If you’ve always wanted to know what it feels like to be a rabbit accosted by a pack of wolves, without actually venturing out in the woods, go visit the New Delhi railway station. And if you don’t like the jungle analogy, here’s another. Arriving at the New Delhi Railway station, without booking a registered cab is like being the Delhi CM – master of your own will, but helpless. You can cry hoarse saying “Sir, please don’t trouble us, we just want to go home,” but you won’t be spared by the mafia of cab hounds.
Expecting the Shatabdi to arrive Delhi on time, we did not book a cab to drop us home. Since nothing pretty much changes when it comes to railways, no points for guessing that the train arrived late. Yes, we could have booked a cab while in the train, but expecting achche din, like idiots, we succumb to the optimist in our head that says, “You are not alone. Any cab will drop you home.”
As soon as we emerge out of the station around midnight, a battalion of scruffy, smelly men accost us with a volley of, “Sir/Madam, taxi hogi? Kahan Jaana hai?” Suddenly, we are prey to the sundry members of the ‘Kaali-peeli’ cab tribe who menacingly play with their key chains in the index finger. One of them follows us with resolute doggedness, almost forcing us to surrender. “Gurgaon,” we say. “Fine, come with me,” he says. “No, thank you. We’ll take a pre-paid cab,” we say. “You won’t get a pre-paid cab to NCR at this hour,” he says. The moment we engage with him, his scruffy compatriots look at us with contempt. As if we’ve committed a crime by ignoring the rest of the pack. Even before the final amount is settled, this man takes our suitcase and hurriedly heads towards his cab. Now, unless you’ve won the steeple chase at school, you can’t jump across sleeping passengers and their luggage strewn around in a war zone.
Try to walk as fast as we can, we can’t match the lanky strides of the man with our suitcase. Moreover, only he knows where his vehicle is parked. Is it any surprise that when we reach his cab, heaving and panting, our suitcase is already shoved in his cab? Rather reluctantly we sit in the cab, kicking ourselves for not booking a registered cab. Once in the cab, an uncomfortable feeling envelops me and my husband. The cab reeks of cheap alcohol and the song playing on the radio does nothing to soothe our nerves. The driver begins to circle Connaught Place instead of driving us home. The man is polite, says nothing, but instinct nudges us to clamber out.
“Excuse me, what are you up to?” we ask. “Five minutes, I have to take CNG,” he mumbles. The long queue at the petrol station is a blessing. We open the door and get down the cab. “Give back our luggage,” we say. “We don’t want to travel with you.” The man is polite, but stubborn. “If you didn’t want to come with me, you should’ve said so earlier.” At which point we’ve had it. We pick our suitcase, get down and call a registered cab. While we wait at the petrol station much beyond midnight for our registered cab to arrive, the man stands across the road giving us an ominous stare.
There is no violence, no indecent act, no attack, no cheating, and yet the discomfort of going through this agony in the heart of the city makes you wonder if anything has changed in the past twenty years. Regardless whether Congress, BJP or AAP rule the city – chaos rules Delhi after midnight.