Yesterday, as I sat outside National Library with a ladyfriend of mine who looks 17 at the most, a man was staring at us. Perhaps he stared because I was smoking in 40 degrees celsius, or perhaps because I, a girl, was smoking in the first place. Or perhaps he was staring because we were women and he has never seen women. The fact is, I was irritated. I was annoyed at the fact that an otherwise sunny (too sunny) afternoon would have a disruption of peace and privacy because a stupid man could not keep his eyes off two girls and he always had the option of staring ahead (he would see the zoo) or looking behind him (he would see the aquarium). Why did he have to stare at us? Much to the consternation, amusement, and slight embarrassment of the ladyfriend (a firebrand from Presidency, history dept) I shouted at him. That too, in Hindi. He replied in crisp and angry Bengali that he was doing nothing of the sort, only thinking about an ailing mother in the hospital. This enraged me further. I pointed at the National Library and shouted, "Does that look like a hospital to you?" Then he blubbered out some further shit and I got redder and angrier and finally, I knew what you were doing. So shut it, and scoot.
That is in Bangla it was, Khub bhaalo korei dekhlam ki dekhchhilen. Aar naa baaje bokey, aapni ektu ekhaan theke hawa howe jaan naa! Taate amader shobaar mongol!
Thankfully he followed my advice and I was supported by the friendly chipswaala with a pot belly who also owns the chaa-er thek. I gulped down 3 cups of tea in dismay to recover. But it was very irritating. And I did not quite know whether I stood vindicated or not.
You see, when I was 17, I was molested by a man I had called jethu for years, a neighbour I knew since I was 7 years old. At the moment, I was like a dumb dog who could not protest, who could not feel anger as much a deep and overwhelming sense of shame and futility. It was as if the glory of adolescence was robbed in a sudden moment. I felt nothing then. Absolutely nothing, except fear. Yes, I know, most women who are independent fighting spirits and all that, will find it difficult to accept. When that drunk and disgusting man locked his front door and asked me to "give uncle a kiss" I was scared. When he then came and hugged me and groped around inside my shirt I went blank. But the moment before I went blank I did not feel anger as much as I recognized the fear.
In the winter of 2006 I was assaulted. Guess where. The stretch between Bengal Lamp and Jadavpur Thana. It was sunday evening-around 6ish- and that stretch was unusually deserted. I was walking thoughtfully along, thinking about the end-sems which would begin in 3 days' time. A guy jumped off his bike and put his hand on my mouth. Gagging me, he said "Hello." For a moment, the brightness of his hello deceived me into thinking that I knew him. That it was merely a prank that some acquaintance was pulling on me. But no. And that split second when his hand crept inside my jacket (and some jacket that was! 'twas a bomber, no less)- I felt fear, fear and fear. I wanted to kick him in his groin. But the fear that he had a knife around stopped me. Meanwhile he tried to drag me towards a gate. A gate where I knew no guard would be around on sunday to save me. The bile was rising in my throat.
I bit the man on his hand. It wasn't much but I had to. It was the only thing I could do. I bit him till I drew blood, and then when his grip had loosened I kicked him where I thought his balls were. That was when my intense fear was justified. He embarked on what were 5 minutes of extraordinary violence. He dashed my spectacles to the ground. He punched me repeatedly. He tore chunks of my hair out. Then he slapped me 4 times. After that, when I was scared out of my wits, dishevelled, slightly bloody, shaking with horror, he sped away. Because my spectacles were lying there on the ground I couldn't pursue him or take down the details of the bike. I still remember that it was red and white. Fat lot of use that is.
I was so shaken that I stood there for ten minutes. It did not occur to me to go to the police. To ask somebody for help. A couple I knew vaguely stopped by and asked me whether I was OK. I told them what happened. They made me drink water. After that I called the friend who lived the closest (Prayag). Prayag came immediately, he was very nice, but I wish I had gone to the police. And I wish I could talk about it to someone then. Someone.
Fear is not the worst feeling in the world. Some people can say it's the most logical, obvious, and OK thing to feel under such trying circumstances. But what does one do? Fight it. Quell it. Frown at it. Make faces at it. Say boo! Say shoo! Say; go take a goo!
And that is precisely what I do now. If I dislike even a random stare or ogle, I say it out aloud. It does a lot of good to a soul that was once afraid. It still is afraid at times, but never too afraid to say out aloud: I DON'T LIKE THIS.