Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Ride of my Life

IGenre: Fiction
Written for: Indiblogger Tata Zica Blogging Marathon

Image Courtesy: Here

Resting my head against the rear headrest of the hatchback, I wondered if I should have brought her along."Dad, you’re going to India?”Emily had asked.“Fantastico! I've always wanted to see the Taj Mahal.” It was a short trip. Perhaps, next year, I thought.
Impossible permutations of traffic spilled the road. The serpentine lanes of Agra formed a maze, running between shops, houses and places of worship. I had lost sense of time when the car screeched to a halt.
“Are you drunk or what?” I snapped. “You could’ve crushed the girl!”
“Sorry sir,” the driver mumbled.
In the rear view mirror, I sensed the taut muscles of his tanned neck. He was easily distracted by people walking on the road. Now and then, he would slow down and crane his neck to look out. He was there, and then he wasn’t. What was he thinking?

'When in India, expect the unexpected,' my neighbor in Seattle had warned. Driving back to Delhi with this jerk was not a reassuring thought. So when we reached the hotel, I requested the reception desk to provide for a replacement.
“Any problem Sir?" asked the receptionist.
“No. But can you please arrange for a different driver? Same car, different driver. ”
“Sure Sir. Did Yogesh misbehave? Ask for a tip?"
“No,” I was getting exasperated. “He didn't. Let's say I’m not comfortable with him.”
“No problem sir,” she smiled. “Same car, new driver.”

I was proceeding to check-out when I saw Yogesh in the foyer, walking with familiar uncertainty. My heart beat quickened. The lady at the reception desk informed that the new driver had reported sick. “Don’t worry, Sir,” she said sweetly. “Yogesh’s reliable.”
We exchanged glances, Yogesh and I. He forced a smile. I couldn't. As he was loading my suitcase in the spacious boot space, I pondered over the possibilities. Was he into drugs? A paedophile? What the heck, I was strong enough to overpower the puny man. But what if he had weapons? Accomplices? Dammit, I was over-thinking the ‘expect the unexpected’ part.
“How long’s the drive?” I asked.
He looked quizzically. I raised my voice. “Time to reach Delhi? How much?”
“Sir, three hours. New car," he said. "Will reach before dark.” 

The black and beige interior of the zippy car was neat. As I stretched my legs, Yogesh switched on some peppy music. Unlike earlier, his driving was better. But the speeding was disconcerting. We completed the rest of the journey in silence, eyeing each other in the mirror once in a while. Thankfully, the impact design of the Tata car ensured a smooth ride.
Delhi was near. I could tell by the number of trucks lined on the highway. “Stop somewhere. I need to use the rest room.” He nodded. But continued speaking to someone on his mobile phone. Perhaps, he was asking for directions. Given that the car was equipped with latest navigation system, I wondered what was on his mind. Because soon, it was the usual pattern of absentminded driving - looking out distractedly. Jumping the signal.

The brewing dust storm had made way for a drizzle. When heavy drops began to lash against the windscreen, we were in the thick of the city. By then, I was desperate to use the restroom. Just when I was about to snap, realizing we were looping in the same street for a second time, he parked the car next to a dingy restaurant. Even as he opened the door for me, he looked at the young girl passing by. I caught him in the act. Our eyes met. He looked away. There was no sign of embarrassment. Or shame. 

An hour later, when I emerged after having a cup of tea, Yogesh was nowhere around. When several calls went unanswered, I decided to look for him. The street was teeming with people after the rain had petered out. Men idled in groups, some squatting around and playing cards under a blue plastic canopy. Film posters on the wall of the narrow pavement, wet after the rains stared at me.
“Have you seen my driver? He’s wearing a white shirt and white trousers,” I asked the man sipping tea on the rickety benches of a cycle repair shop. He pointed towards a shabby building across the road. His suggestive smile made me uneasy. I crossed the road to reach a narrow staircase dimly lit by a lone bulb that hung from a loose dangling wire. I quickly climbed past a man reeking of cheap alcohol. Before I could climb up the remaining steps, I saw Yogesh being slapped by a burly man. Another, short stout guy was hurling abuses in Hindi as they shoved him towards the staircase. 

“What the f**k. Let’s get outta here,” I shouted in disbelief. Yogesh looked at me as he protected his head from the punches. “Sir, she’s here. I saw her leaning from the balcony,” said Yogesh.
“Who’s here?”
“My daughter,” he said. “Guddi.”
“What do you mean, she’s here?” We rushed down the narrow staircase. “Let’s get into the car first.” 

Once we were close to the car, tears promptly welled up making his eyes look like pools of grief. He appeared oddly vulnerable. Almost childlike. “Sir, six months. Guddi disappeared. Gone. A day before her fourteenth birthday, she went to school. But no return. My wife wanted to stop schooling. But I wanted her study,” he wiped his eyes with his upper arm. “When I travel new place, I look for her. Someone said, she was in Agra. I visited some brothels yesterday but no find. Today I get a call informing she is here.”
“Are you sure you saw her?”
He nodded.
“Maybe you’re mistaken. Their faces are caked with make-up,” I tried to reason.
“How can I forget my daughter’s face?” he said. “Can you?”
“Err, no,” I said. Emily's smiling face was before me.“So what now?”
“Sir, I’ll drop you at the hotel. Then visit police station.”
“You think the police will help you?” 
“I don’t know,” he mumbled."I can't give up."

Done with the security check, I had an hour to board the plane. I called his number. “The person you are trying to reach is currently unavailable,” said an automated voice. Once I was in the plane, I tried his number again. The call went unanswered.
 
This blog post is inspired by the blogging marathon hosted on IndiBlogger for the launch of the #Fantastico Zica from Tata Motors. You can apply for a test drive of the hatchback Zica today.



46 comments:

  1. That was so touching Alka. I wonder what happened! I could visualize the entire vivid narration. Kidnapping for prostituition is pretty rampant in our country and probably more so in the north. Scary!

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    1. It's based on a real story I read in the newspaper Kala, thanks.

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  2. Misconceptions based on appearances. I guess, all of have been guilty of it at one point of time or the other.

    Taut storyline with an unexpected ending. Loved it.

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  3. An absorbing narrative that kept me hooked till the end!

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  4. I wish he found his daughter and has a happy ending. Gripping narration. Good luck for the contest :)

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    1. The contest was a trigger Prudhvi, I just wanted to tell this story. Attempt fiction. Learn to write.
      Thanks.

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  5. The story just sucked me in. Beautifully told. Wish the ending was different. Very nice work!

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  6. I hear about such things happening in movies, in the news and in stories...It makes me sad, very very sad!! A country that has a million goddesses to worship also has such horror stories!! Very nice narration Alka. Good luck for the contest!

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    1. It's based on a true story. Only the foreigner was Indian.
      Thanks for spending time here.

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  7. That was such an absorbing story ! You should do fiction more often Alka !

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    1. Thanks Ruch, unlike columns, fiction doesn't come easy. I took a week to write this one.
      Wonder if the effort shows.

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  8. A crisp narration. You should do this more.

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    1. Thank you, will try. Though non fiction comes easy to me.

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  9. Hope Guddi is found safe and sound.

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    1. It's based on a true story. Yes, they rescued her. This was in the paper two year ago.

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  10. Heartbreaking! I've heard of so many cases of girls abducted for trafficking. Don't blame the foreigner either. The world is so unsafe now. Nicely done.

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    1. Child trafficking is pretty rampant. Some just disappear and are never found. Some used as organ donors and some for sex. Unfortunate.

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  11. Tragic, but unfortunately these incidents do happen. Your narrative kept me hooked till the end. Nicely done!

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    1. Thanks Aditi. For the share too. Means a lot.

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  12. Gripping!! quite a story..got my heart beats faster towards the end, glad to hear she was rescued.. All the best for the contest :)

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    1. You should see me grinning right now. So glad to see you here.
      Thanks dear.

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  13. Awesome fiction Alka ! You should attempt this more often. Tragic too. I was reminded of an english movie called 'Taken'

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  14. That was such an awesome narration! I wonder what happened! Did everything go alright? Did he find his daughter?

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    1. He did. The police raided the place and rescued five girls.
      :)

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  15. That's a chilling scenario - to find your lost daughter and be unable to help her. I cannot even begin to imagine what he would have gone through. A gripping story very well told.

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  16. ohh no no please don't end it this way... now I want to know what happened to Guddi... You have weaved such a gripping tale that tugged at my heart!!

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    1. Its a true story Rajlakshmi, except that there was no foreigner. Five girls were rescued from the brothel. But lakhs of children go missing every year. Many arent found and that's the sad reality.
      http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/One-lakh-children-go-missing-in-India-every-year-Home-ministry/articleshow/39779841.cms

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  17. Very well written, Alka ji. I liked the closing touch that says everything about the mafia and police we have. I wish you the best in the contest.

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    1. Thank you. Coming from a master story teller, it makes me very happy.
      But why the Ji after my name?

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    2. I'll take the Ji back, Alka. Thank you.

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    3. Haha, yeah. That's better. :) Read the first part of your current story, waiting for the second tomorrow.

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  18. Oh no .. this is so sad Why oh why a country where a woman is worshipped, we have all this happeneing to .. when will we wake up to such incidents and actually do something .. I was talking to a officer in Indian police and he was saying this is very common in some states, so much so that people are just not bothered anymore .. its become a norm..

    Bikram's

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    1. Lakhs of children go missing every year. It's mind boggling. Organ donation, child trafficking.....
      Sad.

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  19. We are all guilty of judging people. Very well written Alka. Life teaches us many lessons like this one.

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  20. What a tragic ending, Alka! You related it beautifully

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  21. The harsh reality. The sad part is while the moral police run behind kissing couples and lovestruck youngsters saying they are all against the Indian culture, no one is really bothered about the kidnaps, rapes and trafficking.

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    1. Harsh reality, yes. And misplaced priorities.
      Thanks Ranjini.

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  22. Besides beautifully crafted (thanks to you Alka), this is, indeed, a heart-wrenching story. Well, it’s not even a story as you have mentioned it to be real. Though you ended it abruptly, I can clearly sense what Guddi would have been through.

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  23. It's scary how children are kidnapped and failed to get protection. The plight of the commoners.It's a chilling account Alka and so well narrated.

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