One summer afternoon in 2004, a friend and I played God. We were walking down the stretch of isolated road between Architecture block and The Times of India building on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, more or less satisfied with our day’s work. We’d gotten up really early, after a late night of making a model to explain our concept for an urban design scheme, and even managed to finish colouring our plans and sections before class. We’d defended the scheme, well enough, and convinced the old farts, well enough, that we were on our way to a passing degree in architecture. We thought we deserved a day of fun (Silly Singh and Gross Bose’s day of fun!!!) and were on our sunshiny way to catch a bus to Priya Cinema, when it happened.
It wasn’t a unique occurrence, we’d been cat-called at many a time, and in this very place. Especially when it used to be a regular slum – Real India, It was called for some obscure reason - to buy pencils and cigarettes from in times of need. SS had once been loudly admonished for wearing sleeveless clothes to college by some drunken reprobate (aise aise kapde pehenke lehrati hai, phir chedo to accha nahin lagta); RM’s left boob was hastily fondled by a 14 year old with braces, after which she CHASED him till he was trapped between the gate and a mob of her classmates who soundly thrashed him; SB’s trousers were much appreciated one morning, whereupon she told her admirer – teri maa ki hai, tere padosi ne diye – and RAN. Ours, on that happy sunny day wasn’t an exceptional experience at all.
‘Mere saamne do gulab jamun ja rahi hain….’ he said to his cohort on the phone, loudly, lasciviciously. ‘Ek ne tight si kameez pehni hai… ohooo… bahut saaman hai, madat kar doon? Tujhe lagta hai thanks bolengi?’ We did the usual thing... ignored for the first two minutes then turned to glare. ‘Hai, wo mudhi! Mujhe bula raheen hain! Jaoon?’ By now we were livid, and yelling. He revved up his macho TVS scooty and swished by us, helpless in our fury, laden with pieces of a model, huge rolled up sheets, bound up breasts, stiffening buttocks, vaginas completely hidden, and tingling smarting flesh. I always knew my foul mouth would amount to something one day. As he went by I peaked, saying ‘Ruk ---------!’ I suppose his victory felt incomplete, having had to hear that, so he stopped. The moron actually stopped.
Well, that had never happened before, so we kind of just went with the momentum of our tempers and strode up to him, cursing all the way. ‘Kyaaaa… mujhe gaali kyun di? Mujhse badtameezi!’ he blustered. collectively, I suppose we must have been loud. Gaonwaalle jama ho gaye the. As we had an increasing audience, his accusations turned to defence. ‘Main apne phone pe baat kar raha tha, inse kyun bolunga. Main to inhey jaanta bhi nahiin, main kyun bolunga!’ One wise old gaonwalla had taken out the key from his ignition by now and handed it to Silly Singh.
We’d dreamt of this moment many a time. When we would march an ‘eve-teaser’ to the police. When he’d be at OUR mercy. When he would really really repent. And really really learn something, and really honestly change. And stop doing this, this terrible sick thing. We marched away, leaving him in the hands of the audience. Soon though, he was following us at a safe distance. ‘Kya hai? Aise kaise? Kya kar rahe ho? Meri chaabi waapis karo! Chor!!’ he bleated now and again. We were gleeful, victorious. Plans for a movie thrown to the winds, we were on our way to make the world a better place.
By the time we got to the closest thana, the guy had figured that we were in earnest and he was probably in some shit now. But he hadn’t apologized even once. Hadn’t thought of it, even. It was only when the policemen told him that he was facing 7 non-bailable days in jail, and he should start being very sorry, now, that he turned into a whimpering mass of ‘Maaf kar do didi. Aap to meri maa ho. Behen jaisi ho.’ The policemen were enjoying it, make no mistake, rattling their chains, and asking for his personal possessions at very precise moments in the drama. An hour later, it seemed we had a choice. We could forgive him and let him off the hook, or we could tell the truth, in writing, and condemn him to a life with a police record, a possible estrangement from his fiancée (yes, he blubbered his life history out to us in an attempt to make us empathise) and a very very sad mother.
I dunno who decided really. Or maybe it was indecision that simply made us sign stuff put before us and say ok to everything we were told. I kept thinking - does this guy, for this one incident, deserve to have all these things happen to him? After all, I had been molested way worse than this, on the bus, in an auto, at college, in the market. There were many other men who deserved phaansi even, but did this guy’s crime today deserve the punishment he was getting?
But this was the one chance I was getting to ‘get my own back’, to ‘teach them a lesson’, to ‘be heard’, and by God I would bloody well take it. I don’t think I came out a better person that day than I was before. It didn’t feel good to try and ignore the quivering sobbing heap in the corner, who was there just because another man had given us the reigns to his life and his TVS Scooty, and just because his ego made him stupid enough to stop and fight after making a comment he probably makes twice a week anyway. I don’t think the guy really learnt anything. He was ready to enact fright, pitiful sorrow, dysentry, anything, just for us to let him off this one hook. If anything he would come out with a vendetta against the two women who were so snooty and so self obsessed that they sent him to jail.
The law simply allowed us to play God, just as our sick tradition of blind patriarchy allowed our harasser to play with us. We felt avenged for maybe 2 hours, after which we were back in the real world, where men are the keepers, appropriators, jailers, tradesmen and abusers of women’s bodies.
Posted 22nd March 2007