Cobra. Bodyguard. Impower. Bullet. What are these, you wonder? Brand names of pepper spray. Why do I know, you ask? Because New Years’ Eve happened.
Unlike so many others in Bangalore, I wrapped up work at 5 PM on NYE to head home! Yes, I wanted to stay indoors while the rest of city revelled out in ten degrees of chill. If finding commute on regular days is a pain, that evening was exceptionally terrible. It took me ten minutes of futile attempts at booking an Uber and three refusals, before an auto driver agreed to drop me home, by the meter. Anyone who’s travelled in Bangalore knows ‘by the meter’ is a blessing. But was I to know what would follow? In the guise of a request for smaller notes to buy gasoline, he borrowed 2000 bucks from me, skipped the gas stations and took a wrong turn. On my insistence to return the money back, he stopped at the beginning of a flyover, turned around to scare me with stories of a fresh murder he’d committed and threatened to put a knife through me. I, obviously, didn’t want to see him brandish a knife, so a couple of futile attempts later I got off the auto, lest he drive away with me. Oh, he wasn’t crazy; he was crazy drunk. I saw him speed away with my money, but more importantly, my composure and the peace of my family and friends. At the end of three hours, I’d found my strength again, a helpful auto driver and with my friends in tow, filed a complaint with the police.
They say PTSD is diagnosed after a month of the symptoms, which generally show up around 3 months after the tragedy. But what is the diagnosis for the deviant thoughts that strike me every time I step into an auto now? What about the anxiety that rushes through me when the auto driver takes a shorter, new route? What about my friends now who keep asking me if I’ve reached home, while I am still stuck in Bangalore traffic? What would I have done if the man had taken out a knife? You’d say ‘don’t overthink’. I try not to. But when I look out of the auto to distract myself, I catch myself reading auto license plate numbers, searching for the one I’d unfortunately ridden in. When I look inside the auto, I furtively glance at the driver in the rear view mirror. When they argue about the fare now, I prefer to get down midway. When I give them a bigger note, I worry if they’ll return the change. This happened in broad daylight – would I have survived an attempt at night? I have seldom felt more vulnerable in Bangalore but that day in the usually crowded metropolis I found no person to walk up to. There were barely any cars on the roads, people were scattered around on a five-point crossing and there was no traffic police guard. Post my written complaint, I expected the police to immediately start a search to nab a drunk driver – after all, I did have his license plate details on camera. But I can’t tell them how to do their job, right? Would the driver have done this if a man sat in the back seat? Would a pepper spray have helped me? Could I have punched him in the face and gotten my money back? What if the driver hadn’t stopped the auto at my insistence? Should I have sat there and argued or cowered at his macho attempts to scare me?
I am not maligning all auto drivers. But nor do I plan to forgive and forget what happened. What I wonder is what had I done wrong? How do I ensure that I don’t get into another such situation? How do you ensure constant vigilance?
Oh, also. Happy New Year! ❤