Anukrti Upadhyay’s The Blue Women Features Short Stories On Strange Encounters

With rare insightfulness, Anukrti Upadhyay shines a light on the fractures and fears, the prejudices and wounds, desires and memories that inhabit the deepest recesses of her characters’ psyches.

Anukrti Upadhyay
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Anukrti Upadhyay The Blue Women
The stories in The Blue Women paint vivid portraits of people’s lives as they encounter the strange and the enigmatic – whether it is other people, creatures, nature, the inanimate, or themselves.

With rare insightfulness, Anukrti Upadhyay shines a light on the fractures and fears, the prejudices and wounds, desires and memories that inhabit the deepest recesses of her characters’ psyches.

Here is an excerpt from The Blue Women

It was 3 a.m. In the surrounding predawn darkness, the brightly lit airport was like a ship alight in a dark, waveless ocean. The air bore the exhilarating early-morning smell as yet untouched by the day’s inevitable pollution. I checked again the receipt, the man at the prepaid taxi counter had handed me. The number matched the plate of a neat sedan in parking bay number seven. There was no one in the car.

‘You are for Pune, sir? Did you book at the prepaid counter?’ A woman stood beside me. She was dark-skinned and big-boned, her beige salwar kameez dulled by the dazzling white lights. I nodded, craning my neck for the driver. I had meetings in the morning and wanted to be on my way.

‘Could you show the receipt please, sir?’ I handed the piece of paper to her. ‘Is this your luggage, sir?’ She clicked the electronic key and opened the car’s boot.

I looked at her, puzzled. Then the penny dropped. ‘You are driving me to Pune?’

‘Yes, sir.’ She smiled. ‘You can check my driving licence if you like.’ She pointed to the laminated bit of paper displayed on the dashboard beside a small Ganpati idol. ‘I have been driving for ten years. Over a hundred trips to Pune and not a single accident. You will be safe with me, sir.’ Shamefaced, I picked up my suitcase and stowed it in the open boot.


The car sped out of the airport and onto a broad expressway. ‘We will take the NH4 to Pune, sir. I am not sure how familiar you are with the route but to reach the Pune highway, it would be quicker to cut through Dharavi and get to the Eastern Expressway. If you prefer another route, please tell me now.’ I mumbled my acquiescence and leaned back in the seat.

‘It will take around three hours to reach Pune. We have started early, so there won’t be any traffic problems here or in Pune. Let me know if you’d like to stretch your legs or have a cup of tea. There are quite a few places along the way. It would not add more than thirty minutes to your travel time. And no extra charges.’ I heard the smile in her voice.

‘Thank you,’ I said, and added, ‘It is very brave of you to drive from Mumbai to Pune at this hour.’

‘It is very brave of you too.’ Her voice quivered with mirth.

‘I am sure you understand what I mean – this is not the safest of jobs for a woman.’

‘You are right, sir. But then, is there any job that is really safe for women?’


Her tone was polite and conversational, but for a reason, I couldn’t immediately pinpoint, I felt annoyed. ‘There are jobs, and then there are jobs. Can you truthfully say you haven’t had bad experiences in this line of work?’

‘Bad experiences because I drive a taxi or because I am a woman who drives a taxi?’ she challenged.

‘Both,’ I said. ‘I hope you don’t mind my saying so.’

‘I don’t, sir, if you don’t mind it yourself.’

I sat up straight and looked carefully at her. I couldn’t see her face; the rear-view mirror reflected only the straggling slums of Dharavi, grey in the grey light of dawn.

She sat at ease, her broad shoulders relaxed, her powerful-looking hands resting on the steering wheel with assurance. There were traces of red nail paint on the nails and green glass bangles tinkled at her wrists. Her hair was neatly plaited, not a strand out of place, a string of mogra flowers, wilting but still fragrant, attached to her braid with a black hairpin.


‘I am truly sorry…’ I began.

‘Don’t be, sir. These are not unusual comments or questions. I get them all the time. People assume that a woman driving a taxi is bound to have certain kinds of experiences. On my part, I have had some remarkable experiences, good and bad. I would think any woman who steps out into the world to earn her living would tell you the same.’

I nodded. All sorts of people book prepaid taxis. I could imagine men of the undesirable kind becoming troublesome, even dangerous. ‘I understand. You can’t be too careful. Can’t the taxi company assign you families or perhaps only women passengers and allow you to drive during the day instead of at this hour?’ I asked.

‘No one has forced me to do this shift, sir. I chose it myself. In fact, these days I mostly do night shifts. The pay is better.’

‘Isn’t it unsafe to drive strangers late at night?’

‘We have been trained to deal with trouble,’ She flexed her shoulders.

‘How about your family? You have children? Who looks after them when you are away at night?’

‘There is more looking after to be done during the day than at night, sir. If I am away during the day, who would cook their meals and be home when they return from school? Who would keep them out of trouble and make them do their homework? I am only driving early morning today because it is a school holiday and they are with their grandmother in the village.’

‘And your husband? Doesn’t he worry about your driving late at night?’ It sounded wrong even as I said it.

Her shoulders rose and fell as she breathed deeply. ‘Doesn’t your wife worry about you travelling alone at night?’

The car’s air-conditioner hummed and vibrated in the ensuing silence. ‘I am very sorry,’ I said finally. ‘I seem to be saying one wrong thing after another. Yes, my wife used to worry about my travelling alone until she herself undertook a journey alone to an unknown place. Who can tell whether she still worries about me there…’ I remembered my wife’s last days in the hospital, her body a mass of pain, all humanity extinguished, only a flicker remaining, somehow, which kindled upon seeing me – I, who loathed the disease for devouring her and, sometimes, her, for not giving in, just giving in and letting go.

‘May your wife’s soul be at peace, sir. I am sorry I spoke sharply just now when you asked about my husband. The fact is, I don’t know where he is. The last time I saw him was years ago. I was eight months pregnant with my third, and he was leering at me from the mouth of the dry ditch he had pushed me into.’

Excerpted with permission from ‘The Blue Women’ by Anukrti Upadhyay; and published by Harper Collins India. You can also join SheThePeople’s Book club on FacebookLinkedIn and Instagram.

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The Blue Women