It was was nearly 3 am on December 4. I had just picked up my luggage at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in the Capital after an eight-hour flight. I was dead tired, very sleepy and ready to head home near Laxmi Nagar in east Delhi.
Delhi streets are not known to be safest before dawn but I’m familiar with the city and its geography and did not think twice about going home alone.
But I took the basic precaution of choosing the pre-paid cab service run by Delhi Traffic Police at the IGI airport as these taxis have some amount of accountability. I dumped my bags and got into the cab when suddenly, to my utter surprise, another man hopped in beside the driver.
The cab driver didn’t say anything or bother to give an explanation and assuming that the man was taking a ride to the main road or somewhere nearby, I also didn’t ask him about it.
After crossing Dhaula Kuan, I soon realised that the taxi was heading down a very deserted and dark Shankar Road towards north Delhi instead of heading along Ring Road towards east Delhi, where I live. When I told the driver he was going the wrong way, he curtly replied: “Sorry madam, this man needs to be dropped on the way. Don’t worry, it’ll take a minute.”
I was a little worried. “I want you take me home right now,” I told him.
“I’ve been driving a cab in Delhi for the past 24 years, this won’t take more than a few minutes. Don’t worry madam, I won’t charge extra for this detour,” said the defiant driver.
We were soon lost in the narrow lanes behind Gaffar Market in central Delhi’s Karol Bagh. The area is full of illegal boarding rooms and pokey little hotels. “The guesthouse is here somewhere,” muttered the driver, clearly lost in the maze. The man didn’t say a word.
A little scared by now since I didn’t know the neighbourhood at all, I threatened to call the police. The driver kept on making excuses even then. But the man with him also got scared and got out of the cab. But by then, we were hopelessly lost in the lanes, trying hard to find the way out.
After going around in circles for another 10 minutes, the driver finally said that he thought he could somehow get me to the Inter-State Bus Terminus in north Delhi from that point and once we reached the terminus, I could give him directions to my house.
By then, we had been in the cab for over an hour – at 3 am, when the roads are empty, the drive home from IGI airport takes just about 30 minutes and not more. I had started getting frenetic calls from home by then.
Obviously worried and very angry, they asked me to tell the driver to stop the car immediately, describe exactly where we were, and then they gave him directions to reach Laxmi Nagar.
I finally reached home at 4.30 am, after spending more than an hour and half on Delhi’s deserted roads. I have lived in Delhi for two decades and could spot the detour but for a stranger to the city, cab rides such as mine can go wrong in many different ways.