It was the summer break of college. All my friends had chosen a trip to Goa while I went on to travel solo, for travel is more about exploring yourself than exploring places.
I had planned to travel all across India in a span of one month. I thought of using different modes of travel; travelling by air, road, and rail gave me the chills.
The day finally arrived. After an overnight journey, my first stop had come. It was a small town on the banks of a holy river. I wished to know the India prior to modernisation.
“The mask of Ola cabs and Dominos has botoxed the face of real India,” my grandpa would always say and it was time for me to explore.
As I stepped out of the railway station, a bunch of auto-rickshaw drivers ambushed me.
“Madam,” one of them said.
“High-class auto for high-class madam,” another one said.
“Come in my A.C. auto, madam,” said another.
I could barely breathe amidst the sweat and cacophony. I struggled to move ahead, trying to be ignorant of the drivers. A few of them walked behind me while most of them gave up. As I walked out of the Railway station, I spotted a few auto-rickshaws.
“Phew, they seem to be decent,” I whispered and walked to them.
“Take her to 501 for 501,” one of the drivers from the station premises shouted before I could approach the new set of drivers.
“Madam,” one of the drivers smiled at me.
“Hotel 501,” I said, putting on my sunglasses.
“Sure, Madamji,” he said and touched my hand.
The other two drivers giggled while I stepped back.
“Madam, just taking your bag,” he said but I swayed my bag and walked ahead. The other drivers approached me.
“Come with me madam, fifty percent discount, only for you,” one said.
I kept looking at my imaginary friend at the end of the road.
The road took a turn, as did I. I had walked for more than two kilometers by then. There was no sign of any auto-rickshaw; not that I was going to take any.
The Sun had attained its sharp youth. There was no signal on my phone, and I did not know anyone in the city. Out of the blue, my imaginary friend decided to turn real. My stomach pain had started and I began to discharge.
“Damn, there will be stains everywhere,” I shouted and looked around for a medical store, only to find none.
“Good thing about the desolate street is that there is no one to judge my stains,” I said as I pushed myself to walk.
And then I heard the sound of an auto-rickshaw. I turned around in hope and raised my hand to stop it. As the auto-rickshaw came closer, I realized that it was the same driver whom I had ditched outside the railway station.
“Chuck it, I am going with him, no matter what,” I told myself, giving in.
“Yes, Madamji?” he asked in a sickeningly sweet voice.
“Hotel 501,” I told him and sat inside.
“1200 rupees,” he said in a matter-of-fact manner.
“1200 rupees for what?” I asked. I was shocked.
“1200 rupees, is the rate, Madam. Pay 1000 bucks or get out,” he said and I walked out.
As my feet landed on the street, tears landed on my cheek.
But I chose to walk. I may have walked out of the auto-rickshaw but I had not walked away from the situation. I decided to face it. I decided to face the lewd and rude drivers, I decided to face the cramps, and I decided to face my inner cowardice.
I looked at my phone again; the signal was a positive sign. I switched on the navigation and walked for another four kilometers.
Upon reaching the hotel, I had lost two hours of time, some two kilos of my weight, most of the water in my body, but I did not lose the fight. Maybe I did not win either. I did not care.
You cannot always choose to win but you can always choose not to lose and play a tough draw.
Above all, this gave me satisfaction. I was proud of myself, and that is all that matters.