It was 9 years back from now. I was in college then and used to live in hostel. We had a big university premises and we used to prefer to stay inside or get inside by 8-9 PM at worst. The city where my college was not a very safe one to roam around at nights, one of the infamous cities in western Uttar Pradesh.
There was this close friend of mine who lived in the same city but another college. We both have our hometowns almost nearby. She used to visit my place and other girls from my hostel gang were kind of friends with her.
At this particular day she came to my place. We had fun, did crazy stuff, ran and laughed out loud on roads, ate street-food, went to watch the Bollywood movie Tare Zameen Par and felt awesome. It was one of those awesome days when your cheeks hurt because you laughed too much. We were back at my hostel by evening.
Now, she actually had to catch her train at around 10:45 or 11:00 at night, she had to leave for her hometown. We have had so much awesome time together that the idea of stopping the fun at 8:00 PM just like that didn’t sound good.
Someone said we will go Railway station to drop her and will be back within time. For reference, Railway station was at another end of city and it usually took more than an hour to reach there. I was little uncomfortable with the idea but, so high was our energy that I would sound spoiler if I insisted them to stay. And I was feeling little awkward that she was actually my friend and everyone except me was excited about seeing her off (yeah, seems funny now :-\).
Then I thought to myself “there is risk everywhere, you can’t sit back home scared. And moreover it’s just this natural instinct of fear which is almost always there but does something horrible happen every time? Nah. you are being too timid. We are five girls, will handle anything.”
After a small debate and session of getting ready, we left hostel chit-chatting and giggling and laughing. The only commutation to station was City Bus. It looked like this:
We boarded, continuing our jokes and all. After one and a half hour, we reached station. Station was almost stranded or at least no considerable number of trustworthy people there but it was safe inside at platform.
After checking platform number and train running status and finally seeing her off, we started back, exiting the station. Suddenly all the noise and laughing we were making started echoing in our heads. The silence outside the station was horrifying. It was quiet dark and station was nowhere near the city. We had to cross a road with jungle both the sides. Sound of railway announcement was still heard in background.
We were tired by now and little scared too. Though we kept on talking, because maybe no one was saying that she was actually scared.
In front of the railway station, at the other side of road, was the city bus stand but no bus seemed ready to leave. And oh it was 10:30 by now, somehow we were late as per our plan. We got really scared for how would we go back!
Suddenly a sigh of relief! There was one bus with a driver inside and lights on.
We ran towards the bus, the bus driver looked at us and started the engine. I stopped for a moment as there was no one else in the bus and my gut wasn’t telling me anything good about it. But aha! As soon as we came near the gate there was conductor running towards it and other passengers who must have been waiting for the bus to be started, appeared and took their respective seats.
We confirmed with driver if this bus would go to the place we wanted to go because the sign was for somewhere else, he was affirmative but seemed in hurry. I thought to myself that he must be starting bus hurriedly because he was being nice that few girls were there alone in a winter’s night, that too at a place where no other female was in sight.
We got seated, relaxed. Our smiles were back and now we started recalling whatever we did whole day, laughing and swearing….suddenly me and my room-mate started feeling weird, we were not able to explain this to others but we sensed something was wrong. We got quiet, noticed that the passengers who were sitting at random places are all now sitting at the seats beside driver. And they all are friends. And we all were just noticing, without talking to each other. Then I realized that the conductor and driver and everyone else were friends. All fun vanished and brain started to calculate every possibility of worse. It was hard to believe that they were not random passengers.
I looked out of the window and this was the beginning of the moment when I was most frightened. We were not on the road towards city, it took us somewhere off road. By this time we all knew where this was heading. I don’t know when did this happen but we all were holding each other’s hands. I looked back inside the bus and what I saw was worse than a bad nightmare, dramatic, scary and unimaginable.
One of those guys was lying on engine pretending to be a girl and others (I am almost shivering writing this down) were enacting a rape. They were happy as if preparing for a feast. I just can’t tell anyone ever what actions they were doing, most of which I did not understand then and realized later in my life when grew up.
Those were almost 8-9 men. This was the moment I was most frightened ever in my life. That moment was passing too slow, I saw everything in slow motion. I am still not able to explain the horror. All my senses faded, I could only hear their devil laughter over bus’s running sound. One of us started crying and trembling and said she was going to jump out of the bus, other one was holding her ‘some God’s’ locket and praying something.
Somehow my brain was still working and I took my phone out. In the mightiest effort of my life, as loud as I could be, I pretended to talk to someone and said “Hello, uncle! Yes, we have started from here.”
That railway station was near Cantonment area, one thing in our favor. So, I used this fact and said “But these guys are not taking us via the cantt road in front of your house. What? Bus number?”
I shouted at driver, completely ignoring what was going on (believe me that was the most difficult thing I have ever done, ignoring those) “Bhaia! Bus ka number kya hai? aur ye kaha se le kar ja rhe ho, mere uncle cant road se idhar aa rahien hain gaadi lekar. Apna gadi ka number batao jaldi.”
Translation: “What is this Bus’s number? And what weird route you are taking, my uncle is coming from Cantt road towards our bus in his car. Tell me the bus number.”
“Oh it’s written in front of me.” I shouted and started citing the bus number on phone to my imaginary uncle.
In city buses the bus number is mostly written behind driver’s seat.
He didn’t respond. Other men carried on doing what they were doing. By this time I knew we are not going to reach anywhere tonight. I wanted to cry.
They were celebrating. Driver seemed little nervous and I, with all my fake confidence, started shouting at him about the route. I was behaving as if we were not frightened and totally unaware that they were preparing for something devilish. Others got courage too and tried to not look frightened.
Something happened, he suddenly turned the bus and speeded like anything. In a short time we were at main road and market area was near. Our frozen blood started getting warm and we almost jumped off the bus and while we were getting down, the conductor hanged from the gate almost over me and said in that type of voice, you understand right?
“arey ghar tak pahuncha kar ayenge ham log tension kya hai?”
Translation: Oh c’mon! We can drop you ladies till your home. Why do you worry?
If I had claws I would have cut his tongue out, I swear.
We found another bus which was safer and full with people. Though most of them were laborers and workers but still it was inside city and there were few elderly people as well. We didn’t speak a word to each other. Reached our hostel. Managed a late entry, banged the door and just didn’t sleep that night. Kept on discussing and telling others the story, till morning.
It was horrible that this thought came to my mind that we could have been in newspaper if he didn’t turn the bus.
I can never forget that day and the lesson.
We could not just show enough gratitude for that day. The horror continued in our minds till so many days and gradually we moved on, until this one day. We were going to see doctor, it was afternoon. We boarded our bus and….it was the same bus, same conductor. Don’t know about driver but this conductor guy had a face which was difficult to forget. He was fair with little beard and had better features than any other bus conductor. In fact, he didn’t look like a conductor if you ignore his clothes. He had rapist’s eyes and an expression which you can’t stand more than two seconds. He was smiling, the same devilish smile. We didn’t know if he remembered us but we certainly did. We got down before our stop.
I just don’t want to mention this, but can’t resist sharing. After few years, happened that Most infamous Nirbhaya case and all that horror was brought back. I wished it had never happened. we called each other (as we were not together by then) and just wondered what if we reported that night to police, what if police was on their side, what if police didn’t think good of us, what if, what if……what if we were just not born girls!!!