The flight was delayed by not one but three-and-a-half hours. That took the arrival from a safe 8.30pm to the dangerous witching hour of midnight. We ought to laugh at these things, oughtn’t we? And we do. It’s absurd to suppose that we should be safe only indoors once the sun goes down.

I didn’t even think about it. My mother was returning from Chennai and needed to be picked up. I would do it. That’s all. As it happened, my father didn’t agree. He wanted to come to the airport with my son (who had school the next day).

“It’s not advisable to go alone this late at night,” he said. He was furious at the thought of
having to lose sleep, having to wait endlessly at the airport, and having a cranky six year old to deal with. He was angry with my mother for choosing this flight.

“So now you and your mother know not to take these cheap flights,” he said. “You should choose a flight that arrives before 4 pm. Anything later than that, and if it’s delayed, it is not safe. It’s not advisable to arrive early in the morning either. How will you get home, who will go to pick you up?”

I was getting dinner and fuming inwardly. If the plates clattered a little more than they usually did, or if I put down the dishes with a loud bang, it might not have been entirely unintended. I am in my thirties, and I don’t need to be told I need an escort at 11 at night. How did he know what I did in other cities and why the bleep did he want to cosset me like this?

It was then that I realised that at every stage, we allow ourselves to be restricted by the people who are concerned for us. We allow our movements, our clothes, our lives to be dictated to us by people who clearly have our interests at heart.

Nobody asks why the roads are not safe, why parking lots are ill lit or why men can’t seem to restrain themselves. Everybody is very ready, on the other hand, to tell women why they should not do a long list of things for their own good.

I’d come home late from parties several times, later even than the time of the flight’s arrival. I couldn’t remember the last time someone came to pick me up or drop me home because I was a woman. Was I going to keep my son awake and drag my father to the airport just so that he could feel I would be safe?

I could feel my ears getting hot. This was not funny. If I allowed this to happen once, I would allow it to happen every time, all in the name of keeping the peace, not rocking the boat of domestic happiness.

“I’ve come back home later than that many times,” I said. I thought that was quite a mild opening, though I wanted to yell and be immoderate in my speech. You are in your thirties, I said to myself. Nobody will take you seriously if you throw a tantrum. Be calm. Be reasonable.

As it happened, I didn’t have to say anything more. My father said, “Do what you want” in an I-give-up-on-you voice. I suspect he was secretly relieved.

It was clearly not harassment. But it was an unconscious attempt to curb my freedom. No one who met my father would say he was an unreasonable man, or that he was not progressive about women and their rights. Yet he wanted me to stay home because nights were unsafe. If I had submitted, what would I have done next? Seen the point of someone who said I ought to wear ‘decent’ clothes when I went out? Allowed someone else concern for my well-being to dictate my movements, my speech, my clothing?

I don’t like to think of it in terms of battles fought and won. It was a small thing I did that night, but it was important for me, because we submit most easily to those we love and respect.

Posted 22nd March 2007 by J