When I was a kid, I was a very energetic, enthusiastic little girl. I would get so excited over the littlest things, like almost every other kid. I remember when my Dad got me a new bicycle – a BSA Ladybird. I would ride it round and round my building and all the streets nearby with my friend. The desire to ride it on the roads whenever I got a little time came from pure excitement and happiness of owning a shiny new cycle. There was nothing to think about, nothing to worry about to bring that desire to reality. It was simple, ‘Oooh! A new cycle! Yay! I am going to ride it whenever and wherever!’ And just like this one little desire, my cute little heart was full of so many others, I would dream of seeing those beautiful places they showed on TV – the Taj Mahal, Kashmir, the backwaters of Kerala, Venice, the Piramids – the list goes on. I would imagine a grown up version of me going around with a backpack, a camera and a passport – just like the travel show hosts. And I would imagine people admiring me and my spirit of travel. So, what happened to those dreams?
I will tell you what happened. From a kid, I grew into a teenager. And I started to notice things around me change. Everyone knows change in the life of a person entering the phase of adolescence, and these can make his/her life tumultuous for a while. But the changes that happened to me were far minor compared to the ones that happened around me. I could see eyes staring, gestures being made that were supposed to mean something. But I couldn’t understand what, all I knew was they made me uncomfortable. I remember, one time, I was walking back home from school with a friend. I bid goodbye to her when we reached her home, and I started walking towards mine – completely minding my own business. Then I noticed a man on a cycle following me. Just to make sure, I slowed down and sure enough, he did too. I panicked. I ran. I did not look back, until I was safe behind the closed doors of my home. I had no idea what just happened. But any grown up I talked to about that incident, just told me to not stop anywhere when I was walking, or start riding my cycle to school or just ignore the incident.
I did not understand this reaction. Why wasn’t anyone mad at that man? Why wasn’t anyone saying ‘how could he do that?!’ But instead, I was the one who must take precautions. A few months later I went on a family trip to Bengaluru and Mysore. We were at the Vrindavan gardens and it was dark. I was waiting for the light show which it is very popular for to start. I was very excited. I found a good spot from where the show would look good. And to my horror, bus-loads of inebriated, college students arrived – apparently on a college trip from Kerala. I think they were about 500 in number; not a single female among them. Oh, the horror of that experience. They would surround every girl in view. There was staring, gesturing, signaling and touching. The helplessness was unbearable. I wished I had an AK47 in my hand and shoot down every single asshole that came anywhere closer than 50m from me.
A few moments back, I was waiting in excitement and anticipation to watch the light show. And here I was looking for a ‘safe’ spot with my parents to get away from the vultures. In the end, the show was over. And instead of being filled with the joy of watching an amazing display, we were left hassled and helpless. Not to mention, that I was not able to catch a single minute of the show. When I shared this incident with a cousin in Kerala, she just smiled and said ‘these things happen’. I was shocked! Why isn’t anyone angry?
These incidents kept happening over and over. And they keep happening even today. All I can do is avoid and ignore. My spirit of traveling, forget traveling alone, is crushed. It is no longer as simple as having a desire and fulfilling it. After over a decade, today I bought a bicycle and I took it for a ride. And there were so many stares, it was overwhelming. Some men on bikes even turned their heads round to gape. All I could do was ignore them and look into the horizon. Not looking any man in the eye. Even something as simple as riding a cycle has become a harrying experience.
I know I am not supposed to blame anyone, or use excuses to cover up my unfulfilled dreams. But over the years, I have been convinced that I cannot go to any unfamiliar places alone. I need a man, ‘a bodyguard’. All I can say is – dear Indian men (and men elsewhere), women, just like men, have dreams. If you can follow your dreams without worrying about being hassled, why can’t we? Live, and let us live.
P.S: The blog that inspired me to write this one: http://www.solitarywanderer.com/2013/04/eve-teasing-and-solo-travel-in-india/ . The amazing author of this blog asks the question – Women keep to themselves in India, what kind of a life is that?