Standing by a neem tree in a faint light, with the winter breeze teasing my face, Delhi felt surprisingly peaceful. I had started to enjoy the moment though history shows night sky isn’t something women in Delhi can cherish. To be honest, I was a little terrified till the previous day. I had decided to take a bus home after work to see for myself if this mode of public transport – that has gone from rickety to swanky – is any better after all these years.
I had quit using a public bus years ago while I was in college. Metro had arrived and it was faster, fancier. More than that, it spared me the trouble of fighting off molesters, opportunists and stalkers available in large numbers on buses going anywhere near the university.
That night, while waiting for bus number 615 to go to JNU from Kasturba Gandhi Marg, I took inspiration from the 35 lakh people who travel by DTC buses every day. Earlier that morning, I had packed my bag with a few extra things.
Pepper spray. Check.
Swiss knife. Check.
Appropriate attire. Double check.
“Let me go with you. I’ll sit at the back,” my husband had nearly pleaded when I declared my plan before leaving home.
My first challenge was to find out the bus numbers that would take me home to Vasant Kunj at night. The ‘City Bus Routes’ option on the DTC website opened to an error on page. A few random websites threw up two numbers. Only one would pass through Kasturba Gandhi Marg ending at Purvanchal Hostel, JNU. A few hours later, I was there at the bus stop. There were a dozen men and I was the only woman.
It was 9.05 pm. I was told one bus would pass KG Marg at 9.10 pm and another at 9.20 pm. There was no information about any later service. Waiting there, I got a text message. “I hope there is someone with you. Don’t take too much risk,” my colleague wrote. I smiled and caught two men looking at me. They quickly looked away but others repeated the routine.
My bus finally arrived after an wait of 25 minutes. As I boarded, I was happy to see a home guard. He was smartly dressed in a khaki uniform and stood next to the driver all through the route. There was just one more woman, cooped up under her shawl near the exit door. “Bus is safe. I have often turned away passengers who are drunk or misbehave,” the guard assured.
I sat down and looked out. I was at JNU in 35 minutes. The ride was so smooth that I almost felt foolish to have made all those preparations. However, I had to further reach home through Nelson Mandela Marg – infamous for the Soumya Vishwanathan case and still mostly unlit. I took an auto from JNU and was relieved to see my husband and a team from office trailing me.
By the end of the bus ride, I was exploring if I could do this every day. I was lucky that I got a seat. But if the government brings in enough buses, a day ride can be as smooth. I want to switch to public transport if it is safe and easily available. Can you help, Delhi government?