Isn’t This What You Wanted? To Solo Travel The Real India!

Dhanya felt suffocated by her seemingly flawless, perfect life. At some point, it occurred to her to quit her job and meet the real people of her country.

“Madam, get in, get in,” screamed an onlooker. Dhanya was reluctant, and now, irritated. How could some fruit vendor be giving out advice to her?

“I am a project manager!” she wanted to shout back at him. If anyone, I must be the one passing orders, she thought to herself. But she knew he was right. It was her last chance to get on the bus; probably the last one for the day, who knows!

With newly acquired energy and resolve, she held onto the sidebars of the bus door and yanked herself to contribute to the mass of people aboard. Her hair came undone, she felt someone pull at her dupatta and someone stepped on the edge of her sandals. The revolting stench of sweat mixed with deodorant filled her nostrils and she wanted to cover her nose, but her hands could not be released.

But, what bothered her more was the large backpack that was still jutting out of the bus door; it only had to gently brush against a passing vehicle outside and that would cause her to lose her balance and get thrown off the bus. She had to use all her might to push forward, push, push.

“Are you new here?” a sympathetic voice manifested from the human mass.

Without waiting to find out to whom the question was directed, Dhanya answered, “yes,” meekly. She tried to smile amidst the chaos.

“Where are you from?”

“Are you travelling alone?”

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“Are you married?”

“Kids?” a barrage of questions was directed at her from seemingly everywhere, and suddenly, she realized she was in the spotlight. She could not help but think how the questions had quickly turned from general to personal within three steps.

The “5 Whys”, she remembered the corporate jargon that uses the strategy of asking 5 ‘why’ questions to reach a root cause. Three were enough for turning a stranger into a close acquaintance, she thought. She was not going to answer any of them. Not yet, at least.

How far is Shimla?” she asked, turning generally to her left. Most of her fellow passengers looked perplexed. She then focused on a face to her immediate left and asked, once again.

A calm expression took the place of the previous perplexed one and the woman replied, “Soon, maybe three hours, maybe eight, but we should reach there eventually, it doesn’t matter, does it?” Dhanya was not expecting a philosophical take on the bus journey.

All she wanted to know was (a) how long would this ordeal last, and (b) whether she would make it in time for her connecting train. She was tempted to ask again, but instead pushed ahead to see if she could get in the periphery of the driver, whom she felt should know the answer.

“Behen,” an old woman behind her cried out, “Could you take off your load?” Dhanya tried to turn around, but this only increased the inconvenience, so she shrugged and smiled, indicating her helplessness in this matter.

The conductor of the bus appeared in front of her from what seemed like a human-sized toothpaste tube that spat out humans. “Madam,” he said, with a tinge of anger, “What a ruckus you are creating here! Why didn’t you put the bag on top of the bus?”

Dhanya cursed herself. “Isn’t this what you wanted? To travel the real India” her inner voice taunted her. She longed for the cool breeze of the air-conditioner in her office, the crisp new furniture, the sweet-scented air that is a characteristic of such office spaces, the polite voices and above all the personal space that is maintained at all times.

“You’re making a mistake.”

“You are doing what?”

“That’s so brave!” the voices of her colleagues and friends repeated in a loop in her head. The bus abruptly stopped and jolted the upper halves of all the passengers a foot forward, who, due to inertia, fell on their immediate neighbour in the front. Just then, a large set of people alighted, leaving behind some breathing space and a lot of body odour.

Dhanya felt a finger tap on her shoulder. It was the conductor. He had lost his previous angry outlook and was now ushering her into an empty seat with a kind expression. This was very confusing to her. She was nevertheless profusely thankful to him for his thoughtful gesture.

Just as she took her designated seat and rested her back, a two-year-old girl was promptly passed on from somewhere and landed on her lap. She wanted to politely refuse and say, “No! Thank you!”, but she was obliged to do her part as a return favour for securing the seat.

This, she had understood, was one of the hundreds of unsaid protocols that greased the society and kept the inhabitants civil and tolerant towards each other. If it was not a child, it would have been someone’s bag.

You have your duties towards the not-so-privileged standing passengers. The overtly friendly gestures always overwhelmed her as much as they scared her. She was not used to so much closeness.

Dhanya was, what we call, a compliant kid. She never rebelled, rarely threw tantrums and almost instantly agreed to anything that was suggested to her. In other words, she was easygoing.

It was not that she was in agreement with everything that was happening to her; she just was lazy to say “No” and take control of her own life. She meandered through the schooling, the successive jobs that came by, the promotions and of course the money.

If left on autopilot, she would have even married someone and settled down. Unlike most such people who would need a life-changing jolt, if not a full-on near-death experience, to sit up and think, Dhanya just woke up one morning and decided to do exactly the opposite of what she was doing till then. It was that simple.

She felt suffocated by her seemingly flawless, perfect life. At some point that day, it occurred to her to quit her job and meet the real people of her country. Not in a way that Gandhi would have experienced it. But in her own timid, docile way.

Her phone rang, waking her up from the deepest, sweetest sleep she had had in months. Her shoulder was wet, she noticed, from the drooling head that had dozed off on it.

“Are you okay, Dhanu?” it was her mother, who had a special knack to honey-trap her with free-flowing care, and before she knew it, Dhanya would be patronized like a small child.

“I am fine, ma, don’t worry about me,” she replied as she looked around to assure herself that nothing untoward had happened while she was asleep.

“No. I am not angry or anything, I am just travelling. It isn’t the same,” she said; the last sentence, with a hint of anger. She wanted to scream out, to her mother in particular, and the world in general, that there were kind and caring people all around if only one looked enough. She hung up her phone just in time to receive a piece of roti someone had passed to her as “prashad”.

Just then, a commotion started at the rear end of the bus. A seemingly drunk man was having an argument with the conductor, who, with the help of some other passengers, managed to silence him and banish him to a corner seat. Dhanya just smiled.

This would have made her anxious any other day. She had already started making conversation and the surrounding aunties were amused with her strong curly black hair as opposed to their most common straight silky hair.

“Are you not yet married?”

Yet again, this irritating personal question was popped but this time she smiled and said, “Arrey aunty, let me know if you have any groom in mind” and everyone around burst out laughing. She had realized how simple life could be and how complicated it was made out to be.

The brilliant sun that had scorched the inmates of the bus all day had mellowed into a glowing orange light that drenched them as though they were covered in “Fanta”.

A few scattered buildings appeared on either side of the road, as if placed there for the very purpose of announcing the arrival of a larger city. Dhanya gathered her wiry, untamed, stubborn locks into the confines of a hairband and looked for her backpack under her seat.

She got the feeling that it had been moved. Attributing it to the bouncy ride they had so far, she tried to extract her water bottle from it. The water bottle was gone, and so was a toilet kit that was kept accessible inside the top zip of the bag. That is when it struck her that she had been robbed.

Easy targets, she thought. There were two things she could do, (a) raise an alarm and hope that someone will identify the thief, (b) do absolutely nothing about it. Since all her life, all she did was nothing, she decided to raise an alarm.

“My bottle and kit are missing,” she whispered into thin air to get the message across to the neighbouring women. She somehow felt that they were guarding her all this while, and it was their duty if not anyone else’s to find the thief. But it turned out that they had their own belongings to look out for, and the alarm did not have the desired effect.

“Bhaiyya,” she told the conductor, who was passing by, “my items are missing from the bag.” He blew the whistle and the bus stopped. She felt deeply embarrassed that she caused a pause in everyone’s journey due to her petty issues.

The bus picked up a passenger and moved ahead without heeding Dhanya’s case. She understood that the conductor had completely ignored her.

It was dark as the bus pulled into the main bus stand. Dhanya wore her backpack, smiled at the conductor and thanked the driver on her way out. There was a whole new world out there to explore; a world that would involve moments of joy and sorrow, triumph and defeat.

As she was walking towards the platform, she heard “Didi, Didi…” She instinctively turned around to see a teenage boy following her with something in his hand. “These fell out of your bag,” he said.

An expression of shock, disbelief and joy overcame her at the same time. His eyes scanned the floor as he handed it over to her and disappeared into the crowd.

Image source: MixMedia via Getty images free and edited on CanvaPro

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About the Author

Sharada Ganesh

Sharada loves to travel the world, is passionate about reading and writing. She volunteers with various social movements in the field of sustainability and is associated with a womens' handloom weavers co-operative. She has read more...

6 Posts | 17,474 Views

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