By Tapan Mozumdar
The twenty-something Auto-rickshaw driver was cruising like he owned every inch of the road. Neera had left her office at Dickinson Road about twenty minutes back and had twenty-five minutes to reach Manyata Tech Park, as per Google Map, to bear this turbulence.
Maximum cities, minimum facilities – the silly rhyme struck her copywriter’s mind as the driver swerved right to avoid the protracted horns of the free-wheeling bull on the street and squeezed into that life-threatening gap between a BMTC bus and a competing SUV. Neera cried out in panic. The driver smiled, as parents do at the innocent children unaware of the worldly ways.
The Auto bounced on a pothole and Neera realised that her urge to pee had gained momentum. Before leaving for the client’s office, she wished to relieve herself. Her team leader interrupted on her walk through the corridor to the toilet. That man never liked to wait and, for sure, loved to hear his own voice.
“Slippery characters, these clients. You are new, you will know soon.” He mansplained, and went on and on for ten minutes about how to make the clients ‘accountable’.
“Would you come with me, Mr Nagesh?” She asked sincerely. The man had wriggled out of the invitation citing a Skype scheduled with Australia.
Pressure on her abdomen mounted with every jerk during the ride. She kept a watch outside, hoping against hope to find a public toilet along the Bangalore sidewalks. The Silicon Valley of India had aped the lust of its American counterpart but not its infrastructure. She saw a couple of places with urinals for men. The city seemed reluctant to recognise its working women.
“Can you keep left and park for a while?” She requested the driver. He was on his phone, levelling up his ‘Need for Speed’ every minute. The Muslim driver perhaps didn’t understand her Bihari-accented Hindi and didn’t slow down.
“Bhaiyya, it is an emergency! Please stop.” She pleaded. “I will pay you the waiting charges.” She resorted to English for the last sentence. That sounded like a plan to the rogue. He discovered a slot between a parked Police jeep and another Auto-rickshaw.
“Five minutes, okay madam? This is ‘No Parking’.” He winked towards the jeep, “Uncles create tamasha.”
Neera got down and looked for a restaurant. It was Shivajinagar, a choked, down-market commercial neighbourhood with not much care for amenities.
She tried her luck at ‘Nawaz Café Stall’. She was ready to invest in a quick cup of coffee in return for a clean, dry toilet.
“We don’t have it here,” a waiter nodded in negation, “there is one upstairs, shared.”
A narrow, winding staircase led to a dark corridor. It didn’t look safe. Without losing time, Neera came out of the café.
“Cancel the coffee,” the waiter shouted for Neera could hear, “customer ran away.”
She reached the Auto in quick steps.
“Let’s go! If you see a Café Coffee Day or something like that, please stop!”
“What madam? I told you this is ‘No Parking’.” The driver was scratching inside his trousers and was unhappy at her interruption.
After a while, before their narrow road met the 100 feet Main, there was a barricade with cardboard signage in Kannada and English.
Today’s pain is tomorrow’s gain.
It was handwritten, a wavering arrow added in haste. It directed left, but the lane that could lead anywhere from the dead end was at the right.
Neera tried Google Map for an alternative route but found her battery sickly low. The driver had already taken a right turn. The Map, before she switched the GPS off, had advised otherwise.
“U-turn, bhaiyya?” she suggested.
“Driving for last ten years, madam,” he scoffed and raced on the potholes further.
“I told you I had an emergency” if she was helpless, her voice didn’t give that away, “Drive along the main roads, no?”
The driver screeched the vehicle to a stop.
“What is your problem, madam?” Would he ask her to get down, she wondered. “Now stop, now emergency, now main road – what do you want?”
Nearby, some loafers were playing cards, smoking, and gossiping below a banyan tree. They got curious at the high-pitched argument from the driver. All the heads turned to hear what Neera would tell next.
Neera whispered in English, “I need a toilet, brother.”
The driver frowned, exhibited a glitch of a smile, and cranked the vehicle for a mad run.
Neera got worried. The Auto was deep inside a Muslim locality. She remembered that in her hometown Patna, how she and her elder sister would walk an extra kilometre daily to school to avoid Subzibag, a similar area.
“Where are you taking me, bhaiyya?” Her phone displayed about five percent charge, good enough to make that desperate emergency call if needed.
The driver didn’t reply and kept swerving and turning along the maze of this ancient settlement till he stopped in front of a rickety, two-storeyed house. Its lower floor was discoloured, the integrity of the wall retained with layers of film posters. The upper half, incomplete, with a terrace with no parapet was painted parrot green.
The blue door was wooden and had no calling bell. The driver knocked on it. An elderly woman in a maroon ghagra and a black full-sleeved blouse, a hijab covering her grey hairs, opened the door. The driver said something to her, after which both turned towards Neera.
Neera got ready for a sprint out of the Auto when the lady called in Hindi, “Beti, don’t worry, come up here.”
The driver gestured towards the door with his neck, then put his head inside the Auto and whispered, “I told khala your problem. She will help.”
Ten minutes later, Neera came out of that ramshackle home nourished with a glass of buttermilk on the matriarch’s insistence. Notwithstanding the slippery bathroom that was offered to her after flushing it with a bucket of water, she was relieved of the pressure on her bladder and years of prejudices.
Tapan Mozumdar does real estate construction as his day job and writes short stories and poems, often, at night. He was shortlisted for Star TV Writers program, Times Of India Write India 2, Bangalore Literature Festival (Bookmark event for new writers) and Jaipur Literature Festival (First Book event). His stories are published in The Spark and other literary magazines. He lives in Bengaluru.
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