Thursday, May 22, 2008

Silent screams (blank noise)

The futility of few practices.
How beautifully we acclimatize to ‘certain ways of living’ to the extent of almost taking it for granted.
You know what I mean right? those on and off one para reports on women getting gang raped and the incidents of molestation ..candles..mob fury..blah blah blah…Wait there is more could I forget the ‘talk shows’. Feminists clutching their teeth tight, blaming patriarchy, abusing the whole male fraternity..with those exclusive token of thanks to the lecherous Indian men . And why shouldn’t they? As intangible as an ‘issue-to-be-solved’ it probably is, your deepest wounds do come alive once in a while when few disturbing scenes flash right in front of your eyes, ruthlessly. The helplessness, the humiliation..the ongoing injustice that almost seem like a norm.
It is anything but ‘normal’ unless you are bold enough to accept the ruthless as a pattern of normalcy.

For me it was Calcutta. Years back….
My memory fails me to trace incidents that can hint at how old I must have been then. It was after watching a movie in the popular city theatre ‘Nandan’. I was at my best mood having got the opportunity to have a family outing, go out, eat and watch a movie. Lol. It used to be a big deal convincing parents, mamajis and bade mamajis to let us watch a movie in the theatres then. Anyway, I was with my elder sister, maashi and few others I don’t seem to recall. All I recall is the ‘weirdness’ of those moments. As we were walking in the beautiful Kolkata street filled with people from all facets after the noon show, I stopped all of a sudden. I wish I was exaggerating..but it actually was that numbing an experience!
Someone had groped me skillfully and managed to rush past like a usual street side fellow rushing to catch his bus in hurry!
Instinctively I turned back..mumbling something like that guy..that guy…
Nobody paid attention , unless an elderly man calmly declared, oh yes, that guy, he misbehaved I know, I saw. He declared the statement with that look of ‘aisa hota hai lil kid, get used to that entire bonus that comes with you being a female’ expression.
LIKE HELL he saw….
That’s when I realized that the passer-by had 'misbehaved’. I felt like…Like what?..umm, it’s funny! ..wish I could explain.

I stood still, my fingers pointed at the guy rushing/running away(am sure there must have been a slight tension but greater smirk @ the bastard’s innocent face), until that oldie confirmed something went wrong.Um..did I feel like crying. What the hell would I know at that tender age when wearing a tight top was such an excitement, when I could get out of my frocks and pick the latest trends of jeans and tshirts that came in my size as well.
My sister, the angel she is.. immediately calmed me down sensing ‘it was my first experience’. That’s when I realized all the control I have on my body! The sense of calm was soon overpowered with a deep rage to the letter e…
How dare dare anyone. Okay.. so it means any damn guy on street can fiddle and tamper with my body without my permission? So, what’s this big fuss they make about sex being sacred, preaching the divinity of chastity, and all..I mean ..all those whispers and secrecy revolving around baser truths of the relationship between a man and a woman? I am as curious even today…

LIKE HELL that old man saw. Like hell his wisdom served any purpose..oh yes, it did for sure teach me the most ugly lesson of life as a woman, a teenager, a girl, a baby girl..
Could he not just try clutching him by his collar and slap him hard? expecting too much? Could he not atleast raise his voice loud enough to gather some crowd..Kolkata of all the cities I knew brews a lot of heat if you want to make an issue out of things. All he did was patiently acknowledge the look in my confused..almost hypnotized eyes.

Leaving you humiliated, helpless and hypnotized..they all manage to strip you off your dignity with such amazing ease. The most unfortunate fact being it’s not those lecherous lot who would be going through these posts on the online project of protest against such practice, they in their circle of peers continue having the last laugh and heck, even if they read through the ocean of plight it’s not going to matter to them even a bit.

Vivid images of those few boys in their early teens--urchins should I say-- in the slum-like galis near my hostel in Calcutta are still fresh where they dared to pass filthy comments at my friend in a sleeveless top..umm..what was it like…'dekho dekho sleeveless pehen ke kaise khule sadak chal rahee hai’ once, twice and third reiteration of the nonsensical statement made me turn back and yell “bahut sleeveless ka shauk hai tujhe?ek thappad padega toh kapde pehnna bhul jayega” Startled he ran away with his peers. They seemed novice, new to the trade and hopefully would think twice before experimenting with eve teasing after that incident.

It was safe to do that because we were in a group, in the daylight and the street was full of people (remember the hot-tempered kol walahs!) ..but what about those faceless figures in the pitch dark corners of the streets..that jobless lot in lungis, chaat walas, frustrated job-seekers, or educated entertainment seekers…the ogles reflecting in the front seat mirrors of the auto you are traveling by? Those invisible hands you feel pouncing on you to grope you any minute ..rape you without a single touch..the conscious feeling so heavy even an innocent stranger belonging to the male fraternity seems like ‘the one’ looking for an opportunity to quench his lust..
The dilemma is with what frequency do you continue yelling back ”kaam dhandha nahi hai kya” and reacting? Or the sad part being how long do you keep wearing on the “I know what you are doing, but am bold enough to ignore you” expression.. I mean kitni baar?kab tak?
I would hate to stop to slap them because I would need to touch them for that.. so deep is the feeling of this endless hatred.

Don’t’ I have a life to call my own? my space..other than keeping an eye on who is lecherously eyeing me..?

Seek company every time? Not go out in the dark? Be in full clothes? Not go too far?

As if gang rapes don’t happen? Numerous daylight molestations are unheard of? Women in burkhas are spared? Abuses at homes are rare incidents?

Those kids with their stint at eve-tease I mentioned..they were the age of my younger brother. Sometimes I feel pity for them as well…when they should be constructively struggling to make a living or get some education ..they indulge in such momentary pleasures and go on setting an example of their power over helplessness of women in general, kyuki koi unke muh nahi lagna chahta and they continue... Ah! The never ending cycle…
Probably it runs deep down into the Indian psyche ..the patriarchy..the very form of year after year women’s day celebrations. Indian households where a man entering the kitchen is a sweet gesture against women in kitchen all day long ‘who can always do better’.

Of course when my mother objects at me getting under those so called provocative outfits (mind you provocative is anything that the people around are not used to..even if it’s just a pretty long wrap-around), she isn’t at fault..because the rage doest help when you actually step out of the four secure walls. With no choice left, you are forced to put on the sheets of adherence it safe you see..
I understand protection..
I understand the importance of carrying an umbrella when it’s cloudy
I understand the funda of playing it safe in bed
But which brand of pepper spray do you use to protect yourself against the unwanted glares and ogles in every nook and corner?
How do you pepper-spray-off someone against the piercing verbal flood of filthy remarks..or those non-verbal signs of attempts at communicating with the sexy but weaker sex. Technology! Right!

Like the whole street turning into floating images of pornographic a nightmare lived everyday on your way to work, nearby grocery, a café , an emergency…the ugliest part is we have to live with it every single moment even when it’s non-existent polluted air..all pervasive and shattering to the core. A trepidation despite all the expertise you might have on martial the world was already any less of a hell.

The spurts of anger are sudden. At my diner table once, I spontaneously told my mother “If that uncle ever comes home am probably going to slap him hard..or that guy in the neighbourhood or this cousin who is married with a kid now”
She went.."What… why?”
Because they tried molesting a girl I know.
And then I drifted into the thoughts…those flashbacks..those snippets..
Did it really happen..
Her stubbornness to go to her mama’s place with this uncle ..the tantrums..and the one night train journey…no extra seats available…8 years old her with this fleshy grey haired uncle…and the uncomfortableness. She was sleeping..may be she was dreaming? No concrete proof. Just the my sister says..always always trust your instinct!!!


This cousin who would get up to drink water midnight in jam-packed homes during weddings…her eyes would intuitively open.. wide and awake..and ..his attempts..

This neighbour who would try calling her on his terrace to display his affection..

Nothing happened because she would usually smartly escape..and yet the pangs..

Mumma at dinner table made that helpless face(trying to be indifferent but deeply hurt) and went “Oh! Don’t be silly. Its history I guess..stop acting silly
Right!silly!just because its history just like every second guy on street manages to turn the seemingly insignificant act into a trivial incident not worth being taken up after the act is done with.

Something wrong with no solution, still is wrong at the end of the day, because somewhere in your subconscious the marks are etched..even the fear / inability to walk straight on streets (back upright, shoulders pulled back)..the ‘conscious self’ trying to handle the hunch even on a chair..
Often the truth of the hindi essay, “Nakhoon kyu badhte hai”(y do nails grow?) rings in my ear. Say when am sitting by a beach..the overwhelming vastness bringing all those buried anger with the undulating waves. The author points out at the marks of uncivilization still existent within the society in the forms of our growing nails..which grow as soon as we cut them off..and keep growing…reminding us of the futility of our trials at faking a civilized society with sane individuals.

Source of inspiration for this post: One evening the crush of bodies was worse than usual, and I felt a clammy hand first on my arm, next on my waist (two bare inches of it, where the sari and blouse don’t meet), next the hand had moved further south. I whirled around and saw this most disgusting expression in the man’s eyes, my hands flew to his face as I delivered a stinging slap, before swinging my heavy hand bag across his chest. He looked startle…but only momentarily. Then …he laughed! Yes – he laughed! At what? My powerlessness to stop him from doing it again and again? I saw that mocking leer and lashed out at him once more(the crowd pushed past us in a couldn’t care-less way, two steps back and was gone within seconds leaving me standing there feeling utterly violated and very foolish. I had tears of rage stinging my cheeks as I walked home. Should I tell mother. What was the point.? My mother had never ever walked by any street by herself in her entire life. Come to think of it, she had never left her home unescorted. Ever. What would she know of the brutality right outside her home and hearth? What purpose would it serve to tell her?Shobha De (Superstar INDIA)