her.
Although it’s a short run, the journey seems interminably long and the end of the road progressively distant. It is odd the way the young girl is left alone on the dark, discarded road and the driver disappearing with the car before finding her a suitable transport. The drivers, nowadays, are irresponsible and do not have any sense of propriety, muses the auto wallah.
It is also surprising the way the girl is dressed. Her adornments twinkle in the dark interiors of the auto. Is she running away from her home? Or planning to elope with somebody who has failed to turn up at the last moment? Disheartened the girl has decided to return home to her parents….or perhaps……something else…..something more ordinary, mundane, least exciting. The autowallah races on as does his mind. Whatever the reasons may be he feels sorry for her. He has a daughter too. A young girl of her age. The girl seems upset and perhaps uneasy too. There is a kind of restrained remorse about her. As though she is in mourning.
The auto-driver tries to pick up a conversation with her to alleviate her uneasiness. But the girl seems reluctant to talk and replies only in monosyllables. The driver still carries on. A kind of soliloquy. At least the journey will come to an end faster if a dialogue, nay a monologue, is struck, so thinks the autowallah.
He talks of the latest price hike…. the rising price of vegetables…. the survival of the poor is at stake…. the Government is doing nothing……the politicians are just making money and filling up their pockets…..and then the disparities……look at the way people squander money!!!!!!!!!…….the film stars, the politicians……the rich and the famous…………and of course these serials………….spoiling the children……he has bought a new TV on installments……but now he feels it’s a mistake……the children only want to watch serials and refuse to study…..and what serials, mem’saab…..the other night they show a girl stopping a car in the dead of the night…she beguiles the driver to give her a lift…………..and takes him away to a jungle and suddenly vanishes into thin air………….but before the disappearing act as she picks up her long dress to disembark from the vehicle her feet are visible ………………”woh chudail this uske paaon ulte the!………(she was a witch with upturned feet!)”
At this juncture of this one-sided conversation, the young girl suddenly puts forward her feet. and asks “jaise mere hain?(like mine?”………………………The auto takes a sudden wild turn, lurches forward and almost does a vault on its rear wheels and then blank…..nothingness……… Regaining consciousness the driver finds himself at the ridge in the other end of the city, lying spread eagled on the rugged terrain hidden by a cluster of thorny bush, his uniform torn and his wallet gone; his auto lies at a distance upturned, the front wheel of the three wheeler almost stuck into a scraggy tree.
Mr. R, who has been listening to the story intently, is unusually quiet. He turns a bend and almost rams into a lone figure standing in the middle of the road. He jams on the brakes. A girl frantically gesturing for a lift. Her long hair sways in serpentine coils against the backdrop of the night sky inadequately lit by the distant stars. Her face is almost invisible in the half light. Mr. R swears under his breath and swerves the car to the left with a jerk. A fraction of a second. The girl is missed by an inch of a space. Narrow escape!! K jolts up with a start and asks where we are. We fill her in. She responds quickly and points the right direction. Mr. R takes a screeching U turn and accelerates. We speed up at last homeward.
Post Script: Mr. R. is avoiding Baraah Murthy since then and we are leaving office an hour early now.