Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Oh, that grumpy girl again!

I’m extremely put out right now. First, I haven’t been feeling well at all. I was ill most of July. It was the sickest I’ve ever been in my whole life, and I was in that condition for close to 2 weeks. When I recovered from that, I got some extremely painful mouth ulcers. And when I’m done with that, I now have a bad cold and lots of wheezing. There’s this room in my aunt’s place which usually brings on the wheezing and I stupidly slept there for the last 2 nights so now I have a bad cold and that scary feeling of breathlessness.

The cold started yesterday morning and I thought it would pass. But today, I woke up in the middle of the night because I had difficulty breathing. So I shifted out on the diwan in the living room but it wasn’t much better. So I took medicine and it helped to ease my breathing but I had a fairly restless night and while I’m breathing easier now, I still have a bad cold and the wheeze remains.

To top it all, I’ve been having a long drawn out quarrel with N for the last few days. I don’t like long drawn out quarrels at all – I’m quick to get angry, and I’m equally quick to forgive. But this time, he doesn’t even seem sorry, he has been committing the same (or similar) crime for the last few days without any attempt at appeasing me, he thinks I’m creating a big deal out of nothing, and he thinks HE is the aggrieved party in the quarrel. It’s like I’m speaking in another language because I just can’t get through him at all.

It’s extremely frustrating because if I say anything more, I will be accused of overreacting. But no heed is paid to what I’ve already said, and no effort is made to make up for HIS mistakes. I’m majorly pained, angry, frustrated and fed up – but I’m trying hard not to let the anger show and be atleast normal, if not nice, which also that man doesn’t appreciate – and it is completely draining me out.

So I decided to turn to G for, well, an ear into which I can put out all my troubles in minute detail. Instead he thinks it’s a very silly little quarrel, he all but finds it amusing, he thinks I should adjust (WTF!) and he is more concerned that I learn to eat a sub the right way than about my quarrel. So much for friends! Hmphh. (Though to be fair, I did feel a lot better when I met up with G, for he really empathises and listens and tries to understand).

And then my Mom calls me to ask me why I’m spending so much. Now I am a wild spendthrift but as long as I don’t keep checking my account balance and keeping a tab on my expenses, I can live on happily. But the rare times I check my account to see how much I have already spent that month, a gloom descends on me and I make resolutions of thrift which I’m incapable of sticking too. So I’m already sad that I have been so wildly careless with my wallet the last couple of months, and that I’m quite nearing bankruptcy when my Mom calls me, during work hours, to remind me of the same thing.

But what makes me madder still is that she checked my bank statement (well, she works in the bank and can access my account statement). I SO do not approve of that. In fact, it makes me see red. It’s the only bank I’ve been using all my life, and its now my salary account but I think I’m going to open an account in another bank and transfer funds each month. I don’t need Mom calling me up to check on why and where I’ve been blowing up all the money, my conscience is enough trouble as it is.

Now I’ve moved out of my apartment and am staying at my aunt’s place till I move to Bangalore. Now the advantage of this is that I get to eat good, home cooked food which should boost up my health (I suspect that my recent spate of health issues is simply because of my extremely unhealthy eating habits). I also get to watch TV which does not translate into K serials, like it did in my apartment, and it’s good to go home to people you love (which wasn’t what I felt for my roommates though we mostly got along peacefully) at the end of the day.

But the major downside is that an auto ride from there to office costs 100 bucks one way! It takes well over an hour to reach work in the morning, because of the insane traffic, and I’m now late all the time. And it’s very difficult to get autos on my way home because its so far off and they wont get return fare. I can’t even meet up with friends after work because the later it is, the more difficult it is to get autos.

To top it all, my boss isn’t confirming a date for my move to Bangalore. He had earlier mentioned 10th, though he said he would follow up with the partner in the Bangalore office for a confirmation, so I made all my plans accordingly. Now with 10th being hardly 2-3 days away and no handover of any projects happening, I guess its highly unlikely I will be moving so soon. And the longer I take to move, the more frustrated I will get with the transport issues I am facing right now.

I’m one very grumpy, pained girl right now. I shall now go home and sulk and rant to glory. Gah!.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Life on the Streets

Today, I came across a Blank Noise Project which asked women to share their experiences of street sexual harassment or eve teasing. I read with horror about how so many women faced so many instances of being groped, slid against, fondled, had to put up with lascivious stares and rude comments.

As someone who was born and brought up in a small city, I never had to face much of this. My parents gave me quite a bit of freedom, and from a very young age I was used to walking to school and back home alone or with a friend, after my parents made sure I was given a proper ‘security briefing’ – don’t talk to strangers, don’t accept anything from strangers, don’t walk close to parked cars (this after a child in the neighbourhood was snatched into a waiting car) and such stuff which all children must be aware of.

But beyond that, Vizag was relatively a very safe place, and not just for women and there was a wonderful sense of security which I now realize a lot of teenage girls might missed out on. The first instance of eve teasing I remember was when I was 12. My uncle and I were waiting at the lobby of a cinema theatre for my Dad to join us. As my uncle vaguely looked around, a guy winked and leered at me. I was very startled, for this was the first time I had faced such behaviour. For a moment, I contemplated winking back at him just to give him a shock but decided against it and pretended to ignore it.

I started using a Kinetic when I was 15, as did most of my friends. Many of us were frequently followed, especially if we were coming back from the beach. It didn’t worry us much as the guys would mostly follow us only up to a common point and then take off in the direction of their destination. And we knew that there were dozens of people whose houses we could stop at and complain if the boys got troublesome. So most of us found it either amusing or annoying but never made us feel unsafe.

In fact, I remember 2 guys would follow 2 of my friends on their bike. When they started doing this on a daily basis, one of the girls told her dad. The next day, her dad went to his friend’s place, which was on the route which the girls took. He and his friend waited on the road till the girls came along, followed by the 2 guys. The boys were stopped, help up against the wall, and threatened that their parents and the police would be called up. The boys were made to apologise, give their phone numbers (verified with their ID cards) and sent off with a warning. The poor boys were only 16, just a year older to us, and were completely terrified – but I hope this lesson remains with them and they think a hundred times before they decide to trouble any other girl ever again.

Hyderabad was a different ball game altogether. I went to college in an auto in the morning and when returning, I’d either go by auto and take a bus and then walk home for a kilometer. Also, in the 1st year, none of my friends had their own vehicles so we did end up using public transport a lot. Surprisingly, I’ve never had any unpleasant experiences in buses, though it could be because I usually used the metro liners and absolutely refused to step into a bus unless it was not crowded and I was assured of a seat (otherwise I would be falling all over the place and creating chaos) – I simply ABHOR being in a crowd and hate strangers, even women, touching me.

So while the auto rides and buses were almost never a problem, walking on the road was a problem. I’m perfectly fine with people staring at me – a passing glance or a short stare is fine – but people were staring to the point of making me feel very uncomfortable. I felt uncomfortable just walking on the road because df these stares. And the lewd comments – most of them were mumbled in a way where you know they are talking about you but you don’t know what they are saying. And at that time, I was hopeless at catching innuendo anyway!

So I got stared at, got commented upon, had random men complimenting various parts of my anatomy, and sometimes men following or approaching me. The guys who actually followed and approached were always young and well dressed and they would stop to ask directions or some such vague thing and then move on to asking me my phone number, asking if we could be friends, wasn’t I so-and-so’s sister/friend, haven’t we met somewhere and the like.

Initially, I was very strongly affected by all this. Each incident left me totally shaken. Sadly, I got used to it and learnt to ignore the lewd stares and comments. The guys who followed were politely but firmly (or so I like to think) rebuffed and I would walk away or catch an auto to prevent their following me while I was walking.

One day, after some shopping, a friend and I were walking towards a bus stop. I was wearing cargoes and a longish shirt which covered most of my butt (now that I think of it, it was quite a sartorial mishap but at the time, it didn’t seem so bad – I guess we all have our crosses to bear!). A guy who was passing by stopped near me and said ‘Aise kapde nakko pehno. Achcha nahin lagta’ and walked away. While I do appreciate his sense of fashion, I’m fairly sure it wasn’t his aesthetic sense that was offended. I was too amazed to do anything but splutter – even after all these years, every time I think of the incident, my reaction doesn’t get much better.

So over the 1st 2 years of college, I got used to it, learnt to ignore it and live with it. It stopped bothering me and I took it for granted. That’s just how things were! In our final year, N and I walked to CAT class every alternate evening and back. And almost every time, we had somebody passing lewd comments as we passed by, reaching a hand out from a speeding bike to grope at us (though by then we had learnt to neatly sidestep such hands), stopping the bike till we came close by, following us etc.

But that year, something had changed. I was fed up with 2 years of pretending to be selectively deaf and blind. I had had enough. And I simply could not pretend to ignore anymore. And so, if someone stared, I glared back at them before walking away – I never could stare them down, such men are so creepy. If someone on a passing bike made a comment or tried to get too close, I would yell after them and fling the few pitiful verbal abuses I knew then. Of course, most of the times, the guys on the bikes just sped away but it was a beginning, and it was better than being silent.

N wasn’t much support – she would pull my hand and whisper in my ear not to say anything and pretend to ignore. As a consequence, I was careful – I mostly did my yelling on well lit streets filled with people and a few times even tried yanking hands which tried reaching out to grope at us. In fact, once a bike cut too close to us and then went ahead – if they had hit us, I would have been hurt – I was furious and yelled at the top of my voice at them. The guys stopped and turned back towards us, and that got me a little worried for we couldn’t even run away – but they just came to us and said sorry and left!!!

When we were walking back from class the road wasn’t well lit and mostly deserted so I would fall into ignore mode on that road. But one day, 2 guys on a bike passed a comment at us while we were walking on that road and I yelled back some abuse at them. The guys stopped slightly ahead and waited for us to approach. N was quite scared by then, and very angry at me, and was hissing at me under her breath. It was quite an anti-climax, however, for our conversation went like this:

They: What was it you just said? Why did you say that?
Me: Well, didn’t you say something to us earlier? Why did you say that? I just responded to that.
They: Hey, we didn’t say that to you
Me: Then I wasn’t saying it to you either.

We stared at each other in for a few seconds in frosty silence, then they shrugged and left. N and I were relieved, though I felt fairly foolish at how juvenile our exchange was while I was thinking of myself as quite the heroine!

In my 2 years in Bangalore, I haven’t had a single such experience. I didn’t even get stared at. After being so used to Hyderabad, my first few weeks in Bangalore I actually wondered why I wasn’t getting stared at. I mean, the only criterion you need to fulfill for a bunch of pathetic lewd fuckers to stare at you is that you need to be female. Of course, those 2 years of no eve teasing on the streets in Bangalore is mostly because I lived on campus and went out only occasionally, when I did go out it was almost always with a bunch of others, and we went out mostly to malls, cinemas, clubs and restaurants, in up-market areas where such incidents are less likely to occur than on the road.

But apart from these reasons, Bangalore definitely feels much safer than Hyderabad in this respect. I guess the stares and lewd comments are inevitable in either city. However, I’ve never had such an experience in Bangalore and though I expect I will come across some once I move to the city and start living there, I’m betting my bottom dollar that it wont be as all pervasive as in Hyderabad.

Today, after reading that blog, I realized how immune I have become to such behaviour in this city. While waiting for the auto, I got stared at by almost every guy who passed by me, a few of them passing comments at me, and the same damn thing happened when I got off the auto and was about to enter Eat Street. I realized that I noticed it today only because I was reading the blog – it happens every single day – and it’s not like I ignore or pretend not to notice, I just don’t notice it any more because I’ve become so immune to it.

The worst case of street sexual harassment I ever faced was when one day, at a little before 9pm, I was walking towards the main road from my flat. 3 youngsters on a bike who were on the alley to my flat started following me. I wasn’t too worried really – I kept to the side of the road, kept an eye on them and talked on the phone while walking. They would go ahead and come back, and stare and pass comments and I was annoyed but since it wasn’t a well lit or crowded street (there were very few people on the street), I decided to ignore and continue walking.

And then, just a few metres from the main road, they disappeared. I was relieved, hung up the phone and continued walking. Suddenly, they came up behind me and 2 pairs of hands groped at me – one from behind and one in front. For a split second I was too stunned to react. And then I started hitting out my with both my hands – face, hands, I couldn’t see and didn’t care – I just hit out wildly. I even kicked out my legs but in all that confusion, I didn’t think to raise them and kick them so I ineffectively kicked at their bike.

And I screamed, like a woman possessed. I think they took off the moment the scream reached some volume and the whole thing couldn’t have lasted more than a few seconds, though it seemed like forever to me. I was completely shaken and was close to trembling and crying. I somehow controlled myself and went on my way.

Some weeks later, at about 6.30am, S and I were walking along this road when these same guys started following us around again. This time, I knew what to expect so we stopped by the side and picked up a hand full of stones and stood. Meanwhile, S made a note of their vehicle number while I took out my phone ready to make a call. At that, they disappeared and I have never seen them on these roads in the many months since. I debated over whether to inform the police and lodge a complaint, now that I had the vehicle number but decided I would do it if they appeared on these streets again. They didn’t and the matter rested at that.

Today, when I walk on the road, I’m always wary if I feel a vehicle is coming too close and step even more to the side. I keep glancing over my shoulder all the time. I hate those guys for making me feel so insecure about walking on the road, even the road to my own house. I wonder if I should have reported those guys, but the decision has been made.

And my experiences have been few and far between, and fairly minor, when compared to what many many women I know had to go through, and I’m talking only of street harassment or eve teasing, not even anything beyond. And yet, I feel so violated, so insecure and unsafe.

The Blank Noise blog has some wonderful stories from the women about how they fought back street sexual harassment, in ways small and big. From glaring down lechers, to using a safety pin in public transport to keep groping hands away, to women coming together and beating up and offender, to putting him in jail. There are so many ways in which these brave women have taken steps so that these men think many times before they do such a thing again. In a way, they are war stories.

The stories were also a timely reminder not to take eve-teasing for granted. I don’t need to live with it – I can fight it and make a difference, even if it is only a drop in the ocean. I WILL NOT fear walking down my own street just because I have breasts. For every time I let one of these assholes get away with a dirty stare, a lewd remark or a hasty grope, there will be many more who will suffer the same thing. All it takes is a little bit of courage, the right amount of fury and some foolhardiness.

To those of you reading this blog (leave me to my wishful thinking, I say), the next time you are being eve-teased, don’t ignore it and walk away. React in any way you can, however small it may be. Glare at the lewd starer till he looks away, make an obvious show of jotting down the number of the vehicle that stops waiting for you to approach it (that should be enough to make sure he speeds away), carry a pin with you in a bus to jab at groping hands, create a scene if you can. It will make a difference – maybe the guy will hesitate a little before he reaches out his hand again in the bus as he remembers the safety pin jab, maybe he will think twice before he brushes against some other girl as he remembers the embarrassing scene you created – in some way, it makes a difference.

P.S:- And if you are going to respond saying 'Men face adam-teasing/ street sexual harassment too', I will summarily delete that comment. Yes, I AM autocratic - after all, this is my blog. And I'm so sick and tired of that arguement. I mean, if I talk about the problem of AIDS in Africa, are you going to come up to me and say 'Yes, but people in the US also suffer from AIDS. Why don't you talk about that?'. Dude, it's not an arguement at all, get it?