It was our 10th wedding anniversary and we had decided to celebrate it far from the hectic life of Metropolis. No fake congratulations on social media, nor disturbing phone calls. Just I, my husband, kids and no one else. We had booked a bungalow in Lonavla for the weekend for this. I was eagerly awaiting for the release from the daily rigmarole. It was a hectic lifestyle we were living. Tanay, my husband, was a software architect and I was an account manager in a media firm. We both worked 5 days a week and always kept the weekend reserved for our kids. God knows that they don’t see enough of us together! Considering our workload, vacations were next to impossible. This weekend was long awaited by all of us.
Murphy’s Law states that ‘If anything can go wrong, it will and at the most critical moment.’ Friday started normally enough. Everyone was in high spirits because of the expected outing. I left for office and informed Tanay that I’ll be back by four and we will leave together. He assured me that he will be home earlier, so as to pack the bags and get the kids ready. The day was smooth enough, but during the afternoon, I got inundated by a sudden onslaught of work. The director, true to the unspoken rule that the boss must assign a task when one is leaving for the day, called me and dumped a thick file in my lap and needed the cost analysis before the end of the day. It was related to one of our biggest accounts and as usual was expected to be done yesterday. I cursed under my breath and walked back to my cabin. I called Tanay and asked him what to do. It was a damper for everyone. But, never a defeatist, Tanay perked up and said that he will move on with the kids by bus and I can pick up the baggage on the way and come directly at the bungalow. It sounded like a great idea. I have never driven for such a long distance, and the new Honda CRV was a bit big vehicle for my comfort. But, I was excited by the challenge.
It was late by the time I finished the work and was shocked to see that it was 8 o’clock. I sent the file back and left hastily. I went to our home at Bandra and picked up the bags left on the bed by Tanay and kids and started the new SUV. The CRV is Tanay’s new dream toy. He always was a fan of Honda. Before this beauty, we had a Honda Civic. Tanay could have got a new Maruti Swift for the price he paid for the used Honda Civic, but he was happy with it and loved it. The first chance he could afford, he offloaded that car and bought this SUV. The powerful 2.4l engine purred like a lazy beast under the hood and the car moved like a dream unleashed. Cars are just like men. The powerful ones are always the most well behaved and silent. It’s only the weaker ones, who scream and act difficult. I traversed the city traffic and reached the Sion Panvel highway. As it was a pleasant night, I decided to go through NH4 and not the expressway. A long drive through sleeping villages on a peaceful night is a bliss! Especially if you have a comfortable vehicle and a collection of your favorite music. I was in my own world. Then, I looked at the fuel gauge and decided to fill up the tank. I stopped at a gas station at Kalamboli.
There was a biker gang at the gas station. Lots of biker clubs organize tours on weekends. This was one of those Enfield Bullet clubs. I looked at them with distaste. Each of them were dressed in gaudy leather jackets and ankle boots. Some of these guys truly believe that they hail from Texas or New Jersey and act like they have Harley Davidsons! I got down from my car, topped up the tank, got a bottle of cold drink and climbed back hastily, aware of their ugly glances and barely concealed taunts. I shifted the gear and screeched away, looking at them in the rear view mirror. What a disgrace to modern youth! I cursed myself! Hell! I was thinking like a 60 years old! I smiled and relaxed. Everyone has their right to enjoy!
I crossed Panvel and drove towards Pune. Ghulam Ali was crooning in his mellifluous voice about his heartbreak, when I saw couple of headlights zigzagging towards me in rear view mirror. I recognized the red bandana of one of those damned bikers in the light of a passing vehicle. I gave them pass, but instead of passing, they drew parallel to me and leered. I switched gears and sped off. Then I saw around 7 bikes following me. Damn! How did I offend these idiots! I kept the SUV in the middle of the narrow road and kept a steady 80kmph. I knew that their intention was to eve-tease the pretty lady in a high class car. I was not going to give them this pleasure. One of those guys tried to overtake me through left and I cut him off. Then the horror dawned on me! What if they want to molest me? At 11 pm, the sleepy highway was deserted, bar an occasional truck, bound towards some unknown and exotic destination. I was doing more than 100kmph. Anyone interested in mere teasing will never give such a chase! They had more nefarious designs, I was sure. I was panicked. Human mind is a certifiable masochist. When you are on a deserted street in the middle of a night, you always remember all the horror movies you have seen. You look around, just to check if a zombie is following you. When in a crisis, it always relives the worst you can ever imagine. I recalled all the rapes I had recently read in the newspapers, when I saw another bike coming parallel to me from right. I floored the accelerator. The 190bhp engine growled like a beast surprised and shot in the night like a bat from hell. Ghulam Ali was still struggling about cajoling his lover to give him a glance. I was busy avoiding it. The puny 350cc engines of their bikes couldn’t match the raw power of 2400cc engine of a CRV. I was soon far ahead.
I had reached Somatane Phata, 20 km from Lonavla. I found a roadside hotel with a number of vehicles parked and I screeched to a halt there. I was shaking from my head to toe and sat in my seat with my head on the steering wheel for an eternity. Then, I opened the door and jumped out. As soon as I came out, I saw those infernal bikes swinging in towards the hotel like homing pigeons. I ran inside the hotel, screaming hysterically. Couple of drivers came out in curiosity. The bikes stopped. Few of them turned and took off when they saw a mob. But, three of them stood their ground. The leader jumped off the bike and came to me. How I hated the bearded face and long locks! He came to me and said, “Ma’am, you left your handbag at the gas station. We were following you to give it to you as you had many documents in it, including the papers of your car. We were going to Mahabaleshwar anyway, and both the Pune and Alibaug routes were same to us mavericks!”, he laughed pleasantly, “So decided to follow you. As bikers, we never ride beyond 80kmph at night, but you made us do 100 today! Please check if everything is fine in the bag.” Then he looked keenly at my face, “I hope we didn’t scare you, ma’am!”
I laughed nervously. “No. Not at all.” The assembled public couldn’t understand anything. And, I wasn’t going to enlighten them.
I don’t know if you have ever been slapped with a wet rag! The poor guy was not even aware of the image I had of him and his creed a few minutes ago. I just took my handbag, which was a gift from Tanay on our last anniversary and mumbled an inaudible thanks. I couldn’t meet his eyes. He insisted that I check the bag for its contents. I couldn’t humiliate him any further by insinuating that he stole something and then took the trouble to return the bag! He turned around and left before I could apologize properly. I slunk away with everyone staring at me strangely. Once I reached the highway, the gang was waiting for me. They rode with me till Lonavla, like a guard of honor. I felt like a Queen on her tour. So much for stereotyping and prejudging people!
We enjoyed our outing. I decided not to let Tanay know about my stupidity. We returned on Monday afternoon. Once we reached Somatane Phata, a gang of Bullet Bikers whoosed by. The leader and the bikers waved their hands towards me and whooped. I waved cheerily. Tanay was puzzled! “Never knew that you had biker friends!”
I smiled sweetly.