Strength in the air

Over the years, all my harassers have been nameless, faceless men who did what they wanted to do and slowly melted in to the crowd, made themselves invisible in a flash, or even continued to stand and stare lecherously, defiantly, feeling brave in the company of their cronies. But this guy, the one I am going to write about, takes the cake. Every slice of it!

He tried to grope me on a near empty plane in mid-flight, while sitting in the window seat behind mine. Buses, empty streets, crowded and encloses spaces… I'd been through it all, till this happened...

I was on my way home - from Bombay to Bangalore - and was down with a flu or something. I was tried, drowsy from the medication and was trying to lean back and sleep. It was a late evening Air Deccan flight and it was flying half empty. Just when I was dozing off, I felt a hand caress my upper arm from behind – through the gap between the window seat and the wall of the plane. My middle and aisle seats were empty and I remember I was wearing a sleeveless top. I didn't react immediately; it was a plane for god's sake and I was half drugged… was I imagining things? I waited for a few seconds and sure enough, there it was again, only less reluctant this time.


I whipped around in my seat and let our a string of expletives asking Mr. Window Seat (WS) what in *bleeps* name was he doing. And the guy just sat there, looking perfectly calm… even his protests were not very forceful – he said something about trying to shut the window. (On a late evening flight? To keep out the sun? The wind? The mosquitoes? Btw, even his middle and aisle seats were empty)


One of the flight attendants came running to check, and still furious, I asked her to change his seat pronto. (As an aside, through all of this, NO ONE on the plane even breathed a word of support or help or concern). The attendant must've been a junior and she was easily intimidated by WS who asked her to ask me to change my seat since I was the one with a problem while he was *just shutting the window*. She started to mumble and looked at me helplessly… just then, her supervisor arrived though I don't remember whether I asked for her or whether she came on her own accord.


Though I didn't expect much to happen, she simply looked at the guy and said "If the lady has a problem and wants you to change seats, you will have to do it, sir." She was pretty emphatic I think; he didn't whine much and vacated.


I thought that would be the end of it. I though public humiliation (albeit in front of a mute public) was as much as I could do for WS and that was that. Just as I was recovering, the flight supervisor came to my seat and sat next to me, offered me water and asked if I was ok. And then she apologised on behalf of the airline and asked me if I wished to do something about the incident. Like file a complaint. Of course, I said, I bloody well would like to!


As an aside, despite my numerous complaints about low cost as well as full fare airlines with poorly trained executives in customer facing roles, I must say this lady was very professional and showed a great deal of calm and maturity in dealing with something as sticky and embarrassing as this.


So this lady told me that she would radio the ground security folks just before the flight lands and she would move me to a front row seat, so that I could disembark first and identify WS. But by then, his face was already a blank. I told her as much and she agreed to come along and identify him.

The ground security guys (yes, in plural… there were about three or more I think) "escorted" WS and me in a separate coach. His protests didn't amount to much. And once we reached the carousel, it was high drama; more policemen arrived though there were still pretty clueless about why they were taking in WS. They asked me, they asked him, they talked among themselves and there was much excitement about the guy who had "misbehaved" with the lady over there. And then a guy started taking official notes and asked for both our coordinates.


And with that, unlike my previous harassers, WS suddenly had an identity. He was 29 years old, was married, was a software engineer, was a non-Kannadiga, was from some place up north. It turned out that he worked and lived close to my family home in Bangalore. And with that bit of info, the cop taking notes perked up even more; he wanted to know if WS had been stalking me for some time now!


Done with the formalities, the airport security folks asked me to accompany them to the nearest police station to file a formal complaint. By then, WS looked like a mess and was mumbling apologies (I think) to no one in particular. It didn't help that he didn't speak the local language either; the cops had one more reason to be peeved about the "outsider" who was also a pervert. WS's broken English smugness had dissolved by now; he even said something like "ma'am I think you are taking this too far" or something to that effect.


I drove in a friend's car and WS came with the cops. I filed the complaint at the HAL police station.

And by now, with the adrenaline receding and the flu getting worse, I was beginning to feel drained and WS was reduced to feeble mumbles. As part of my last retort, I said something about getting in touch with the HR folks at his work place. And there came my retribution, suddenly. WS said, "I'm sorry ma'am, I got carried away" and trailed off.

I didn't much care what happened to him after that; at best the cops would follow up the case, at worst, they would fleece him of a few hundred rupees and let him go. I turned to leave and told the Sub Inspector just one thing; inform his wife. She should know about this.

I don't know what happened to WS, whether anything happened. But I had never felt better.

I think about it often though… what was he thinking?! On a plane with people in it?! Did he think I would bite my lip and let it pass? Did he think I would invite him to sit in the vacant seat next to mine or hop across to the one next to him? Did he think I would actually enjoy it and jot it down in my list of kinky plane journeys and fantasise about it at night? Just WHAT was he thinking?

We all know that perversion can wear starched white collars too. But till his happened, I had somehow thought that other than in extreme cases (where the perpetrator has strong alibi and a good chance of going free), the garb of civilization keeps depravity in check. At least just enough to stay out of serious trouble.

But I am glad I met WS; it's somewhat easier to yell at or slap the tapori who hangs out near the paanwala at the street corner or the half-drunk, pot-bellied man who is falling all over you in a crowded bus. Till this happened, I would have been hesitant about exposing "someone like us." Some urban, someone who has a corporate job, someone "respectable", someone who looks like a colleague, someone who lives in the same world that we do. But not any more… Not any more.


-  Action Hero Hema

Posted 25th October 2007 by J