Here I am with the next post for the Shakti series that I started recently. If you’ve missed it, read the first post here. Shakti is the face of the new age woman who is found amidst day-to-day situations which are common maladies in today’s fast-changing world. If you ponder on these seemingly normal instances that women face with such alarming regularity, it makes you wonder if we really are as fast-changing a society as we would like to believe. Let’s see what Shakti has for us today.
Shakti brought out her two-wheeler from the parking lot of the building she lived in. It was a shiny white scooter. She proudly ran a soft duster over its body to make sure it gleamed. She had saved enough from her incentives at work and this bike had been a thoughtfully planned purchase. It was easy to manoeuvre around the crowded city roads and was quite a convenience to commute to work on. She was no more dependent on public transport. Nowadays, the auto-wallas had a mind of their own. They would either be unwilling to ply customers at any given time of the day without a solid reason or would charge exorbitantly by tampering with the fare meters. Buses and local trains on the other hand were another story. The crowds and jostles of buses and local trains required a hell lot of patience. A couple of occasions saw her being groped at during the course of such suffocating and frustrating journeys that were devoid of the concept of personal space. I’d be writing on those events in a separate post. This sleek scooter gave her the freedom and wings to fly away from all these inconveniences. She loved every bit of her new-found liberation.
Her cousin Manav was in town for the weekend. He lived in a hostel in Pune where he was studying MBA. He would drop by on weekends to spend some time with her family. She and Manav had planned to hit the highway today to enjoy the ride on her new scooter. Manav was waiting for her outside the building gate giving the vehicle an admiring look.
‘What say, how’s it?’ she asked him. ‘Not bad. But you should have selected another color. White gets dirty very soon,’ he replied.
‘Yeah, but white is my favorite color!’ she chirped, as she turned the key and pressed on the auto ignition. The engine roared alive effortlessly. Just as she was about to get onto the driver’s seat, Manav claimed the handle of the scooter from her grip.
‘Why?’ she exclaimed. ‘C’mon, I am not sitting behind a girl. I’ll drive, you sit behind me,’ he replied. ‘What nonsense! Which world are you living in? That’s such regressive thinking!’ she retorted as she climbed onto pillion behind him with reluctance.
‘Oh please, lets not get into how progressive women are these days! Women make the worst of drivers. Most accidents on the road these days are due to dumb women who drive carelessly,’ he retorted indignantly trying hard to balance the shaky vehicle.
‘Its my scooter. And I can assure you that I drive pretty safe. By the way, shouldn’t you be wearing the helmet?’ she enquired, her tone tinged with displeasure, pointing at the pink helmet that hung on the handle.
‘Whatever! I’d rather drop the ride than sit behind a girl who’s riding it. It’s below my dignity. And, no I don’t need the helmet. Definitely not a pink one!’ he sniggered as they headed towards the outskirts of the city.
Shakti was quiet for the rest of the drive, trying to swallow her disgust for his misogynist views. The roads were unexpectedly empty at this time of the day with only heavy vehicles like trucks and Volvo buses plying along the route. Manav was clearly enjoying the ride. They zoomed past green patches of fields on either sides of the road, thickets of huge flourishing trees arching over their heads. The breeze played wildly on their hair. He accelerated the speed. She panicked at the sudden rise in speed. He laughed at her discomfort. He was now driving zig-zag across the road.
‘Stop it, Manav!’ she shrieked anxiously.
‘Relax, sissy! What’s a spin without some fun? Enjoy the adrenalin rush. The road is ours!’ he bellowed. He whistled merrily charging the scooter through dangerous stunts, sometimes standing up on the seat the way heroes are seen doing it in films.
‘Lets go back home. I don’t want to be a part of this!’ she pleaded.
He ignored her and took a sharp swerve to surprise her teasingly. In all the commotion he did not notice the truck that was trying to overtake him. The truck driver obviously was caught unawares when the two-wheeler ahead of him took a sharp curve. He tried his best to avoid it but it was too late by the time he applied brakes. Manav was rudely flung off the bike onto sharp jagged rocks that dotted the side of the road, while Shakti had by sheer presence of mind managed to jump off the scooter in time. The sight of blood alerted the alarmed truck driver of the impending trouble he could get into if he lingered around. He fled the site in his truck leaving them in a painful quandary, alone and helpless.
Manav lay in a pool of blood on the bed of sharp rocks. The scooter was lying on the other side of the road in a ditch. Shakti quickly sprang into action. She rushed to Manav and shook him to check if he was conscious. Blood oozed incessantly from his head. He stirred for a bit but soon passed out. For a second Shakti was blank and had no clue on what to do next. She saw bruises on her knees and arms but could feel no pain. Not a single vehicle or person was seen in the vicinity. She reached out for her bag which was lying in the middle of the road to fish out for her cellphone. But alas, she found it in pieces! It had probably shattered at the impact of the fall, or was it the truck that had run over the bag? She could not recollect anything. Where was Manav’s phone? She looked for it in the pocket of his jeans, but found it dead. The battery had drained. Clueless and lost she desperately looked for signs of help. But the road was completely deserted.
Manav stirred again, trying to move. Shakti tried talking to him but he murmured something incoherent and passed out again. It was beginning to get dark. Shakti took out the scarf that she normally kept in the storage compartment of her scooter and wrapped it around Manav’s head to stop the flow of blood. Manav was now semi-conscious. He held on to Shakti’s hand and whimpered feebly in pain. She had to do something. It was strange that the road was this deserted. She suddenly realised that they had ventured on to another route that was least preferred by people due to the bad bumpy road. Looked like they were stranded.
She went to check her scooter. One side of it was badly dented. She pulled it up, made it stand and pressed the auto ignition. It did not start. Shaking her head helplessly after a few attempts, she then propped the scooter on its middle stand and gave the kick a try. It took a few tough determined kicks to make it work. The engine spluttered angrily and slowly but smoothly growled to life. Thank god! She tried to get her thoughts in focus for a micro-second, and soon she knew that there was no other way but to take that chance. Manav was watching her from under his heavy eyelids. She put off the engine once it was warm enough to start again, went to him and tried getting him on his feet supporting him with her shoulder.
‘C’mon, we have to do this, Manav,’ she said.
His legs were rubbery and he was about to fall in a heap but Shakti held on to him with all her might. They slowly walked to the scooter. With the scooter still on the middle stand, she first got him to sit on the seat, this time at the back. Holding his hand she got on to the driver’s seat.
‘Wrap your arms around me, Manav,’ she instructed.
He obeyed her wordlessly, closing his arms around her waist tightly. Shakti then slid her dupatta out of her neck, balancing the bike on her two feet on either side, she tightly tied the dupatta around both of them so as to ensure that he wouldn’t slip off the scooter if he lost consciousness.
She started the scooter and swiftly started riding down the road into the dusk. She had to be really slow and steady. Manav’s body leaned heavily onto her, his head dangled on one side of her shoulder, while blood dripped down both of them dousing their clothes wet.
‘Hang on, Manav, we’re already there,’ she assured him softly from time to time.
Manav was a mute spectator to her resilience. It was dark by the time Shakti reached the city. People stared at them curiously. She soon parked the vehicle in front of the first hospital she spotted.
‘Please…help us, someone! ‘ she called out to the attendants of the hospital while still on the scooter.
Two men in white uniforms rushed out and helped them disembark. Manav was soon attended by the doctor on call. He had multiple stitches on his head and a fracture in his arm. Meanwhile, Shakti made a quick call to her family from the hospital landline. Soon her parents rushed to be by her side at the hospital.
After dressing up Manav’s wounds, the doctor wrote a prescription and handed it to Shakti.
‘He can only be discharged after he recovers from the blood loss. But I must tell you, he would have not made it if you would not have come here in time. Thanks to you for that,’ he said as he patted her back encouragingly and went on to tell her parents,’You have a brave lady for a daughter!’
They looked worried.
‘You’re not riding that scooter again, Shakti,’ her mother announced anxiously.
Shakti looked at them blankly and then at Manav. Manav smiled at Shakti as his eyes glazed with gratitude and admiration.
‘No Maasi, I am to be blamed for this. I was the careless one. Shakti is an excellent driver. Imagine balancing someone as heavy as me in this state and getting me safely here in time. I’d have lost my life if not for her,’ he said to her mother, his voice choking with emotion.
Shakti sighed as she went out to check on her poor battered scooter. It took an accident and so much trauma for a point to be proven. If only, our beliefs, thoughts, convictions and actions were above such gender biased generalisations.