“Nightmarish” is what comes to mind if you ask any Mumbaikar about traffic… The flyover constructions that last a lifetime, the crater sized potholes, roads dug up for the placement of cables or god knows what…and a battered tin placard that says " Inconvenience regretted " is pretty much the picture everywhere. Add to that a half hour of steady showers and life on a so called highway comes to a grinding halt..
Sometime midweek when it started raining cats and dogs in the evening, I thought of making an early exit from work and decided to hit the roads instead of the trains as getting into a train at around 6ish from Santacruz (a suburban station that is closest to my office) is nearly impossible. And as I have said earlier I am definitely not one of those brave souls who can barge into an overcrowded compartment and hang precariously from the footboard! I took an auto rickshaw instead hoping I would reach home faster.
I don’t know what makes me optimistic about the traffic situation..Every time I find myself saying “Ok so last time was bad..It will surely can’t get worse!” But Mumbai never fails to deliver on that count..our respected municipal corporation has duly dug up some more arterial roads just at the onset of the monsoons..making life miserable (that’s about the most expletive I can get here!) for those who travel by roads….So the inevitable happened…I got stuck in a traffic jam that showed no signs of easing up in a hurry…
Now, being a true blue Mumbaikar, I have stopped getting frustrated…and tearing my hair out when I am in one of those never ending traffic jams…I either make phone calls, send text messages, listen to music ..and when I am in no mood to do any of the above I just watch people….that’s by far the best “timepass” as a mumbaikar calls it…..
Its then that I spotted Farida…a little girl of no more than 4 or 5 was animatedly waving at someone…I couldn’t help stare at her face…eyes like a doe, pink lips..and a wheatish complexion….it was almost like looking at perfect beauty..in the form of this child woman. Too young to wear a burqua an oversized scarf…contoured her oval face…At first I thought she was waving at someone in particular…..so I pretended not to notice…but it was difficult not to look at such an adorable child…so I waved back….
No sooner than I had done so….the child became a little conscious..the way children are with strangers at first …so I made funny faces at her and she broke into a giggle…we were less than a feet apart ..she at the window of a Maruti Omni and me in the rickshaw…soon this little girl was animatedly making faces at me as well…I whispered slowly for her to read my lips“ tumhara naam kya hai” (what is your name) I asked..” Fa-ri-da” she replied imitating me ..with coy smile…
I don’t know how much time passed as Farida and I played a little game of making animals with our fingers…she would emulate what I was doing and make now a dog and now a deer that was happily scampering along..and all the time her giggle like the sound of trinkets kept background score…..I seemed to have forgotten about the traffic jam and was indulging in child play.
We were engrossed in our little games…when suddenly a stocky man…with a skull cap and a huge beard stepped out of the Maruti and with one swift movement shut the window that Farida was leaning out from..whats more he made a sharp about turn….and with a look of scorn said “ hum apni aurato-o ko aap logon to ki tarah besharam nahin banate” ( we don’t make our women shameless like you!”)
I was so astonished by what he said I could not react…and neither did I care for some fundamentalist who was looking for an excuse to strike up a war of words..
All I could do then was look at Farida…our short lived camaraderie rudely interrupted..she was as taken aback as I was..the window having been slammed on her face…tears welled up in those beautiful doe eyes and she looked at me…That was perhaps the most helpless I have felt in recent times…I had a strong urge to step out of the rick and to just snap up this little girl in my arms …….but I did no such thing…
Just then the traffic started moving as well and the Omni whizzed past my rickety auto rickshaw…but I could see a little hennaed palm…pressed hard against the back pane of the van….and those large eyes locked mine till the car went out of sight….I don’t know if I will ever see Farida or whether she will recognize me if ever we happen to meet again….all I can do is pray…pray that The God in whatever form he is worshipped blesses her soul..and gives her the strength to break free from the fetters that that are binding her today….
And I pray that men all over the world stop binding women …crush their spirits..take away the light from their souls and most of all STOP doing all of this in the name of God!