Circles on strange waters

What a nice Sunday this has been despite a hot and headachy beginning. I like particularly that Thugs, a lovely dark pub with pictures of movie villains, provided us a floor show with a suitably sleazy couple screaming abuse at each other. The other people at my table were discussing the World of Warcraft and missed the fabulously seamy implications of the screeches at the corner table but I enjoyed thoroughly pa!

Then the Sunday Book Bazaar opened its maws and swallowed us whole. We emerged three Jonahs with a Tintin in Bangla, an Asterix in French, a nice edition of Winnie the Pooh, ten murder mysteries and  miscellany.

Its wierd how much I enjoy Delhi if I have no expectations of it as a big city. If I desire anonymity or self-deprecating jokes or brisk-go-about-my-own-business-ness this aint the place. The moment I told myself  "Pretend you are in a small town or a village", life changed. I am less irritated about having 'outside' clothes (meaning flash no flesh) and the staring and the wierd questions and the godawful stuffedshirtness.

A couple of days ago I got lost in GK1 where I was to meet a friend. It was close to 9 pm I think and I wandered about until I found a shop where I could ask for directions. The three very young chaps in the STD booth were super grim while talking to me. But it never struck me that they were being hostile. Because they did give me excellent directions. The grimness seemed more like discomfort at having to talk to a woman. Something that would never have occurred to me a few years ago when my own discomfort and nervousness and fear of becoming a statistic would have dominated any such interaction. As it happened it was a pleasant walk to the restaurant. And I stared at passersby as much as they stared at me.

On the other hand, incidents like the girl who got raped in a trial room in Palika Bazaar last month continue to baffle me. What were those two salesmen thinking when they decided to attack a customer? On a Saturday morning in Palika Bazaar. What did one say to the other when he decided that he would rape the customer? Did they speak or gesture? My imagination fails me.

A couple of years ago when I read a paper by Nivedita Menon I felt the first ray of light on the rape question. I hasten to add that here I mean the confusions about rape that I have had. Menon argues at the tail end of a paper about rape and sexual harrassment laws that what is needed is for us to remove the sting from rape, to stop elevating it to the most traumatic experience a woman can have. The paper finished too abruptly for me, leaving readers with only a vague sense of the possibilities that such a shift could hold. But what a ray of light!

 Once I bumped into a counsellor from a nice counselling group (Their brochure had a good bit: Q: How many counsellors does it take to change a lightbulb? Ans: Only one, but the lightbulb must want to change.) We were near a table full of cake and biscuits supplied after a screening of a film about child abuse. In casual conversation about the film I mentioned (like everybody else there!) that I had been raped as a child. The woman would not let me continue the conversation! Her face went into soft focus and she insisted that I go to her for therapy to heal. No amount of my telling her that I was chust and my life was rocking convinced her. I went away feeling very annoyed at not having been allowed to eat more biscuits.

Why shouldn't I merely cross the road to avoid talking to a man who felt me up as I would to avoid someone who stole money from my office? Why shouldn't I jeer at him from across a restaurant so he can't meet my eye? Why shouldn't I argue furiously with my friends that he has no business being at parties or weddings that we throw because he is scum? Why shouldn't I look him in the eye, call him short names in Tamil and shame him? Why shouldnt I be okay? One gets over things...why not rape?

Here is a story. This is how removing the sting turns out... sometimes.  At one of my earliest jobs, my (much older) boss thought it was funny to jump out at me in the dark with a rather lifelike dildo. By then, being a veteran of dealing with the ambiguous situations that the half-baked sexual liberation of our generation has created...I gave him lectures about inappropriate behaviour. For two days if he even seemed to be looking in my direction I would begin loudly talking about Vishakha vs the State of Rajasthan. He sulked for days, tried to make jokes about it with me and other women colleagues. Faced with our voluble mocking of his leaping on the 'coolness' boat he quietened down and went back to his mostly sensible self. I like to think that MP (who also worked there) and I made him rethink some of his rather strange notions about what it was to be sexually liberated. Perhaps a more protected life would have meant my racing to the bathroom and crying or quitting or worse, the feeling that I ought to have done one of these two things because I had been harrassed. And I was not even sure that his behaviour constituted harrassment, just that it was rude and annoying. And even now I wonder about my inner reaction of outrage. The only thing I am sure about was the way I dealt with him. I continued to work there for quite a while and happily.

I no longer fear rape. As I type this I am also laughing at how much of a lie that is. Rape and sexual assault and much of my life is led so that I can avoid it. The most profound moment of envy I have ever had was when I saw a man lying on a wall beside Airport Road in Bangalore. He was taking a nap at 5 pm on Airport Road. I will probably never be able to do it in this lifetime. To actually lie down and go to sleep, to be unconscious in a public place (barring boring meetings). How incredible that seems. So perhaps the truth is that I fear rape much less than I did. 

The joke is of course the various incidents of rape, sexual assault and harrassment that I have faced (the incidents being no way greater than any woman my age) all happened at home or other warm and friendly places. What does this mean...greater paranoia? Trust no one? Its crap, aint it? Why should rape be universally worse for all women than dealing with a dying mother, starvation, loss of a limb, disloyalty of trusted friends, the death of a cherished talent, being robbed?

The feeling of being violated is useless, this I say to you, with my fine rhino hide. What would be better more to the point would be good reflexes from a childhood of running around and playing competitive games. The ability to deliver a sound kick to the shin and an excellent pair of lungs is what I would like to bestow to any daughter of mine.


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