It was all over in a matter of seconds... leaving us stupefied and filled with troubling thoughts that would etch themselves as memories that would for a long time to come. Chennai - Bangalore Highway. 2 P.M. Broad Daylight. If this was the state of vulnerability that three educated girls faced in the city, then, there wasn't much to look forward to.
My College lies on the Chennai - Bangalore Highway, a few minutes before the district of Kancheepuram. The area is rapidly becoming a haven for manufacturing industries. Some well established names already in the place include Hyundai, St. Goblin and MRF. Residential areas in the region are restricted to villages scattered around. Engineering Colleges too are a frequent sight, one spotted every 10 minutes, myself a student cum boarder of one.
There are very few choices that one has left to seek for entertainment when you are staying in such a place, the nearest theatre or supermarket being 30 kilometres away. Apart form the television and newspaper, you can but only look out the window to catch a glimpse of anyone apart from the small hostel community after College. Yet, every weekend, we are permitted to venture out in the neighbourhood to purchase from the street vendors in the region or eat out in the highway hotels. It being like a parole from the prison, we rarely miss out on the opportunity.
Last Sunday was one such awaited weekend and despite the scorching summer sun, I whistled aloud as I stepped out of the main gate, along with two friends of mine, Shalini and Anita. Our spirits soared as we thought aloud of the Biryanis and Gobi Manchurians that awaited us... a retreat from the half cooked rice and breakable rotis of the mess. The restaurant we went was 10 minutes by bus, moderately expensive and with a decent ambiance. Anyway, it wasn't that we had much choice left.
The lunch was an enticing experience, yet in regard to the purpose of this article, I am obliged to skip it. The incident occurred while walking back towards the bus stand, which was a five minute walk form the hotel. Too tired and filled to the brim to walk, the three of us were trottling at snail's pace. Suddenly we heard a horn. Looking back, we found a car following us slowly. With the tainted glass windows up, we could only barely make out the outline of men inside.
They kept honking for a couple of minutes and then stopped the car close to us. Damn! What the hell were we supposed to do? There was hardly a human sole around us and the vehicles passing by were speeding too fast to care. I badly wanted to go and prove my knowledge of obscenities to them when Shalini asked me to ignore and just keep walking. As we kept walking on, they pulled away, shouting something that we couldn't and dint want to comprehend.
Damn! I felt like a jerk. For a person who spent the prime of her teen abroad in a country known for its discipline, this was new. What did they want? What if they had gotten out and forced us in? I shuddered at the thought. As I kept walking lost in thoughts, I was jerked out of my reverie by a sound. Was it a thud? The next second, two guys sped past me, just inches away, on a motorbike.
I turned back to see Anita, mouthing curses.
" Did they hurt you with their bike?" , I asked
" No, they hit me at my back"
She was stunned. So were we. The rest of the journey was spent in pensive silence.
Is this the state of safety on a National Highway? Is there a lot more to get prepared for in life , as women, than a mere software job after college?
" Maybe we should learn Martial Arts. I heard it really improves your reflexes", suggested Shalini.
I imagined myself smashing the window of a car, pulling the trouble maker out, swirling him up in the air and throwing him away. I smiled to myself. No, I will save such stints for our heroes in Bollywood.
Jokes apart, how far can a black belt in Karate help you? Especially when the motorcyclist catches you unaware from the back and speeds away before you can turn around? It suddenly struck me that there were indeed a lot of things that women can only witness with nothing much to do.
Truck and Car drivers, teasingly honking as they pass by, Drivers shouting mockeries, Passers-by staring at your breasts, co-passengers winking at you, people touching you in crowded places and walking away before you see them....What really can you do about all these? Little incidents that demean your dignity, trivial moments that put you to inevitable frustration, insignificant gestures that prove your vulnerability...
It leaves me feeling so helpless... Can you go slap someone for staring at you in the wrong place? He might always deny it. Once I tried staring back by putting on all the signs of threat and disgust at one such idiot... However I have no clue how the emotions made my face look for he only got more intent on doing it after that. You might always shout back at someone who grabs the opportunity of a sudden break to fall over you with all intensity, yet, it does nothing to undo the incident and the mocking smile on his face as he say sorry only irritates you further.
At this point, I definitely have to mention the prideful act of a friend of mine, who got back at a trouble maker. This guy constantly used the gap between the backrest and seat in the bus to put his hand and touch. Finally, she had had enough and took a blade along with her and made a bloody bruise at the back of his palm. That was the end of her troubles. Another friend of mine exploited the high heel of her foot wear to give an unforgettable stamp on the toe to a man who kept falling on her. With due credit to these two, maybe we do have to devise innovative measures to get back.
At the end of the day, high heels, chilli powder and black belts apart, there is still a long way to go