My Left Turn
A cold, dark, foggy winter night.
A young woman huddled in heavy woollens, sitting alone in a bus, an office shuttle, looks around, fearfully, wide eyed, but trying hard to give an appearance of calm. She could hardly see anything outside of her window just the ghostly figures created by the fog moving in a white shroud and changing shapes.
The driver finds it extremely difficult to drive through the narrow by lanes of East Delhi in the dense fog. The conductor the only other person is motionless, stares blankly ahead and in kind of a stupor.
The young woman peers out in the darkness to figure out where exactly they are, she feels that she should have reached her stop by now. She looks at her watch and it is way past midnight. Too late to be out alone … And the driver keeps moving very slowly trying to find that left turn where ….
An hour earlier, the graveyard shift had ended, and the young woman along with her colleagues had boarded the shuttle, chattering away, merrily. Nobody noticed the fog or the cold. A hilarious moment during the shift kept everybody engaged, while few of them kept enacting and re-enacting the event. The fog did not seem so dense in the populous West Delhi area. But as the shuttle moved along dropping passengers one after the other and crossed the Yamuna bridge, it began to engulf everything like an ephemeral white cloak, swirling around silently but deftly so that one could not see the end of ones outstretched hands.
When the last colleague of hers, deboarded, he had asked whether she will be okay, and she had nonchalantly said of course she would be. But now, she was not sure. Only if she could have asked for the shuttle to take a detour to drop her first … only if …
She murmured a few prayers she knew and hoped that the driver and the conductor are good people. Lots of horror stories filled her mind and she again cursing herself for putting herself in this situation.
The driver gives up, he also believes that the left turn should have come by now, he might have missed it and he was not sure where he was. The shuttle seemed to have hit a bumpy road or was it still the road or has it rolled into a field, or will it roll into a ditch!!??
Bottomless fear filled up the young woman’s mind, she gripped the seat, all the time keeping a calm façade, and hoping that the only two individuals present do not notice her fear.
Not a soul seemed to be around, no police vans, and not even the stray dogs barked, only the rumbling shuttle and its three inhabitants, each locked within themselves in their own thoughts.
The driver yelled at the conductor to get off and look around and see where they were. The conductor grimaced and refused and was slapped tightly by the driver.
The young woman was now in a panic …. as it is her family did not like her working so late … and now this situation … never again will she put herself in this situation, but only if she gets out of this unscathed … and she began trembling and hoped the two do not notice.
With the slap or two on his face, the conductor got off and directed the driver back to the road. It had indeed got off the road and on to a field with a ditch close by. While he walked in front of the shuttle, as if swimming his way through the dense fog, making way for the shuttle as it slowly inched forward.
At this moment, the young woman’s heartbeat seemed louder than the engine …
After what seemed like an eternity, with the conductor guiding the way, the shuttle finally reached the left turn. It was hardly recognizable. It is true that at night, everything looks strange and different and unfamiliar.
The conductor kept guiding the driver through the sharp left turn and enter into the colony and as the shuttle lumbered slowly towards the stop.
Finally, the shuttle stopped, and the driver beckoned to the young woman to get off. Is it really her stop? She was not sure. Every object, the living trees and the inanimate houses and vehicles, seemed to have bowed their head in defeat to the dark, dense white shroud. The eerie silence seemed to be broken by her heartbeat and the low growl of the engine and both seemed to deafen her. In spite of the cold, her ears heated up.
The young woman peered out of the window to be sure it is her stop and that she is not getting into a trap. She was not sure … and by now both the driver and the conductor seemed to glare at her to get off … and hastily she did.
She twisted her ankle while getting off, stumbled but quickly found her balance. It did seem like her stop, as she looked at the familiar silhouette of a house nearby, and it felt like she should turn right and walk one block to reach her apartment. Should she walk alone?
A dog whimpered somewhere, at last a sign of another soul!
The young women still hesitated and in a meek voice asked the conductor to walk with her till the apartment. At this moment, she was not sure whether that would be a good idea but with the deathly fog and no other living being in sight, she was helpless. The conductor grumpily agreed.
The young women took the right turn and started walking towards her apartment. The only sound to be heard now were the footsteps, the rapid heartbeats and the, now receding into the distance, the sound of the engine …
A story of a young woman returning home on a foggy wintry night in a world when cell phones were not so common and was still in 2g.
Years have passed, and the young woman has grown through the ranks in her career. She doesn’t have to work on graveyard shifts anymore but she does have to travel late nights and now she drives herself. She is sometimes late returning home due to a late-night flight or maybe leave home very early in the morning to catch one.
She has Safety Apps on her phone, Navigation maps, a car which is centrally locked and has Safety Button, and phone numbers of near and dear ones who can be instantly notified.
But does she feel safe …. Will somebody be able to reach her on time when she needs help? That worry lingers on …
As I made my way through the narrow path, through a valley in between majestic mountains holding their heads high with pride, I felt at peace.
I meandered through the lofty trees and beneath the rocks jutting out at some places. It was just before dawn and everything around me was getting ready for the first rays of the sun. The moon, on spotting the vermillion splash in the east, shyly slid away, making way for another day.
Last night there was a storm and heavy rains and high winds, and with that I was able to cover a lot of grounds, but now the tranquillity around seemed idyllic. I felt no urge to rush, I know I will reach my destiny, but for the moment, let me just soak in the serenity around.
I could see tiny green sprouts pushing their head out of the moist soil, as if sensing the impending liveliness, and getting ready to be part of it.
I could hear occasional chirping of birds, perhaps just alerting others to be ready to rise, or maybe just calling out for one’s mate.
The crickets buzzed now and then, before they hide away till another night fall.
A flock of deer stirred, as if to shake off their slumber, but still wait for the day to break in.
Big, dark silhouettes of wild animals could be seen slinking away to take cover during the day.
The leaves rustled in the breeze, and one could hear the mellifluous sound, as it echoed through the valley, creating rhythms capable of stirring the creative souls of a musician, should one be around. Soon it was blended by the melodies of birds in perfect harmony. I am sure Beethoven, Mozart or Tansen would have cherished such prolific music which seemed to emanate from all corners of the valley.
The first rays of the sun started to find its way through the leaves and everything around me glittered, just like a bridal veil sparkling with gold and silver stars. The fish seemed to find energy from the stillness and safety and swam merrily around, making most of their time before they fall prey.
I could smell the moistness of mother earth, fragrance of the forest flowers as they blossomed in harmony and full glory, scent of the fruits as they ripened and welcoming birds and bees towards them. The coolness of the earth, the hue of bright colourful flowers, the beauty of the flourishing, lush green foliage all around, swaying gently as if appreciating the music and the life around, and as I kept moving, I soaked up the pristine landscape.
My path seemed to be going downhill and my pace increased. Few rocks came up on my way and I steered around or hopped over them. It was just fun … only if my path is as serene and safe all through, till my destiny.
But I have a long way to cover and as Robert Frost had said “miles to go before I sleep.”
There were more rocks on my way now and it became a game for me, sometimes I would race and hop over one and other times I would make my way around it. As I moved along, splashing, gurgling and gushing without a care, I could see the world around me welcoming the day. The chirping of the birds was now a chorus, as if the concert is over, and they are eagerly critiquing the notes and lyrics. The flock of deer began grazing and colourful insects flew around the blooming flowers and blossoming fruits. The wind kept blowing rustling up melodies one after the other and I threw in a note or two.
Lost as I was soaking in the beauty of mother nature, I had not noticed the steep drop and fell about 60 feet, amidst cheering, shouting, shrill laughter, and camera clicks. I looked back to see what might have excited the people, and I saw the fate of all who were following me.
With everyone hurling down the steep drop one over the other, it looked as if the mountains atop have opened up and are pouring a pail of milk over the earth below and its splash creating a drizzle around; or it looked like the long, curly white mane of an old lady as she stood to dry, or as if dreamy white clouds have descended down to the earth.
While the cheering and laughter felt good, I did not like that some people were throwing stones or bottles or anything they could lay their hands on.
Chastened, I did not pause anymore but continued my path. The mind was jarred and the peace I felt minutes ago was shattered. The dream world of mine, the forest, the coolness of the valley, the birds, bees, and animals, were all left behind. But I have miles to go and must not stop.
My path now was tedious, narrow, the rocks around were slimy, and I had to slow down. I had to keep pushing out the plastic bottles, wafer and chocolate covers, cigarette buts, and many such trash out my way, and keep moving. I could no longer smell the earth or fruits or flowers but was surrounded by a stench so strong that it broke my heart.
Yes, I have entered the city, and my path is littered with human debris and froths so large that it became impossible for me to make much progress. I saw human or animal carcasses, unclaimed and without the dignity of last rites. Here and there, thick dark oily industry wastes poured out and changed the colour from pearly blue to murky grey.
I heard the wind, but there was no melody, it was like an agonizing wail. I heard birds and animals but those were not the sound of musical tunes but of angry sneers of upmanship. I wept but I felt so dry.
But I must go on for I have tryst with my destiny and that will not change.
As I am a stream,
I broke off from a glacier high above the mountains,
I meandered through the beauties of the earth,
The mountains, valleys, forests
Full of joyous lives,
But paths are not always filled with joy,
For the world has laid out thorns on our way
Which is augmented by the human race,
But still, I must keep going,
As I have a tryst with my destiny, and as I become one with the river,
I keep flowing to meld with the large cerulean vastness.