Monday, March 06, 2006

Blank noise project: 2:30pm

Whenever we talked about it, it was always the same set-up: a bus at rush-hour. In madras, like in most cities here, this could be every hour of the day except after 10pm.

For us though, rush-hour meant 2:30pm.

After 10pm, things were ok. Apparently south Indian men prefer to work in crowds. Almost empty buses meant you were left in peace, at least till you got down at your stop.

But if you were like us, you traveled in daylight. 3 rupees could get you from college back home, and most times it was six of you, laughing, passing change, hanging on to worn handles and the back of seats to make sure the red lights didn’t send you toppling into the seething crowd all around. But the crowd was always there: little kids in dirty green shorts, STD-ISD booth boys, watchmen, college guys. Sisters drenched in vinegar sweat, on their way back to their convent. Nurses. Maids. Me.

Most times, 6 of you didn’t mean you let your guard down. Sheer proximity meant arms breasts asses thighs moustaches hands were every where. Most times this didn’t mean more than a nudge, or an excessive lack of balance when that red light came around.

You got wise. You held your bag in front you, for instance. We were a roman military formation: facing every direction, a foot placed by each one to ensure a earnest stomp or kick when the lack of balance got too obvious.

It was part of the routine. Decency wasn’t the issue. The ones with a dupatta pinned across both shoulders got it as bad as the rest of us, sometimes worse. But usually there was no big outcry. Maybe it’s the heat of madras: after a point, the hands and grins were one with the flies—As annoying, and shooed away with the same frown.

Sometimes you lost your temper. Like this one time that I shoved an elbow into some fucker’s ribs, who in turn elbowed back. Hard. I yelled, in pain and annoyance for not having seen it coming. He of course, timed the jab with his stop. He got away and I was left with a smarting left boob and the tired, placating eyes of the other five. Since it was in English, and since I have short hair, the crowd didn’t know exactly how to react. There was a pause. But since I wasn’t crying, and since no one else was yelling, the bus moved on. I stared down at my shoes.

No one else was yelling.

She moved closer to me and murmured, “you shouldn’t have reacted. You know they just do more if you make a noise. Suppose he follows you tomorrow?”. Her eyes were round behind glasses that needed a wipe.

It was my stop. Familiar, the spittle shining up the tar, the smell of piss and tired, unwashed people who had another 2 hours of travel ahead of them. Her eyes were round behind glasses that needed a wipe.

Whether we would get rubbed up against tomorrow or not, was still open to chance.
What was as certain as the tar under my feet, was the fear in her voice.

The fear in her mind. Their minds.

I know a girl who carries a knife in her satchel. I know the anger that tenses my shoulders still when I remember that jab, that makes me wonder why I didn’t aim for his balls.

Not like we want to kill or maim all male travelers. Just those who don’t understand the concept of balance, inside buses at red lights.


sankechita said...

"Why did you wear that top?"
"Why didn't you pin that pallu?"
"Who asked you to come home late at night?"
"Why did you goto that concert alone?"
"Why can't you come home before 10:00 PM?"

How much ever one learns, some questions cannot be answered.

david raphael israel said...

a jungli tale

may your transits & travels be carefree, may your journeys & sojourns be glad


Shankari said...

O Priyanka, you touched a gash. I had this bad- real BAD.

In Delhi where everyone calls you bahenji and every sentence is punctuated by a couple of 'sister-fucker's in colourful hindi. :(

Having survived DTC buses, I feel I can survive just about anywhere in the big bad world!

The first time this happened to me, I was too shocked to react then I hated myself for not reacting. Since then I make bloody sure to be absolutely aggressive in my reactions to all such unwanted attention whether or not I was the subject of it.

The first time I slapped a man across his cheek, it was a tentative exploratory act of aggression- but since then I have been emboldened. Yes, I did slap a lot of guys but I also took care to stop the bus wherever it was and disembark immediately thereafter. Publicly shamed the guy and ensured he didn't follow me.

But all those overnight bus journeys from Mussoorie and Shimla to Delhi- I couldn't get off those. But did make a noise anyway because even those guys couldn't get off the bus. Travelling in Delhi and western UP is horrible- take it from a survivor.

Even now the memory of those incidents has me horripulating and my adrenaline levels hit the roof.

neha vish said...

So much of what you say resonates..

Baliga said...

not that i have travelled too often by buses (in chennai atleast) but as a woman i KNOW what ur talking about. and more importantly empathise with the anger, frustration and regret for not aiming at his balls! ;)

Mukund said...

hey yakka, i can understand the anger n pain. sadly, even now the victims are actively encouraged to remain silent n not complain! infact, most times girls dont even react the way u did n give the fellow an elbow. and the few really brave ones who register a complaint see their resolve melt away slowly, thanks to the pathetic justice delivery (or non-delivery) system we have here...

Anonymous said...

At Mumbai stations, you use your satchel as a breast plate. The advantage is, you use your elbows unencumbered.

Anindita Sengupta said...

I feel your pain, girl.