We may look staid today but we were not always so. We too jumped walls, gave the slip to the chowkidar at the college gate, wore little tank tops with the midriff showing, went dancing, bunked classes, eyed boys, crowded the sets of a Rajesh Khanna film being shot around the fountains in the university, looked insolently at our teachers and thought we knew it all. We too sifted and sieved the muchness of the world we inherited – kept some and left some. But then norms have to be flouted, conventions have to be defied by every generation.
In Chandigarh of the mid-70s, no one hitched a ride. It was the young thing to do in Delhi but Chandigarh was still a frowning, small town and there was every chance of being caught in the act and identified by a disapproving acquaintance. However, the casual chic of sticking out a purposeful thumb and hopping into an obliging car was beginning to catch on. And there were the regular hopefuls waiting to be flagged down, who spent most of their afternoons driving their Fiat cars up and down the road, there being no dividers to land them on the wrong end of things.
The Post Graduate Government College for Girls, Sector 11, was called Government College for Women then. Perhaps it was an unwomanly thing to do by the proper measure of delicate behaviour, but some of us had hitched a ride to Sector 17 on a horse driven cart. Of course, we were spotted on the Madhya Marg by my uncle, who was appalled at the impropriety of it all. We were bundled into his car and duly deposited at our destination. But there were many others thumbing rides, albeit in less flamboyant transport.
A reporter from The Tribune, then only one of two newspapers in town, recognised this growing trend and naturally thought that it merited a story. He spoke to some of us over south Indian coffee at the Students Centre in the University, ascertained the attitudes of the young to this new and growing phenomenon, noted down our quotable quotes and then wanted a posed photograph featuring a car and a hitchhiker. There was consternation amongst us because none of us wanted to be part of this bare-all photograph. Finally, in an act of bravado, I had agreed to stand on one of the University roads and pose for the photograph, which had to be clicked through the windscreen of a car. However, I had insisted on opening my hair and letting it hang in front of my face, so that nothing but my nose was really visible to the camera lens!
And then suddenly no one wanted to risk a ride anymore. A horror had unfolded in Delhi. The Chopra children, Geeta and her brother, Sanjay, in their teens, on their way to the All India Radio to participate in an early morning radio broadcast in the August of 1978, had been offered a ride in a car and were then raped and killed by the occupants, Billa and Ranga. This terrible tragedy made everyone do a rethink on the dangers of taking an anonymous ride.
In the ensuing atmosphere of sobriety, hitchhiking became passé. Perhaps the cart ride, not really a style statement, was yet the safer option.