At 10:15 on Saturday night I was on my way to pick my friend from her campus as she was returning from a university trip and was already late. Our hostel gates were supposed to close at 10 PM. I hardly managed to get permission from a gatekeeper-turned office boy who also acted as part-time manager, to pick my hostel mate from her campus.
Luckily, I found a Rikshawala in front of my hostel as he was parking his vehicle in street garage after completing 12 hours of his duty. The man was not a new face as hostel girls were her regular and permanent clients. I asked him for taking me to campus, and he agreed readily to do me a favour saying “I have parked my Rikshaw in garage, but I would surely take it out for you”, as if he was the last Rikshawala in the city who decided to help me and offer a commutation out of sheer pity.
Burdened with such act of kindness I sat while preparing myself to hear a sermon on the menace of traveling alone at this time of the night for a girl. Meanwhile, I received a text from my friend who told me that her bus was stuck in a traffic jam and it would take at least thirty minutes for her to reach the campus. I informed my benefactor driver to drop me as my friend would be late and I would have to wait.
After conveying this to him, I started thinking of how I was going to spend my time outside the university campus which was surely a no-go area for me due to security reasons. Since I always loved to loiter on the roads irrespective of my female gender which is not allowed to enjoy such privileges, an idea of taking a leisure stroll on the road while heading to a nearby coffee house hit upon me taking away all my tension of how I was supposed to spend my time.
That feeling of joy was temporary as I started recalling all my previous experiences of walking alone on the side of the road at night and then facing the disturbing gazes of bypassers lashed out at me. For them, a girl walking on the road at this time of the night could only be a call girl and hence eligible for every motorbike or car to stop by her. I was struggling to get away with the feeling of humiliation filled in me by those memories when the voice of Rikshawala brought me back to the present.
“If your friend is too late then I would stay there with you, I wouldn’t let you wait on the road at this time of the night, I know it is not safe”.
“You are my honor just like my mother sister and daughter, and hence It is my duty to safeguard you.”
I didn’t like an idea to be the honor of a Rikshawala over the expense of my independence. I wanted to tell him that I have plans and if he wanted to go then he could leave, but his wish to be my guard was so high that I didn’t find a chance to speak up, say him thanks for his second favor and head towards my favorite activity of measuring the footpaths.
Now, when the Rikshaw stopped outside the campus, the driver stepped out and took rounds of the vehicle, like watchdogs would do around a bungalow.
He then started sharing experiences of his personal life with me. I was compelled to listen to the story of driver how did he end up becoming a Rikshawala after losing in business due to drop of commodity price he dealt in. He kept on reminding me about his favor of being with me at this time of night while never forgetting to keep his gaze on me. For almost 40 minutes I tolerated the non-stop talk of my self-proclaimed guard who was possibly feeling lucky to have another girl in stockpile of his honor that too in return of fare that he was inevitably going to over-charge
In Rikshaw, I was surely safe from the humiliating behaviour of by-passers; but at the expense of my independence and of my ability to breathe in a fresh air where I wouldn’t have to feel myself locked up in a two feet wide cabin encompassed by a man who was enjoying the liberty of keeping a girl target of his eyes in the guise of her saviour and guard of the honor.
Yes, I didn’t like this uncalled security service as I never favored the idea of being exploited in imprisonment by fearing the vulnerability of exposure.