Delhi, Day 310:19 AM
Delhi, Day 3: 108-degree weather and what Google likes to call "extreme dust" makes you run out of clean clothes pretty fast, so I went on a lone excursion to Fabindia to buy some new clothes with the plan of calling an Uber both ways. I checked out as the store was closing, went outside, and then tried to call my ride home. A lot of shops, not just the clothing ones, were starting to close. Their lights, that illuminated my position, turned out up and down the block like dominoes. There are different kinds of night: Times Square night, where the lights never dim and people never disappear, and real night, where lights go out and the city blocks belong to men. It felt like this street's night was just beginning.
I decided to call the driver. He picked up, but promptly rattled off a string of Hindi words I didn't understand in response to "Hi! Where are you?"
"Uhhh....uhhhh...tum kahaan hai?" I asked, having no idea if that was correct or not. I didn't understand his answer (more rapidfire sentences), and mentally kicked myself for not learning more Hindi. I requested another Uber and called the driver. He also didn't speak English. At this point I was actually really freaked out about how I would ever get home and felt painfully aware of the fact that I was the only girl standing around. One of my friends told me to try to look less like a foreigner by looking confident, always. The pressure of trying to maintain an ironclad game face while being completely nervewracked in actuality only contributed to my worry.
Finally I glanced desperately at a queue of men in dress shirts milling around a food stall and said nervously to one middle-aged man holding a cigarette, "Excuse me sir, do you speak English?" He said yes and I showed him my Uber screen and explained the situation.
"Do you want me to speak on the phone with him for you?" he said kindly.
I nodded in relief, handed him my phone, and listened (trying to catch words here and there) as he explained where I was. "Your Uber will be here in two minutes," he said as he ended the call and handed me back my phone.
"Here's your Uber," he said, motioning to the white Maruti Dzire that pulled up. I hopped in, uttering my thanks, and got safely home.
The whole experience was a little overwhelming in the moment (OK, let me be real: I almost started crying in the street) maybe because of who I am: I try to be cautious, planning, and always aware of how to get from point A to point B. I send my location details updated in real time via the app Glympse to friends I'm meeting with when I walk across campus in Berkeley, for goodness's sake. And I never quite grew out of that whole "Don't talk to strangers" thing.
That's very different from my mom, who is the type of person to convince friendly strangers sharing a sleeper train compartment to share a tour guide and stay at the same hotel (it's how we toured around Xi'an, China with a British anesthesiologist), to ask people she's just met to carpool (she doesn't drive), and to carry a densely packed suitcase as carry-on luggage--enabled by the fact that without fail, someone else on the plane will step in and do the job of lifting it into an overhead bin with her. I don't think I ever appreciated that quirk--I saw my mom's interdependence as a reflection of poor planning or overdeveloped sociability or both.
But if there's a moral to the story of tonight's shopping excursion (aside from making better plans and learning more Hindi), I guess it's that yes, confidence and fearlessness and planning are all good things but at least once in your life, you may wind up in a situation where you feel frightened and perplexed and alone. And when that happens, maybe a random man waiting for street food will help and talk to your driver, and the car will come. Maybe absolutely everything will be OK. Maybe you'll get back to your guesthouse and eat chapatis and think, even though you'll try to make more watertight plans in the future, you'll make them for better reasons than simple fear. Because if you really really have to, there are always brightly lit spots in the nighttime, and friendly people on lonely streets.