The Coldest Winter

by Sreejita Biswas

For the first time in my 26 years of existence, I could feel an unnatural chill in Calcutta. Perhaps it was the coldest year the city had seen in 28 years, perhaps it was my paranoia at being stranded in a posh residential area at around midnight. For the first time in all the years that I had lived here, I was far from enjoying my solitary walk down the yellow-tinted roads. Jittery and desperate for some warmth, the telltale grumble of an old Ambassador engine indicated my ride back home.

As I settled down on the creaking springs, I realized that my chauffeur for the night was a young man, which was fine, really. But as he kept glancing at the rear-view mirror, the paranoia that had already started to infect my mind steadily got worse. Clad in the dowdiest of woolens and hoping to appear masculine, I tried desperately to not think of a gory end to this lonely cab ride.

“Aap Kalkatta se ho?” (Are you from Calcutta?) he asked as we entered an even lonelier stretch of road. A perfectly innocent question. But dear ol’ paranoia! How you work wonders! With all shreds of logical thought dunked right into the chilly waters of the Ganges, I somehow managed a polite reply before calling a friend to keep me company through the ride. If anything went wrong, I knew I had someone to call for help on my behalf. How that would have worked to my advantage, I am yet to figure out. But as I sat huddled up in the backseat, I described the route we were taking in painstaking detail. I knew there was no such thing as being “too careful” then.

In 30 odd minutes my journey came to an end and so did my phonecall. As I reached over to pay the cabbie, he smiled and said in Bengali, “Kolkata ekhono safe ache didi” (Calcutta is still safe sister). I was horrified to realize what the state of the country had done to me! This young man just wanted some polite midnight chitchat and I mistook him for a potential rapist! I did pay him an extra 50 to make amends, but that in no way is an apology to a man who was almost defined as a rapist in my mind.

Damn the men who lead us to think this way, damn the men who sit silently and allow us think this way. Damn myself for allowing fear to define me in such a shameful way. For the first time in 26 years of existence, I could feel an unnatural chill in Calcutta.


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