As I read Vulturo’s post, a bunch of memories that I thought didn’t exist any more came back.
This was about two years ago, when I was traveling around Orissa with my parents. We were at the Lingaraj temple in Bhubhaneshwar, and those of you who have been there know that it can be rather crowded. It certainly was on the day that we were there. There was hardly any space between people jostling to get up front, and to me (back from the free open space in the States) it was positively claustrophobic, to the point that I was almost dizzy. Anyway, in the crowd, I had become temporarily separated from my parents. At some point, as I was trying to look over the heads of those standing ahead of me by standing tip-toe, trying to see what was happening right up front at the shrine, when someone behind me gave me a hard push (unintentionally, perhaps being pushed by the people behind him/her). Anyway, being on my toes resulted in me losing my balance, and I fell forward, and bumped right on to the young lady standing in front of me.
She turned back, and there I was, trying to regain my balance and bearings, and sputtering an apology. Something about being pushed. But she didn’t wait a moment. She had this look of horror and disgust, and immediately shouted “Bas***d, how cheap can you get. That too in a temple. Tumhare ghar me behen beti nahi hai kya?”
At that moment, I felt more miserable that I probably had ever felt in my life. And when I read Saket’s post, that moment's sick feeling, like being punched in my stomach, came right back as I remembered this old incident.
But then, when I read Anne’s post, where she writes as only she can, a whole bunch of other memories came back. It’s different when you’re in an open society like the States, where personal space is plenty, and you’re hardly surprised when you see women jogging out in the street late at night. It’s considered normal. But it is so true that women in Indian cities are harassed, from the moment they step out of the house, until they come back. Anne’s post brought back plenty of other memories too.
I remember once, years ago, when a second cousin visited us in Bangalore, I accompanied her on a bus to some place a few miles away. When she got off, she told me that she rather liked Bangalore buses. Though the bus was very crowded, no one had tried to grope her, and she said it always happened in Bombay (this was a different Bangalore, many years ago). What struck me most then was not the fact that she had an event-free bus ride, but that she (like most young women) feel it’s almost expected to be abused in some little way or the other.
I remembered suddenly an old episode of that thoroughly entertaining TV show, The amazing race, nearly three years old. On that particular episode, the group of travelers had gone to Bombay, that city of dreams. They, like every one else, took the local. When they got off, one of the women in the group was sputtering and angry, and screaming. Yup, you can guess what had happened. She felt abused and hurt, and I can still remember the expression on her horrified face. It wasn’t like she didn’t understand crowds or the unavoidable physical contact on a local train. She was a veteran of rush-hour travel in the New York subway, the London tube, the Tokyo trains, and quite used to being bumped in to. But she had never, every felt abused on a train before this.
I remembered times years ago, when my (now wife) girlfriend, still in India, would stay up late at night, after work, at a cyber-café to chat with me here (this was well before the phone-card boom). As she’d go back to her apartment (just two blocks away) at night, I would sit at my computer, sick with worry, till I got her 1-minute phone-call saying she’d reached home safe.
I remembered once, when a group of us from college (some guys and some girls) were on a bus, going for a movie, and were spread across the bus. A bunch of rowdy guys boarded the bus, leered and hooted at the girls, brushed against them, and got off (while some of us useless guys were blissfully unaware of the commotion, or perhaps we looked the other way, or were just plain doormats). I had this feeling of (impotent) rage, which lingered on for the rest of that day, while the girls just shrugged it off, saying that it happened all the time, and they had to live with it.
I understand Saket’s feelings. I feel just as mortified when, if I’m in a bus, and happen to sit next to a girl, she moves away and presses against the window. Or, if I’m sitting, and the seat next to me is the only other empty seat, a girl would rather stand right ahead of me than sit down. That “sick, contemptuous look”, like I’m some serial rapist isn’t much fun. But, I think I can see where that look comes from.
It’s not right, but the way we, as a society, treat women is far, far worse. And until that fundamental change happens, I think I’ll survive being looked upon like the scum of the earth.
(ps: However, I will, till my death, stand by my right to appreciate any beautiful girl walking by me. No, not ogle, not leer, just look. That’s my (and any other guy’s) birthright. If my wife’s with me, I’ll get rapped on my knuckles, tell her she’s far more beautiful, and still look. Down with all extreme feminism)