I Missed the Bus and Survived
Like most students, Teenaz Javat usually wears chappals, sandals. The remote campus of New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University is the fulfillment of her dreams. However, her plans are foiled by her mother. She will not allow her daughter to study there. Years later, she learns that her mother’s intuition may have saved her life. Pretty chappals are comfortable – but you cannot run in them, even to save your life.
I was educated in India. As students, we mostly wore chappals on our feet. Some decorated with bling, others without. This story is about chappals and something more.
Twenty-four years ago, I embarked on a journey. I studied hard to write the national entrance exams to get a seat in New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, named after the first prime minister of an independent India. I aimed for a career in India’s storied civil service.
A legacy of British rule, the Indian Administrative Service is a network of powerful civil servants who oversee the functioning of the world’s largest democracy. It was my dream job. And a seat at that university, the temple of modern India—as Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru would have called it—would go a long way in preparing me for the exams.
New Delhi is over a thousand kilometres north of Mumbai, where I grew up. I would have to take up residence on campus in this faraway city. The university’s 1,000-acre campus is a forested area in the rugged terrain of the Aravali Hills, on the outskirts of India’s capital.
My family accompanied me there. We took an exhausting train ride, then a long cab ride, during which my mom, usually a talker, was quiet. She was not happy to leave me in this isolated part of an unknown city. The campus had put her off. And at that moment, she decided for me: I was not going to live there.
Abruptly, she instructed the cabby to turn back. “This place is too far from Mumbai and too dangerous,” she said.
“How can there be any danger in studying?” I cried.
But I knew I had lost, as you could seldom win against my mother. My dad and younger sister thought it best to stay out of it, as they always did when mom and I locked horns.
“Delhi is the thug capital of India,” she said. “If anything were to happen to you, we do not have the wherewithal to intervene. Nor do we know a soul who will do it for us,” she continued. My parents are a simple, self-made, solidly working-class couple with no network beyond their workplace.
“Study in Mumbai or somewhere closer. Forget about New Delhi and, for that matter, even the civil service.”
So, just as my dream study was to begin, my mother put an end to it. Eventually, I read Economics at the University of Poona, 200 kilometres southeast of Mumbai. Upon graduating, I began to work as a journalist. But the nagging pain of a missed opportunity never left me, and I pined to leave Mumbai for good.
Just sixteen months into my career, I married a Pakistani and moved to his land. But there, unable to cope with the turmoil and the lack of freedom for women, I convinced my husband to leave our new home and friends to start all over, this time in Canada.
The winter before last, I went back to Mumbai to visit my mother. The gruesome story of the New Delhi bus rape was splashed across the front page of The Times of India. My mother, who was working at her sewing machine, looked up, scanned the headlines and turned to me.
The conversation we had had on that cab ride came back to me. We exchanged glances. Not a syllable escaped our lips. There was just the soft hum of the sewing machine, drowned by the cawing of crows and the silent sigh of my aching heart.
The woman who was so viciously gang-raped and who later died of her injuries had boarded the bus at the bus stop by that temple of learning: Jawaharlal Nehru University. She would have worn chappals similar to mine. They look good and are even quite comfortable. But they are not suitable for running. They would not have helped her escape.
TEENAZ JAVAT is by blood Indian, by bond Pakistani and by choice Canadian. Among many of her duties, Teenaz writes headlines for a living at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. She lives with her husband and adult children in Mississauga, Ontario.