The Venus Flytrap: “Domestic” Travel

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I don’t have a driving license for any vehicle. Nor do I know how to drive, since the two don’t necessarily go arm in arm (the long arm of the law, that is). I’m always either shotgun rider (a far too cool term for the cowardly, lazy or bourgeois) or paying passenger.

In India, I’m a strictly autorickshaw person. They’re a fun ride and a shade of ochre which blinds anyone who isn’t in kindergarten or incurably kitsch (you can decide which category I fall under). Also, unlike other modes of public transport, there’s no jostling for space when travelling alone.

Usually.

A few weeks ago, I was negotiating the usual morning rush, doing the bargaining rigmarole and then jumping into the first auto that quoted a reasonable fee. As soon as I got in, I felt distinctly uncomfortable. My instincts have gotten me out of various scenarios – everything from vengeful conspiracy to death by twin falling coconuts – in the past, so I shifted closer to the door.

So there I was for the better part of a fifteen minute ride, vaguely wondering what urban-legend-come-true story I might have become the protagonist of, when I suddenly noticed the plastic bag behind me, in the cubbyhole at the back of the seat, shift.

Wind, I figured. Then it shifted again.

And once more, violently.

I couldn’t ignore anymore that this plastic bag was dancing. “Um, what’s in this bag?” I asked the driver.

He turned around. “A chicken.”

Let’s just say that between my general ornithophobia and my general shock that a live creature had been suffocating beside my head the entire ride, it was a good thing we were in traffic at the time.

I asked friends what the strangest finds and sights they have encountered on public transportation are. Several people cited a man in his underwear who used to frequent the now-defunct pink (kitsch!) Bas Minis of 1990’s Kuala Lumpur. One person told me about finding a pornographic CD in the back of a taxi – with pregnant women on the cover. But he’s a good, unblemished virginal type, so he may have seen a breastfeeding instruction video for all I know, which I suppose would be equally odd.

A neighbour I knew at thirteen told me she had seen a couple having sex on a bus, but I’m pretty sure she was exaggerating. Still, someone certainly witnessed some gratuitous activity on a Singaporean train, because they braved some hefty fines to graffiti on one with white liquid paper, “No Humping Please”.

The last thing I want is to propagate stereotypes about marginalized communities, but one incident I was told of is too outrageous not to share. Somewhere between Bangalore and Kerala, a group of hijras boarded the train asking for money. When one man refused them, a hijra straddled him, raised her saree, shoved his head under, uttered a curse, and moved along. The man, by the way, seemed completely unruffled. The person witnessing this, however, was not.

Some finds, like the chocolate bar still shy of the expiry date a friend found on a city train, are nice. Some are plain nasty – I may not have liked my co-passenger in the auto that morning, but I’m really glad I wasn’t the one who found a soiled pair of women’s panties under her seat on a plane!

Still, since the chicken incident, I try to sneak a look behind the seat as I enter autos.

The only thing is, if I ever spot a plastic bag back there, I’m not sure just how to ask the driver if, by any chance, he happens to have a live chicken on board.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my weekly column in the Zeitgeist supplement. Previous columns can be found here.

7 responses »

  1. Read your article in the IE this morning. Your free flow style of writing is interesting and your article was good. Hope to read your articles more regularly in the future.

  2. lol! And to think, I, in all my boring life brimming over with taxi travel, have found only the occasional odd umbrella.
    But wait! I have been a buffalo’s fellow traveler once! Umm, well, that’s because she was giving me a ride to nowhere in particular. :)

  3. The fellow on the train may have not given his money in hopes of a free show.

    When I lived in Boston about 10 years ago, I went to the Copley Sq. library and had a bag full of books. While I was waiting for my train, a tiny, skinny 60-something old guy wearing a Virgin Mary shirt and short shorts sat down next to me. He started pumping something and next thing I see I dildo inflates out of his shorts and rolls up and down. He then proceeds to rub it.

    I am appalled. All the folks around me are appalled. I ask him if the Virgin would approve of his behavior, I get up and move. He moves with me. I get on the train, he follows me, when it becomes obvious he was not going away, I whacked him upside the head with the book bag. All the women on the train cheered. He got off at the next stop.

  4. My strangest co-passengers have been a growling dog and a snake (sleeping peacefully in his basket, of course). This happened while I was studying in the badlands of Allahabad, and four of us wanted to watch the night show of “Monsoon Wedding”. While coming back to the hostel, we took a lift from a truck carrying an assortment of passengers, who in turn owned the aforementioned animals.
    The driver did nothing less to reduce our nervousness by singing “maar diya jaaye ya chod diya jaaye”. As soon as he stopped the truck near the hostel, we ran with our hearts in our mouths till we reached the hostel.
    Now of course, it has become a memory from the “good old days”. :)

  5. The wierdest things ive seen on taxi rides were the pathan drivers back in abu dhabi. There have been a number of strange incidents right from one who shifted his own gear regularly to one who told me that i looked like his brother and then attempted to feel me up. I think i already revealed too much :P oops

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