Friday, November 01, 2013

Look But Don't Stare

When I travelled in Delhi metro for the first time in my life, I boarded an overcrowded compartment. I had been advised by one of my relatives, to climb only in a coach that was meant only for women. I was running late and eager to reach home. So when I reached Rajiv Chowk metro station and saw a Dwarka metro already standing motionless on the track, I entered the compartment directly in front of me, which had men as well as ladies in it. I did not find any comfortable place to even stand. Let alone sitting. The seats were made such that not more than 5-6 people could sit nicely at one corner. But right then, more than 10 people were sitting together, cramped and sandwiched, with a patient look on their faces as if that was a regular thing.

I came towards a right side door that was permanently shut during the whole travel. ‘All doors will open on the left’ was the continuous announcement made from a speaker. The compartment was jam-packed. I couldn’t even stretch my arms properly. Just one step away stood the surrounding passengers. But it wasn’t the alarmingly increasing population of India that was bothering me at the time. It was the non-stop staring.

What was I wearing? A simple red colored kurti and a black leggings. But still some weirdos kept up with their  staring. And stared more in a way that made me check my dress twice. I was wearing it in a proper way alright. So why the vulgar staring? A group of young men, 4 or 5 in number that stood to my left started acting like maniacs in the next two minutes. When the metro left every station and gained speed, we were thrown backwards. One of the boys pretended to fall on me and was stopped by his friend at the last moment. This continued every time the train stopped and then moved from a particular station. They took it in turns and started playing the game. When I glared, they smiled and laughed loudly. I moved away, carrying my heavy shoulder bag and a hand-bag, and got to another place after a lot of pushing and annoying others in the process. There was a man who was chewing paan and showing red stained teeth. He kept staring till I turned towards a window. There in the reflection, I saw him turning to stare at another girl standing to my far right.     

Since then I am travelling only in ladies compartment. Even there I have only stood, never got a place to sit, but there is no awkward staring. Either women talk excitedly in groups or some girls listen to music on their head-sets or its reading novels for many. Some college going girls just sit down on the floor and learn by heart from a technical book on their laps. I prefer looking at scenery outside the window or answering the calls made by my parents, who anxiously wait for me to arrive home safely. I find it difficult to read novels when I am standing on my guard with a heavy luggage. 

Day before yesterday night, I along with my friend landed in a gift shop quiet late after office hours. At around 9.15 pm to be precise. We had to purchase decoration materials to decorate a good friend’s cubicle the next day on account of his birthday. The road wasn’t deserted. There was a small restaurant full of dinner parties going on. There were 2-3 stalls selling food items. People started staring there as well. Till my friend and I crossed the road and walked the whole length of it to reach the shop, people stared. Realizing that we were being watched, we just quickened our footsteps, heads down and hearts racing. 2 bikes, moving parallel, passed us in full speed and the drivers deliberately honked loudly. That only made matters worse. Those who were doing their works, came outside their shops and restaurants to see what the hell was happening on the road. Not to invite more staring from other strangers and not to allow more to see two lonely girls walking at night all alone, we just hurried our footsteps. This was the scenario. Even in a crowd full of grown-up men, we were feeling that every eye was stalking us. We were feeling lonely in a big and brightly lit market. After we had purchased the required materials from the shop, we stepped outside and raced to find an available auto. Taking the advantage of the situation, the driver demanded a lot more than was actually needed. What else we could do? We just sat inside quickly and told him to move fast. In the middle of the highway, a bike rode in parallel to our auto. There were two youngsters on it and clearly in a mood to pass flirty comments. But our understanding driver slowed down and allowed the stupid bikers to pass us in peace. We reached our flat safely and I got a lot of scolding from my mother over this episode on the phone. 

Nowadays in a city too, girls cannot move around at night on their own without an elder with them. Some people stare even in broad daylights just to make the other person feel uncomfortable. Those who stare vulgarly, don’t they have sisters or cousins who are girls? Do that kind of staring at home in front of your own mother and just see what she does. Yes, one can look to appreciate your hair style or dress. One can even stare to look at your sleep deprived face and feel pity. But when somebody from the opposite gender, starts staring in a way that makes the other person feel uncomfortable, that’s sick. When I go around in public transports and men stare, I wonder if things will change if I start covering my every body part. If I wear full arm gloves, cover my face with a stole and wear high length boots to hide my leg skin along with my original dress, will that stop the vulgar staring? Or better, I’ll start wearing a burqa. But then my best friend, who is a Muslim and travels in local trains herself, was once subjected to ‘Parde ke peeche kya hai?” from a random stranger on a local train one day. 

Some say that if somebody stares, let them do it. Why should I be bothered? I don’t mind if people just look. In public transports, it’s the best way to pass the time. Looking at passengers and things can’t be helped. People cannot shut their eyes or look at the floor continuously in a moving train or a bus. But looking at someone and staring at someone are two different things. And hello! If I notice that somebody is staring non-stop at me, I may first feel awkward and turn away in order to let it go. 2 minutes later, if the same staring is growing along with a menacing smile, then I may stare back in a threatening way to make my point clear-I am not your girl to be stared at in that vulgar way dumb. If that warning too doesn’t help, then I may become irritated and move on to some other place to save whatever dignity I have. To my horror, if someone new starts doing the same thing? Then what should I do?  In such a case, how can I not help being bothered and resist the urge to give a nice tight slap?

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