It had been three delightful years in Bangalore. Shifting from Chandigarh, we missed the easy commute, the open spaces and the orderliness but the wonderful weather made up for all the inconveniences that the bustling city threw at us.
Well, it was not about the weather alone. As a
woman in my thirties, it was the respectful attitude of the average Kannadiga towards women that caught my attention. Having lived in the North, especially during my growing up in the eighties in New Delhi, I had faced a regressive male mindset everyday. Catcalls, inappropriate touching and stalking were the order of the day. Bus conductors and passengers were the worst offenders. Even after shifting to Chandigarh, I learnt to brace myself for a shoulder shove or such unbecoming behaviour from the opposite sex.
The first time I walked down Bangalore's MG Road, I felt odd. Because of its unfamiliarity, the feeling of being free hit me only later. Free from unwanted attention and unfamiliar male touch! Even if a man were to brush against me, he would apologise with profuse "sorry ammas" (amma meaning a respectable woman) besides touching his ears seeking forgiveness. My respect for the Kannadiga male soared.
It was time to return to Chandigarh, the family had gone earlier so that the children could join school. I had stayed back to complete the mandatory contractual notice period my job demanded. I chose a 6am flight as it was the cheapest and booked a taxi for 3.30am. The first stirring of unease surfaced when the driver stopped to pick a friend en route. I tried questioning the move but the language barrier defeated the effort. I was discomfited when the driver shot into an alley leaving the familiar main road. Before long I did not know the area I was travelling in and not a soul was about. Frequently now the driver would turn into a bylane, only to reverse the taxi into another alley, after encountering a dug up road or a deadend. Every time this happened, an argument would break out between the driver and his friend. This left me cold. Were they discussing where to take me, I thought.
By now I was sweating with fear. They meant to rob me or worse! My children, husband, aged parents all needed me. I didn't want to die but I prayed to God to give me death: anything but not a fate worse than death.
Just when I had made up my mind to jump out of the taxi the minute he slowed down next, the driver turned around and spoke in broken English. "Relax amma, you getting worried, now no late. Taking short cut, long queue for check-in, you less time, there's the airport," he pointed to a row of lights. I slumped back in the seat in unbelievable relief.
Each time a sexual crime makes the headlines, my mind goes back to that night in Bangalore, immensely grateful to a culture that makes men behave like gentlemen.