India is not a place for the comfort of the very elderly, infirm, differently abled when it comes to travelling in public alone; though surely there are exceptions. So, when I whine about the issues faced by me as a father who wants to travel around with my twin daughters of 3 years and 6 months, I know that I come at the end of the priority order for the convenience expected.
Washroom for the Girls:
I cannot take my daughters to the washroom in a public place. Finding a functional washroom is a task in itself. Even if I find one, I realize that it isn’t of any use for me. I can request women to take my daughters to relieve them, but the girls would just not go with strangers. And that is how I want it to be as well.
Washroom for me:
I cannot use the washroom in a public place. Where do I leave my daughters?
As a result of the above two reasons, we welcome ourselves only in parks and gardens where we can find good enough number of trees to hide behind, whenever required, for obvious reasons. Sorry Modiji, but we have not been able to contribute to Swachh Bharat.
The RTC buses in Hyderabad have back-door ear-marked for men and front-door for women. The seating is also demarcated – women in the front seats and men in the rear ones. With my 2 daughters, I fit nowhere. We did try to travel in non-peak hours on relatively empty buses. I realized that the steps are very high for the girls to manage by themselves. So getting in and out of the bus for us takes too much of time for the driver’s comfort and we just get honked out.
With people hanging out of the local trains, there is no way that we can even think of sneaking in.
Crossing the road:
I have my heart in my mouth if we have to cross the road at all. Roads have become too wide and the time allotted at the traffic signal has gotten way too less for crossing unless you are a 100 m sprinter, which we are not. And whilst we are racing across to cross and save our lives, there have hardly been occasions without a two / four wheeler jumping the signal and coming straight for us.
Walking on the road:
Whenever we are out, the girls prefer to hold my hand whilst walking. This means that I have to keep them on my either side. Not having footpaths all across means that one of the girls is always on the side of the traffic and let me tell you that it is just so scary.
Auto drivers taking us for a ride:
Due to the difficulties we face in travelling by buses and trains, autos are our go-to option. Hyderabad autos don’t work on a meter. If they do, you wouldn’t want them to as you realize pretty soon that the tampered meters are doing their job pretty well by overcharging. When the auto drivers see a man with 2 young girls, they see a victim very vulnerable, who can be taken for a ride – figuratively and literally, as they understand that the option less situation that we are in.
Hyderabad Metro started functioning some time back. We tried a couple of times but found ourselves not fitting in. Both the girls do not require a ticket to travel and with my one token, I can cross over in/out only once, lifting one of the girls and the other girl gets left behind, needing to be picked up from sideways and they do not like such treatment. The timing at the in/out token gates does not allow all three of us simultaneously. Even the timing for the train gates – opening/closing is a bit too much for us to cope up with. Better to leave Metro alone, till the girls grow up a bit more.
We have refused to buy a vehicle. Conscious of our carbon footprint and also not wanting to add to the traffic chaos, we have always been ardent believers and users of public transport. And now, I as a father of twin daughters find it way too difficult to exercise my freedom of movement, in a safe – secure way.
Anyways, as mentioned in the beginning, we are the last priority and if our nation does manage to make roads, footpaths, public transport services, toilets truly accessible to the old and the differently abled people, then we will surely suit ourselves in.
What do you say? How to better the moving around?