19th November 2006, it was my father’s birthday. I wished him in the morning. He barely talked because of his serious condition. He was courageously fighting cancer for the past six years.

I was his eldest daughter whom he beautifully trained as a girl with boy’s skills. He taught me how to be safe and alert while he made me do all outside chores. Be it going to a flour mill (aata chakki) with a 30 kg box or fixing a fuse. You name the work which only men or boys would do, I have done that. He went way beyond that he taught me how to load a 12bour rifle and shoot. If he and my mother would go out of town he would instruct me to use it without hesitation if needed. He taught me the balance between responsibility and rights.

He taught me how to ride LML Vespa when girls in my college used to walk or hire rickshaws. Later when we got our first car, he immediately taught me how to drive a car. (There was one more reason behind it, he knew that I would anyway take the car and go, so he thought, better teach her properly). In Fact the same driver who taught him, taught me also. After a few primary driving lessons with the driver, he took me every morning with him for the practice. I am talking about the year 1987-88. At that time there were no driving schools, let alone driving schools for girls or women. I was the first and the only girl in the town who drove.

The best and precious teaching he gave me- “life is like a game of snakes and ladders”, you make one wrong decision and you will be down from 99 to 2. Although the meaning I understood at that time was purely materialistic, after so many years I now know that the lesson he meant was more about moral decisions.

On his birthday his condition deteriorated. And in the afternoon I got that sad news which I never wanted to hear at all, my father was no more.

At that time I was in Udaipur (Rajasthan) to fulfill my deep desire of pursuing M.Ed. I was alone with two of my kids, Aarushi 10 years old and Siddhant 8.5 years old. I was doing my M.Ed. from Janardan Rai University and since my husband was posted in a different city I was living away from him with my children and a full time helper 18 year old Gopal.

My husband called his friend and his friend booked a cab for me from Udaipur to Mandsaur.
It was 5 in the evening when I started and I was expected to reach Mandsaur, somewhere around 9.30 to 10 in the night, where my husband was waiting for me to start the next journey to Indore where my parents lived. With a very heavy heart I sat in the backseat with my children. Gopal sat in the front seat with the driver.

I don’t remember the first few minutes of my journey, maybe because I was with my memories of my papa and I was trying to make sense of everything, I knew that my papa was very ill and he didn’t have much time left, but still I was in so much pain.

When we reached the highway I realized that the car driver was very much interested in knowing our background and our reason for traveling. I gave him a brief introduction that my husband was a police officer and I am going for my father’s funeral. (I usually was keen to tell people that my husband was a police officer, it gave me a sense of security, I used to do that intentionally). I believed that it would satisfy him. But no, he started talking about himself and other stuff which was completely rubbish. I was least interested, in fact it was unbearable for me. I could have let him talk and not listen to him at all but after every few minutes he would turn towards me and lose sight of the road where he was driving.

Being a nice person I tried to make him feel that I am not disrespecting him but I am not in the state of listening to his stories and answering to him in return. I told him very nicely to be quiet that I am in sorrow and he should leave me alone. It made him furious and he increased his speed of the talk as well as the speed of the car.

I was trying to tell him that it is very dangerous to see backwards while driving and in the same moment with a scary sound of brakes he barely managed to save us from a fatal accident with a truck. I started crying and pleaded to drive safely. He kept talking like a maniac. Now he started telling us that he is a post graduate and I shouldn’t take him for granted and blah blah blah.
Mandsaur – Neemuch highway is known for smuggling of opium, commonly known as black gold (afeem in Hindi), known as ‘Doda’ also in local terms. The waste material of opium is known as ‘Doda churi’, meaning powder of the waste material of opium. Drivers travelling that highway used to consume that. I didn’t know he had consumed that or not but he was behaving like he did.
He kept talking like a madman and within a few minutes of the previous incident, he again did the same thing, he turned back and started showing a pond on the side. He was least bothered about our car which was now going towards another vehicle which was approaching from the front. There were only two lanes for two different directions. We all shouted and then he controlled the staring. Now I was furious and I got really angry. I gave him a strict warning to drive safely. I figured that there was something really wrong with that person. It started getting dark and we were not even half way through. He kept bragging about himself and didn’t care anything about what we said or felt. I was now worried if we would reach safely? I felt that I am alone in this dark night with three kids, and with this driver it was almost impossible to finish my journey safely. I was staring at the road as if I could control the car with my eyes.

Again on a blind turn he turned with uncontrolled speed and almost hit a tractor. The tractor driver turned his wheel in another direction to save us.

That’s it. I was not ready for anymore bad news for my family.

I told him to stop the car, immediately. He didn’t know what was about to happen with him. He stopped the car, I hoped down, dragged him from the collar of his shirt, slapped him tightly. I don’t remember after how many slaps he fell on the road, once he was flat on the road I kicked him on the side of the road to save him from the running traffic, sat on the driver seat and left.

Although I never drove on that route but It was a very well known for me and I was sure that I could drive us to our destination.

But one more adventure was waiting for us, roads were in very bad condition and our car stopped with a sudden jerk because of a big ditch. I tried everything I had known to start it but nothing worked. It wasn’t my car so I didn’t know what kind of problem it was. It was completely dark outside and all these episodes were enough to frighten my children. Gopal was also very young to handle these things, also he didn’t know anything about cars. This was enough for me to panic, but I was the only one who couldn’t afford to panic.

At that very moment I remembered my father’s saying that you can overcome almost any situation with your presence of mind and intelligence. I turned on all the emergency lights, told kids to sit patiently in the car and chant ‘Om namah Shivaya’. I told Gopal to stand at the road with me and we waited for the next vehicle to come. It was a dark night and the highway was not very safe but now I gathered my courage and felt composed.

We saw a truck approaching, I told Gopal to wave and I told him to tell the truck driver that I was a police officer and rest I will take care of. He was smart enough to do his part, he lived with my husband for some time so he very well knew how and what to say. The truck driver stopped the truck as soon as he saw us, Gopal ran towards him and said whatever I taught him.

I had seen my husband talking to people with great authority, sometimes in an intimidating way. I grew up with many family members who were in the police, so I knew how I should approach them.

Instead of asking “ bhaiya please help us”, I, with utmost dictatorial way, asked his name first, I exactly imitated my husband’s way of questioning. After some questions about their whereabouts, I told them that my car is stopped and they have to push it. I was sure that if my car gets a certain velocity by pushing it, I can start with a sudden jerk using the clutch.

Everything happened as planned. I thanked them, but they were thanking me for allowing them a chance to serve me.

After a few hours of careful driving I joined my husband, who was waiting for me with two police constables and another bigger car. I told him that the driver was disrespectful so I had to leave him in the middle of the journey. Seeing my condition he didn’t ask any more questions and we left for my parents’ city which was five hours away from there.

The next morning my husband got a call from some police station that a driver had filed a complaint against me that ‘I had beaten a driver in the middle of a jungle, stolen his car and ran away’.

My husband was shocked, he asked me about it. I told him what had happened, he didn’t believe me but he managed to sattle the complaint against me. I never heard anything about it after that morning.

14 years passed but I still remember the details of that night because I was very sad, very afraid, very alone; still I managed to be safe. Also I thought about the safety of that driver, and pushed him on the side of the road to keep him safe.

All because of my father’s teachings.

I will always remember that life is like a game of snakes and ladder. I should never do anything which is morally wrong, otherwise I will fall and I have to start again. I now know that all his teachings were not only for the material world but for my mental and emotional growth also.

Although I still made mistakes and learned lessons from life. I realised that because of his upbringing I grew up as a strong person and faced many challenges with courage.

I wish every girl could have a father as I did.

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Shubhra Mishra Om

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