Delhi says, welcome back!

It’s been almost a month now since I’m back home. I have been hogging on all those missed food items like crazy and my Punjabi family is just contributing to it with their extensive breakfasts and dinners. I re-visited all my favorite places in Delhi which I missed much. But life back home also means I have to reluctantly bring some changes in my lifestyle. Things that I could care about least are now top priority.

The first and most important change that I made as soon as I was back was to put some “extra” things in my bag. These “extra” things are my self-defense weapons whom I also fondly call “mere do anmol ratan” (okay, I’m just humoring myself). These are: one, a pepper spray which I have since December last year for obvious reasons. Second, a Swiss knife that I recently bought which is pretty handy. I occasionally also carry a scarf with me because I don’t drive (read: I can’t drive) and therefore travel a lot via public transport. I have the scarf because you see, exposing your neck, arms and shoulders can be too provocative for some and after all as we have recently learned “It’s our fault”, it is better to be safe than sorry (Fyi, heavy sarcasm involved here).

DSCN1137

There are two incidences which happened shortly after I came back. One was of street harassment and the other moral policing. I would like to describe these two in detail, I hope you will bear with me.

As mentioned above I usually carry my defense weapons in my bag whenever I go out, but this time as I was only walking in my own locality, I didn’t bother to take my bag and neither my weapons. But, you see, as soon as you step out of your Laksham Rekha, danger hovers over you like a fly hovers over a box of Haldiram’s sweets. So it was daytime, I was walking in my locality and there came this big white car (sorry, don’t know which one, it can be a City or an Accent, I’m really bad at this and I hardly care) with three young guys and drove past me. They were really young must be between 18-21. At least they looked younger than me. The driver slowed down the car and ogled at me through his side-view mirror. I ignored for the first time. I walked further peacefully. As I was on foot and they in a car, they drove past me twice and repeated the entire procedure again. I ignored them again.  But this didn’t deter their high spirit of scoring and they tried their luck for the third time. They drove past me again and stopped their car nearly a meter ahead of me. I lost my cool and showed the driver the “middle finger” through his side-view mirror. As expected his big inflated hot air balloon male ego deflated as if someone has pinched it with a pin. He stopped the car, got out and waited for me. By this time, even I was very furious and decided to take on the rage. The conversation went on something like this:

  • He: Why did you show me the “middle finger”?
  • I: Why the fuck were you ogling at me and driving your car past me after every two minutes?
  • He: I did not stare at you and I was waiting for my friend.
  • I: In that case, I did not abuse you. I was motioning to some stranger on the street.

Before he could conjure up any other accusations on me, I walked away and the entire drama ended there and then. Also, I guess because it was day time, there were people on the streets, the guys didn’t dare to take any action against their recently hurt ego. Now imagine the same incident at night. A woman walking down the street, three young guys in a car, dark, and fewer people around. They would have very easily pushed me into the car, silenced my wails and took me away. Further what would have happened, I will not dwell into as we all very well know. Next morning newspapers would have flashy headlines and my family would supposedly go into shame. I would be blamed for walking alone at night and ruining those young boys’ future.

The other incident which is on a more lighter note left me both angry as well as in laughter.  So I was in mall wearing a top which had a deep cut at the back. I was looking for some stuff in the woman’s section when this middle-age woman comes up to me from behind and touches me right at the open slit of my top (creepy).

  • Woman: Ye aapka top yaha se fata hua hai kya? (Is your top torn form here?)
  • I (with a stern face): Nahi, ye aisa hi hai. (No, it is like that.)
  • Woman (shocked and amused): Aisa hai? Par isme to peeche se dikh raha hai.. (Like that? But your back is visible.)
  • I (furious): Aapka bhi to pet dikha raha hai saree mein se (Even your tummy is visible from the saree.)

The woman is highly offended and is about to say something but her friend interrupts her, shushes her down and asks to get away. Fortunately for her, she is saved from my wrath because I sure had some more very interesting and offensive things to say. I look around, there are a few witnesses to the incident who are just staring back at me, in awe or in disgust, I couldn’t tell. With a cold face, I find my mom who is in some other section and narrate her the entire incident. She laughs it off and as compensation I get treated.

I don’t understand why people can’t mind their own business and how can one just come and touch a random stranger that too from behind. One can’t give the excuse that you belong to the same gender or that it was for your own well being. I mean, if somebody touches me from behind, the first thought that will come to my mind is that the person is eve teasing me and my instant reaction would be to turn around and slap the person black and blue in the face.

It is very interesting to know how the keepers of culture have taken their own eccentricities for granted and normalized it. So when it comes to a saree, a lehenga-choli and other such traditional Indian dresses, it is totally normal to expose your tummy, back, cleavage and what not. But if you’re wearing a “western”  top with a slit at the back, you automatically become “carrier” of western culture which is infiltrating our very pure and pious Indian culture. Now I think I should have also poked her tummy. It would have been more fun!

What did I learn from these incidents?

  1. Carry your self-defense weapons whenever and wherever you go. It doesn’t matter even if you are standing right outside your house.
  2. People who don’t mind their own business need a taste of their own medicine.
  3. When walking on the street, don’t look down, walk confident, shoulders out. Don’t give the impression that you are scared. Better, if possible, walk with a pissed off expression on your face especially when walking past a group of rogues.
  4. No matter what you do, what you wear, how you walk, talk, etc, people are going to say something because that’s their work. So don’t give a fuck about “log kya kahenge” and continue to stay amazing!

Au revoir Freedom! Hope to see you back home too..

Dear Freedom,

I’m writing this letter to you because it’s time to bid farewell now. It has been a wonderful time with you as my company and I think I owe you at least a farewell note. I hope when you read it, you are inspired to accompany me further. Right now, you are leaving me stranded. I don’t blame you, but I hope to see you again not where you are right now, but at my home, in my city and in my country.

I was away from home, in a far-off land. I roamed the streets alone with my camera and a book in my hand. I wandered day and night with no sign of fear in sight. I walked, ran and danced, without carrying a pepper spray in my hand. I wore a bikini at the beach and a coat when it was cold. The weather decided my clothes and not age-old customs or poking noses. I sat in my room and read the news back home. Their voices made my heart gloom, but I still enjoyed my foreign ride. I slowly forgot to look behind my shoulder from the corner of my eyes or to make an angry face while walking past a group of men. Not once did I feel why it is so difficult to be a woman. I went to bars and clubs for a drink or two and returned home drunk yet safe. I have waited for night buses at wee hours or early mornings. I have traveled in empty metros after a night full of fun and frolic. I had keys to my front door and could walk in and out whenever I wanted. I sat down under a tree or at a bench for hours, without encountering any weird gestures or awkward questions. Nobody asked me where I was going, with whom I was going and when will I be back. I had no one to answer except myself. I didn’t have to plan my outings before sunset or ask a trustworthy friend to drop me home. I made friends with men and women alike. I was alone with strangers at a lot of occasions without fearing the outcome. I asked for directions and help from different kinds of people. Not once did I fear that they would misdirect or misuse me. I talked with strangers on buses and trains during my various travels and shared a joke or two with them or ate lunch together. I did not avoid meeting anyone’s eyes as those eyes didn’t seek my flesh. Sometimes I felt, I’m another person living a distant dream and the things I experience don’t belong to me. It tasted bittersweet. I swam in the Mediterranean and climbed up the Alps. I did adventure sports from bungee jumping to scuba diving to sky diving. Nobody said how could a girl do this. I spent an entire night at a railway station in a country whose language I did not speak. I woke up the next morning untouched and unscathed. I did the simple act of walking back to my home at night. I felt so ecstatic while doing this. I felt as if I have some sort of power which I can finally use. I have been brought up in a relatively free-er environment than I would say my fellow citizens. But I would still never forget the time I spent with you, with zero incidences of sexual harassment or something even close to it. I used to talk of freedom well before that, but I never would’ve imagined what freedom really is if I hadn’t lived outside of my country. Even now, I sometimes cannot believe that I have lived the better part of my life in a lack of basic freedom.

I have to go now, it is my time. It will take some time getting used to do things without you, to be careful again, to not trust strangers so easily, to dress cautiously, to not wander alone, to come home before it gets dark and to many other things I’m not looking forward to. But I’m inviting you over, will you come Freedom? Will you visit me in my home? And will you stay with me forever? Will you? …

P.S. This post is in reference to my five-month research stay in Germany and to my various travels in and around Europe.

Women_freedom_by_rush2anthony

 

 

Disclaimer: This article has also been published on Women’s Web and Youth Ki Awaaz