I boarded the bus for Ooty from Pondicherry at around 10 o’ clock at night. My tickets were pre-booked through a much popular company which has bus services around the country – and this wasn’t the first time that I had booked my tickets through their website.
Anyway, I had an SMS which confirmed the bus number and my seat number, so I went and made myself comfortable in the place allotted to me.
The bus left Pondicherry at the scheduled time, and in a while, one uncle came and sat next to me (it was a sleeper berth, where two people can sit, but it’s usually allotted to one person for overnight journeys).
I was confused and to add more to my confusion he said that the bus was going to Ernakulam, and not Ooty!
I rechecked the SMS, which confirmed the bus number.
The clock said it’s 11.15 PM, and I had no clue what to do. The sweetness of the uncle made me more skeptic – “Why is he being so good to me? Might he be having some wrong intentions? Is it okay to share my state with him?” – I had a thousand questions running in my mind, till I gathered enough courage to leave my bags behind (with the over-concerned uncle) and decided to talk directly to the driver.
He spoke in English with a Tamil accent, and I barely understood anything – joining the bits and pieces of what I could understand, I realized that I was on the right bus, going to a wrong destination! He told me that in another 2 hours, he’ll drop me at Minnampalli, (a place I’ve never heard of) from where I can get the next bus for Ooty.
It was 11.30 at night, and I had no clue what to do next. I thought of calling my friend in Pondicherry because her husband can speak Tamil I thought he can help me out. But in the very next moment, I realized that they can’t help me because I was already some 60-70 km away! I couldn’t dare to call back home to tell that I’m stuck. I thought to be calm and went back to my seat.
The uncle, still with his smile, told me that I can sit there and go till Ernakulam if I want to.
I kept checking my phone, and I wanted the night to get over as quickly as possible! But time seemed to have paused…
At around 2 o’clock, the bus stopped in the middle of the highway, where a broken tin-shaded structure stood proudly, with a neon light hanging from the ceiling. “Minnampalli bus stop” – I saw a board dangling there and felt the chill running through my spine.
Before I could think of anything, the conductor took my rucksack and said something in Tamil and dropped my bag on the side of the road.
I followed him and got down from the bus – the eerie silence of the place was too scary, and I could hear men whispering while urinating behind the tin shade.
I asked the conductor in English and then in Hindi, about my bus for Ooty – but he didn’t respond! Of course, it wasn’t his fault – he couldn’t understand what I was saying. My voice started to choke and I had tears blurring my sight – I had never felt so helpless before. I wanted to shout out in my mother tongue, asking for help. But I knew that wasn’t going to work.
And the bus left!
2.10 AM, and there I was, all by myself. “Whom should I call?”, “Who would be knowing this place?”, “Why didn’t the bus service inform me about this?”, “Will the bus for Ooty ever come?”, “How will I spend the night here?” – my mind was buzzed as the heart beats roared!
The very next moment I heard people whispering – and I saw a couple coming out from behind the tin shade! I had a sigh of relief, knowing that I wasn’t alone. The lady asked me what I was doing there, and was utterly surprised to know that a girl from North India is traveling alone in the South (I didn’t make much effort to break her prejudice because she was my only ray of hope in the midst of the darkness)! Her husband explained the whole situation to me – the fact that we three were the only people traveling to Ooty from Pondicherry that night, and therefore, we were allotted in two different buses. He assured me that the bus for Ooty will arrive in another 15-20 minutes.
Till the bus arrived, I had to satiate their queries about why I was alone and how my family gave me the permission to travel hundreds of kilometers, why am I still not married etc.
The bus stop had too many mosquitoes and as I scratched my body while answering their questions, I felt like I would die of dengue sometime soon!
The bus for Ooty finally arrived at 2.30 AM. I got my seat, made myself comfortable and realized that my legs were still shaking – was it out of fear or because of the mosquito bites, I still am not sure!
The next morning, I reached Ooty safely.
For long, I didn’t share this with anyone, because I already knew that many people have many opinions about me traveling like a hippie!!
I couldn’t tell this at home because I felt that they would be scared to let me go out again, but I realized that I was wrong. Once I told them, they were more confident about my passion for traveling and proud that I could deal with situations sans breaking down.
I told this to Sreejeeta, and she hugged me saying, “Riya, I can’t imagine how you must have felt.”
And not just her, there were a couple of other friends whom I’ve told, and they all had more or less similar reactions.
One of my friends also suggested that I should write to the bus service folks, and thrash them on Twitter!
A couple of days back, I met someone at a party who was quite intrigued to know that I was traveling after quitting my well-paid job. As our conversation flowed, he asked me about the highs and lows of my journey.
The ‘highs’ are uncountable and this perhaps is the only ‘low’, I thought. But then, I changed my mind and narrated him the incident as a ‘high’, amongst other ‘highs’!
All over again, I realized that it’s not necessary for all stories to come with a happy ending, but every story definitely has something or the other to teach us.
Sometimes, it’s from these little incidents that you get to know more about yourself.
And the journey will continue . . .