It was a day’s trip from Surat to Mumbai and back.

A select few of us had been chosen to attend the Outbound Travel Mart – commonly referred to as OTM – and I, never having attended OTM before, was naturally excited about the trip. I lost sleep over the littlest of things, starting with what I would wear and what OTM would be like. I imagined a huge stadium filled with grand stalls where foreigners sat and handed out tourism brochures of their country.


What I didn’t consider was the unexpectedly long journey. The five hour drive to Mumbai seemed like a breeze when I was sitting at home, daydreaming about the impending trip and the fun I would have.


As it turned out, it became the longest trip of my life. Despite being with my colleagues, who, while not exactly looking forward to OTM – having attended it many times in the past – were oddly chipper, I felt like a nervous wreck, like I was the only one going to Mumbai to meet and socialize with all those strangers.


I was sitting in the backseat, gazing out the window when my colleague, Geeta, suddenly said, “The car’s vibrating.”


Nikull, sitting upfront beside the driver, Ankur, turned to look back at us. “Is it?”


I stared at him, bemused, wondering if it was even possible for a car to vibrate. It was probably just the throb of the engine.


“I feel it, too.”


My eyes flew to Ankur’s in the rear-view mirror. He looked worried.


“What could it be?” I asked the men, trying not to fret just yet.


“Guess we’ll have to stop and check,” said Nikull. His eyes were wide. It seemed that he, too, was feeling the so-called vibrations.


I exchanged a mystified glance with Geeta. I couldn’t feel a thing.


We stopped beneath a clump of trees on the roadside and both men stepped out to locate the problem. I tried to roll down my window but Ankur must have locked it because it remained firmly shut, so instead I rapped my knuckles on the glass.


“What’s wrong?” I mouthed to Ankur, who was inspecting the tyre that was right below me. He shook his head at me and motioned for Nikull to join him.


I pressed my nose to the glass, straining to hear what they were saying. Eventually, they climbed back in and informed us, rather nonchalantly, that one of the bolts in the tyre had gone missing.


“What do we do now?” I asked. “Stop at a garage and have a new bolt fixed in?”






“It’s just one bolt,” grinned Ankur, restarting the car. “We might experience some tremors and the car could skid at turns, but really, it’s nothing to worry about.”


I threw him an incredulous look in the rear-view. “You’re joking, right? This highway is full of sharp turns!”


He just laughed and kept driving. I looked to Geeta for support but she merely shrugged and went back to humming to herself. I turned my gaze to Nikull, who gave me a reassuring smile before turning away to fiddle with the radio.


I couldn’t believe they were taking this issue so lightly. I admit to not being an expert on cars – or any automobiles for that matter – so I couldn’t argue about the seriousness of the situation. They would laugh in my face and tell me to shut up.


So I kept my silence and arranged my face into a scowl. Soon, I caught sight of a turn in the distance and watched with bated breath as we neared it. When it came, I imagined the car going out of control and shuddered.


Sensing my fear, Geeta soothed, “We’ll drive slow.”


And we did. Until Ankur declared, with a pained look, that his bladder was full and we would be driving faster.


“Why can’t we just stop at a motel?” I demanded angrily. This was going too far.


“We’ve already lost a lot of time. Besides we’re nearly there,” replied Nikull. “Sit tight.”


“Hang in there, Ankur,” laughed Geeta. I glared at her and decided she was being stupid on purpose.


We were a couple of hours away from our destination and all the while I sat huddled in the corner, gripping my knees in fear of being flung forward in case something terrible happened. True to Ankur’s words, the car skidded many-a-times now that we were going faster. At one point, Ankur seemed to lose control of the car completely and we zigzagged down the thankfully deserted highway, seemingly unable to stop and unable to slow down. I screamed while Geeta laughed maniacally beside me.


When we finally reached the OTM grounds, I slumped back in my seat and heaved a sigh of relief. “I’m alive. I’m safe,” I chanted in my head, climbing out and looking around disinterestedly.


Ankur had disappeared behind a tree on the far side of the entrance. Geeta was going through a quick make-over in the car and Nikull was speaking in his cell phone. So I knelt down to examine the deficient tyre. What I saw made my jaw drop.


Not one bolt was missing from its place!


Squinting, I tried to look closer, not wanting to miss anything. Maybe there were smaller bolts on the side. But absolutely nothing was amiss. There they were, all five bolts in their undamaged glory, and tightly fixed too. Sensing eyes on me, I looked up at a smirking Nikull.


“You rascal!” I yelled, straightening and advancing upon him, perhaps to poke him in the eye or to scratch his face. But at the same time, Ankur came jogging into view and Geeta stepped out of the car sporting a new hairstyle and hot pink lipstick.


One look at my angry expression and balled fists sent them into a fit of laughter. I had been made into a fool! The supposedly longest and most fearful journey of my life had been a total sham!