Category Archives: Me

Walk

Walk.

A simple task we humans learnt when we evolved from being apes. A task which allows us to reach our destination, allows us to discover life. It’s something we take for granted because it’s so unimaginably mundane, so ordinary. And yet, it’s something, we Delhi women fear.

Our mothers revel in joy when as babies we learn to walk. And the opposite of that joy when we grow up and they say – don’t walk, the city is not meant for you to walk.

It was Maya Krishna Rao’s booming voice counting the numbers, until she stopped at twelve. And said she would like to take a walk at midnight. At 3 AM. At 4 AM. I nodded vigourously and clapped. My eyes tearing a little.

As a child, I was never afraid of the dark or the night. I was enamoured by the mysteries it could hold.

I love the night because I am moved by the beauty of the stillness and calm, when I can watch the stars and hear my thoughts. I love spotting the Orion and the Big Dipper through the night, their changing positions providing a sense of time passing by.

It’s glorious to walk down the streets in the night. I did it when I lived in England. With various friends and acquaintances, saving the snails on our walking paths in the summer, walking slowly to conquer the black ice in winters, after a night of club-hopping. Or simply finding a bench and sitting there alone. I was almost unafraid of the dark corners and empty roads. A little voice in my head saying, “woah, you are so brave.”

And then I came back to India. To Delhi. To the city where I have grown up and which has played an important role in shaping me. To a city where I dread walking. I drive everywhere, don’t take the public transport, wear shapeless androgynous clothes when I need to go to the grocery shop across my home.

I was a soldier once. In my teenage years, through school and college. Leered, leched, touched, groped. Psychologically scarred, physically scared. I was afraid. I was violated. I was meek. And then I was angry. In my battle fatigues of jeans and t-shirt and my backpack as my armour, I would walk on the opposite side of the street traffic, rarely on unlit pavement, in crowded buses, on alert. I would grab any hand which tried to touch me. Confront, kick, slap the violator. But it kept happening. Again and again.

So I stopped.

I bought a car and now I drive everywhere. I don’t walk anymore. Not in the winter sunshine, not in the first rains of the monsoon, not on cool summer nights.

I am ashamed I stopped fighting. I became tired. I became battle-weary. I stopped re-claiming the public space which was mine. The pavements which were mine to walk, the buses which were mine to take, the gardens and the blue skies which were mine to see, the cityscapes which were mine to explore.

I miss walking.

I am sorry I stopped fighting. Because that’s when I became afraid of the dark and the light of the day. Because that’s when men decided they were the sole owners of the public space. That I was an anomaly there. That I needed to be shown that bus wasn’t meant for me. That I should have been in my private space, in my home, in my kitchen.

I felt anguish. And then the familiar anger. In every cell of my being.

It was the night of 1st January 2013, when after a holiday with friends, I took an evening flight back from Bhubneshwar. The only one out of the city which reached a foggy Delhi at about 8.30 PM. I took a taxi home at 9 PM with my sister who was patiently waiting at the airport, her flight from another city having landed a few hours ago. The Delhi incident fresh in the mind of people, we were strange objects of fascination standing at the airport, daring to take a taxi.

A furious and a concerned sister confronted me at home, calling me “stupid enough” to fly back on a late evening flight and then use the public transport to get back home. Fighting back tears and rage, I told her I wasn’t afraid. That I refuse to be afraid. That I refuse to cow down. That fear was not my prison. That men needed to know that women could and would be a part of the public space. They NEEDED to accept my presence there. I didn’t need to be apologetic about it.

It’s our collective failure that we gave them power over us. It’s our collective failure that we kept quiet too long. It’s our collective failure that we made them think we were weak.

And so yesterday, when I listened to Maya, I remembered what it was like to walk. I remembered the solace I took in the quietness of many nights when I was privileged enough to walk, the chaotic days when the streets were mine. I was filled with melancholy, then helplessness. And eventually angry enough to demand my right. I wanted to walk.

Her words stirred up something inside. It opened the pandora’s box. The feelings which were kept aside for practical purposes. The cravings which were checked, now demanding to break free. To feel my feet on the mother earth which created us. To feel it pound the earth with a purpose. Without a purpose.

When the emotionally charged evening ended, I decided to walk, having parked my car a kilometer away from the Delhi Rising site. It was a pleasant winter evening. Maya’s words echoing in my ears, “Walk, I want to walk.” My female colleague looked at me with uncertain eyes.

“Let’s take an autorickshaw,” she said.

“No, let’s walk,” I replied.

“There is a dark stretch,” she insisted.

“I’ll kick any bastard in the balls who tries to harass us,” I replied in anger.

“No,” she shook her head.

Eventually, we took an autorickshaw till the point where our cars were parked.

One day, I want to walk, really walk. I want to wander the streets enveloped in the blanket of night and discover what secrets it holds. I want to wander the streets in the brightness of the day, smile at strangers and hear their stories.

Because if I can conquer the darkness of the night and the brightness of the day, there will be nothing to fear. Then I can be unafraid. Then I can be free. Free enough to do the most mundane task we humans do.

—–

Essay written after attending the Delhi Rising event as part of the One Billion Rising campaign. Words inspired by Maya Krishna Rao’s powerful monologue at the Delhi Rising event.

 

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I Rise

I rise

Because I want to walk down that street

Freely, happily, unafraid

Just like you

 

I rise

Because a fire was lit

And it’s burning brighter

In every atom of my being

 

I rise

Because I was defiled

My crime was being a girl

Thirteen with no breasts to touch

 

I rise

Because you look at me

Like you want to rape me

Undressing me with your eyes

 

I rise

Because I want to run

Feel the wind in my hair

Without any fear

 

I rise

Because I want to see the world

Travelling to my own tunes

Just like you

 

I rise

Because I am a sexual being

And whatever I wear

I never ask for it

 

I rise

Because I am a woman

Your equal, your greater

Never lesser that your half

 

I rise

Because this is my fight

Because you assumed me weak

Subservient and quiet

 

I rise

In war

In pain

In fear

 

I rise

In hope

In prayer

In freedom

————-

For the One Billion Rising Campaign and it’s Delhi event

Meanwhile watch this

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=fL5N8rSy4CU#!

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Filed under India, Me, Poetry

On Why I Refuse to Dance to Item Songs

They are a rage all over India right now. Go to weddings, parties or any other family events. You’ll see everyone dancing to them. The latkas, the jhatkas and the suggestive lyrics.

Surprisingly for a society which is prude, where women are an indicator of the izzat of a family, where sex is a dirty secret, it is ironic to see men and women dancing to songs which reduce women to objects. Of songs which are a sum of their breasts and butts. Of their sexual availability. Of the sexual prowess of a man. Of a man owning a woman in any way he wants.

And in a case of chicken or the egg, the creators of popular culture say they are a mirror to the society while the society says that popular culture is distorting the old value system. Whatever may be the case, it’s the women who are caught in the crossfire.

An average Indian male who has grown up on a diet of bollywood and pop culture thinks it’s his birthright to pass comments on a woman, sing dubious songs, leer and touch her. In some twisted interpretation of how bollywood heroes always get the girl by these acts, these impressionable men assume the same would hold true in real life too.

At the same time, there are very few references to strong, independent women who might feel offended at such behaviour. There are almost no cultural connects between an urban Indian woman of today with the mainstream cinema or television soaps. There are almost no pop culture or bollywood indicators for most men to draw references that this behaviour is unacceptable. And therein lies the problem.

As women become more visible, negotiating in the public space, challenging them, it leaves men to grapple with changing equations. There’s an interesting project called No Country For Women which throws light on the issue.

But coming back to the point, I detest objectification of women as a sign of progress.

Progress comes with equality and safety of women. And I absolutely cannot understand why sexually explicit lyrics and women in titillating outfits are needed to sell cinema. More than the sexual liberation of the women, it takes the cause back decades.

And that’s why I refuse to dance to item songs.

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St. Marks

Where my house used to stand

Is now rubble and dust

How my past has been erased

 

A mockery of my memories

Has now been made

Bulldozed, dumped into skips

 

While my friend holds a key

To a green coloured door

That will never open

 

My laughter, my joy, my pain, my tears

My trials and triumphs, victories and defeats

My oasis bearing witness to it all

 

It brought me warmth and solace

On cold winter days

On nights furnished with rains

 

The walls saw my metamorphosis

My bed, table and cupboard too

Holding secrets and ambitions

 

I hear that a new beast is rising

From the debris of the past

Held aloft by scaffoldings and cement

 

I sigh in despair but I know

Others will make their memories

Likes the ones I have held on to

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Untitled

The colour of sunflower

Turning into the blue

Of the sea

 

The vast open sky

Suddenly turning asphalt

 

Grumbling like an

Empty stomach

 

I can hear you

Coming my way

Before I can feel

 

Soaked in the water

Of your mighty vastness

 

In the zephyr

Beneath your wings

 

You can destroy me

If you want

With your ferocity

 

But then I will

be free

 

Feeling you in my

Skin and my soul

 

——————

 

Poem inspired by the Delhi weather as scorching heat suddenly gave way to rains.

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