Maa, It was my boss’s birthday today and we had all planned to throw him a dinner at this posh restaurant right in the heart of the city. The streets were busy and I had company.
I was being safe, Maa.
Somebody was going to drop me back at my PG in their car, along with all the other female employees.
I was being safe, Maa.
I was being safe, yet when you called me around 7; the time I am usually leaving from office; I lied when you asked me if I had boarded the auto. I told you I had and I am sorry I lied because I knew you’d worry if I told you otherwise. But, I was still at the office, waiting to leave with all others for the restaurant where we were to spend the early part of the night.
‘I won’t stay until the end; 11 PM is my limit’, I had told everybody.
I wore plain black pants with a full-sleeves shirt today; just enough to not bring me in anybody’s notice.
I was being safe, Maa.
And even though I was going to be with colleagues I spend my days with, I checked and re-checked for that pepper-spray bottle in my bag and made sure all emergency contacts were on speed dial.
‘Just in case’, I told myself.
I was being safe, Maa.
I was being safe, yet right before you could call me at 10:30; when you usually do for our last conversation before we hit bed; I left a text message saying I’m sleeping early. So, I hoped you’d assume I had had a long day at work; I lied. But, I was still out and in-spite of what ever I told you, I knew you’d worry.
I was covered top-to-bottom, was in a respectable part of the city, with people I know and trust; I was being safe, Maa.
But I knew you’d still worry.
How then, do I tell you about the eyes that prey upon me as soon as I am out on the streets when I know you will worry? How do I explain the hands that grope my waist, and pinch my ass behind the veils of a crowded metro? And how do I justify the ‘unintended’ push and pull I frequently get on the city buses?
Why should I even mentioned these things, when it is everything you already know, Maa.
It is difficult to be a girl in a city.
I have been catcalled, ogled at, followed, and even touched in rural places and urban cities alike, in suburban areas, in different countries and by men of practically every age and race- including educated men and adolescent teenagers. And it’s not just me who’s complaining.
This means it is not about me. This means this is a general male problem.
The fact is that even the word ‘Pretty’ coming from a stranger on the street sounds like a threat to me. Yes, I believe in freedom and equality of the sexes, but my views do not make me overconfident. I am aware of the society we operate in.
I am scared of stepping out on the streets alone Maa, knowing that these vultures are waiting to pounce on me.
Maa, do you remember Pri from art class? You always asked what inspired her to create such artistic, however dramatic masterpieces. How do I tell you Maa, of the boy who lured her behind bushes every evening in the name of a game of Man-and-Wife?
It indeed was a game for him.
He groped her developing bosom and held her firmly against his chest saying that’s what a ‘Man’ is supposed to do; he said he had seen his father do it too. Needless to say, he smacked her hard across the face when she revolted.
Because that is what the ‘Man’ is supposed to do, too (?)
How do I tell you Maa, about the man I met briefly in the park when I was 15, who didn’t shy away from flashing a piece of himself? He had tried to make a conversation and said it’s an offer ‘I mustn’t refuse’ as I had hastened away.
It was the first time I experienced anything like that and I knew it wasn’t going to be the last. But I was scared of the man, and of you. I was scared I might have done something wrong to invite such an action.
I was scared, Maa.
How do I tell you that I still clearly remember that time when three shady men had chased you and Didi all the way till home? I remember you drawing all curtains as soon as you were back; you wanted to block them from your view. Because you knew they were not going to let you go off theirs.
I’ve seen you toil tirelessly for days, Maa. I have seen your tired morning face and I have seen your sore eyes-they are not too hard to ignore. I have seen the way you look at my father- quick, scared glances; that’s how they have always been. I have seen you shudder every time he calls out your name, and I’ve spent some nights hearing all that happens behind the closed doors to your bedroom.
Because that’s what the ‘Man’ is supposed to do, too?
Your daughter is not alone, these are experiences that are not just mine but shared by women all across the world, Maa.
I have not been hurt physically, nobody has even touched me. But all these ‘Men’ laid the groundwork for who and what I was to become throughout my adolescence and early adulthood – a wreckage of fondled experiences that resurface every time a member of the opposite community tries to say or do more than he should. A chaos of scarred memories that refuse to leave.
I am not a model, and certainly, do not fit society’s notions of a desirable woman. I am blessed with decent body proportions and wear clothes that you might call boring.
My skin has blemishes that are only accentuated by the occasional acne and dark circles because of a hectic life. My hair doesn’t sway against the air but is always tied in a ponytail.
I am simply a female, but I can guarantee that every female, like or unlike me, will relate to this – it depends not on looks or figure but on the very fact of being a female.
There is a reason why when a woman talks about her abuse, writes about it on her blog, when she tweets about a similar incident or posts an Instagram caption that has subtexts; when she shudders around some people and pulls her skirt down looking at a few. When she confides that she needs ‘to talk’ or considers calling the police helpline- I believe everything she says. And also everything she cannot manage to speak.
The reason is that I have seen it happen. With my friends. To sisters. With you, Maa.
I’ve seen it happen with my own self.
It is sad that women around us choose to suppress whenever something like this happens. They struggle with memories and fight fears every day they step out of the comforts of their home. They completely overrule when asked about it, and push the memories in a corner of their mind hoping they never come back.
Why am I complaining, when this is everything that I have been doing too?
But eventually, I told someone- after years of going through wrecked thoughts day after day.
I told someone. And someone else after that. And today, I am writing it all to you. I choose to narrate my story rather than let somebody’s actions persist any longer in my mind.
Because most abusers rely on our not telling. They all rely on us not telling- to save their reputations, avoid consequences, and continue abusing.
Abuse may take different routes and forms, but it stops at a common point.
People show you who they are. It is us who cannot register because we see them as people we want them to be.
But it’s time we step out of the grey and see them in black and white. That is what I am going to do.
I know you are never going to stop worrying, but I will try to be safe, Maa.