"Lolita" and a snigger as the men nodded to each other.
Lolita. A little girl in a Weekender tee shirt with a sunflower emblazoned on it, her favourite. A little girl with big glasses hurrying to Math tuition.
"Who is a Lolita," she asked at home later that evening.
"Lolita," they told her. "Sort of like a sex object."
It was a black blur in the distance then it got louder as the bike came closer. She was humming on her way to Hindi tuition (yes, she had many tuitions, she needed them), swinging her books by her side.
He slowed down, swerved toward her and then hit out at her chest (she was fourteen).
It hurt. Her world blurred over with startled tears. From then she began defiantly carrying her books across her chest. Her walk became hurried and purposeful.
(Her red sleeveless top is part of the Blank Noise Discard Your Clothes Campaign.)
Down the road from Hostel.
Rushing after buying Maggi, trying to make the curfew. Two policemen step in her way. One of them winks. A policeman. His face is etched in memory for years later.
A crowded bus, we are trying to get off it at Churchgate. A man is pressing against us. We can feel something... strange, so hard that it hurts us.
It must be the force of the crowds, we think.
It must be the rush hour desperation of people to get off, we think.
It must be someone's umbrella handle...?
Um, someone's clenched up fist....?
People ask what's wrong with Chennai. My answer is one word: 5C
My bus every morning from Kotturpuram to Mount Road. A throbbing mass of people and you would be jostled, pinched, scraped, breathed upon. Once is tolerable, twice is bearable, third is manageable, but the entire 40 minute or so bus journey, first thing every morning is enough to wear you out.
My car is navigating the line of traffic unwinding on Bangalore's Residency Road. A Maruti Van with two jeering men comes up by me, scrapes the side of my car, nudging me off my lane. A month ago two girls were killed in this same way... "eve teasing".
Rage. Belligerence. Screaming.
They laugh me off. Tell me my car is intact, before zooming off.
I head to the nearest police station. It's full of male cops.
"Sit down, Madam," they tell me, calmly. The SI is watching a rivetting soap indoors. He will not attend to me till it's done.
"Have some tea, Madam," they cajole. "No? That's how you keep your figure so thin, Madam".
The compartment heaves deep, satisfied breaths of sleep in the heaviness of the early morning. I am wide awake. Something's up with the man next to me. Every unnatural touch I explain away, till finally he reaches out with what cannot possibly be explained away, a direct assault on my body, daringly from across the aisle in the darkness of the night.
"Don't ruin his life, Madam," the bystander pleads to me.
Such a young boy, about to set out on life, here to take the Railways Entrance exam. (And touch some breasts)
How do you walk in a subway in the late evening? Have you watched yourself? Head bent, gait hurried, purposeful, scurrying... not too fast because people will reach out and touch you, not too slow because they will walk abreast, breathe into your ear... just the right speed, skipping almost: right-left, left-right, right-left... a self taught dance to avoid eyes, hands, fists, erect organs, deep breaths.
One day I would like to take in the store signs, pause for a long while on a pavement, walk slowly in a subway, perhaps humming a tune, ride hands by my side on a bus. Sleep on a train. Wear clothes that don't bring back stinging memories.
Action Hero Hemangini Gupta