It starts with the way some men look at you differently when you are walking on the road. Then the snide comments, and gleeful vicious snickers which belittle the way you walk across the road, and sometimes it moves to groping you, full on, without shame when you are least expecting it, the experience leaving you dazed.....and then you slowly begin realizing you are no longer the pig tailed school girl, you have transformed into an object. To be eyed all over, looked over, and if you miss a step, felt over.
As much as I love Bombay, the freedom it allows for, and the safety it promises relative to its sister cities, it did leave me feeling sick a few times, when street harrasment made me change certain things about my life, and left an indelible mark I struggled to deal with.
Not counting the usual instances of cat whistles, snide remarks, being followed and groping in crowded places ( and I call them 'usual' not because they were acceptable, but because there were too many to really point towards or narrate), there is one instance which comes to my mind or rather has never left it, simply on account of the illusion of decency the perpetrator exuded.
I will be your father figure, Put your tiny hand in mine, I will be your preacher teacher, Anything you have in mind
At 16, having recently lost a lot of weight, I was enjoying wearing just-above-the-knees denim skirts to college. Now, I was and have always been somewhat of a prude, so I always wore cycling shorts underneath the skirt. One fine afternoon a friend and I were waiting at Matunga railway station and I was in my favorite denim skirt. The scorching sun and boring day had rendered me tired so I was sitting comfortably on one of the benches at the station.
Just then I noticed a gentlemanly looking Parsi uncle sit beside me. I ingored him and was carrying on the usual stream on funny talks with my friend, until he looked straight at me and then at my skirt. I thought he was going to ask the usual questions, 'which college beta?", you know the ones uncle and aunts love asking you ......when suddenly he leaned forward and said quietly, " You have nice thighs', I was shocked and didn't know how to answer, I think I actually said 'okay'. or something to that effect, desperately looking at my friend. Seeing my lack of response did not deter him, he went on to ask, "So what do you do to maintain them, do you massage them with oil", He continued saying certain more things, but by then I had stood up and walked a few steps away, my insides seething with rage and shame. Luckily, the train came, and the man took it. I chose to avoid the same train.
Later on I asked my friend to see if my skirt was looking inappropriate and she actually had the insensitivity to say something like, 'yeah I don't think it's proper', like I actually did something to invite the atrocious and utterly perverse remarks of his. On hindsight, of course I should have hit him, or come up with some rejoinder which should have put him firmly in his place, but I did not. That man actually managed to make me feel cheap. And I never ever wore that skirt again. In fact, I hardly ever wore skirts after that. I feel stupid now, that I let that sorry excuse for a human being make me a victim. I feel even more foolish, that his remarks impacted me the way I dressed, almost alluding that his comment was not out of line, I was. And, that is something, no man, is ever going to make me feel again.
I also became careful thereafter, and learnt the language of dangerous looks and abuses. I learnt the art of survival in the city which was still relatively safer...I also lost some of my innonence.
Action Hero Menagerie