|I couldn't help but wonder...|
In the Bandra house I lived in with two other girls, our garbage man practised a peculiar form of intimidation: he’d pull out a used condom from our trash — usually hidden deep in the recesses of an empty cigarette packet to keep him from seeing it, and leave it on our doorstep. We never knew why he did it, he never made eye contact, and yet, no matter how carefully we hid the fact that we might have had sex the night before, he’d find a way of letting us know he knew.Then there was this LOOOONG piece I did for The Ladies Finger on being an Indian woman (and why that pisses me off.)
Another story from my twelfth year. I used to walk to school every morning, and it was a quiet residential road. Almost every morning, a man on a bicycle would silently ride up behind me, pinch my breasts and move on. Almost every morning, I tried to anticipate him, and never could; he made his move and was gone before I could do anything. I felt horribly shamed and guilty – this was my fault for wanting a bra, this was my fault for getting breasts in the first place. One winter’s evening, around Diwali, I was walking home with a young male friend, and I heard the swish of bicycle wheels and made him walk on the outside. “Ow!” he said suddenly, “Someone pinched me!” He found a stick and walked the rest of the way home brandishing it, with me, grateful and guilty, by his side. When we got home, obviously everyone heard the story and laughed. A young boy getting mistaken for a girl and pinched was comical. I had never told my parents about my own morning story, because I knew it wouldn’t be funny. But his stick brandishing gave me some courage of my own, and the next time the cyclist whizzed by, I turned my head just in the nick of time and silently began to run after him, reaching for the back carrier of his bike. I don’t know what I would have done if I caught him, but I kept holding this stone above my head, waving it, all this in complete silence, and he was so surprised, he rode off, turning around every now and then to see if I was still there.
I did a bunch of book pieces for Scroll, and this one on how to be an aspiring writer in emerging India was my favourite one to write:
Someone introduces you as their “author friend” for the first time and you feel a thrill, a conviction of rightness when this happens. The person they introduce you to asks politely, “What’s your book about?” You launch into a long summary, by the end of which their eyes are a little glazed. “It’ll be better when it’s a book,” you assure them.Scroll also published an excerpt from Before And Then After, the story of a cat who belongs to a sex worker and is also a sex worker herself. (Needless to say, one of my favourite stories from the collection.)
The first thing she learned was who was friendly and who wasn’t. Some of the women drew up their feet when they saw her, “Ai hai, a cat, they’re bad luck! Who brought one in here?” Some, remembered old childhood pets, and gave her a stroke if she happened to put her nose in their rooms. The woman they called Madam had good moods and bad ones. In the former, she’d let Noor settle down for a nap on her desk at the front of the house, where she sat, watching the women and the men who came in and out. In the latter, she’d hiss, much like a cat herself, “Not one of you turning a profit, and there’s this cat also in my household! If I could whore her out, I would, but never let me see her again!”And finally, I started writing a new feminism column for the Week online this year. This one, on aggressive staring and neighbourhoods is my best one--I think.
It’s hard to explain the “aggressive looking” to anyone who isn’t a woman in India. Yes, it’s just staring, and yes, staring isn’t going to kill me, but it’s the way the stares happen, face immobile or sometimes just plain unfriendly, eyes skittering past your clothes, resting on your face for a second or on your butt or your bosom, men continuing to do whatever they were doing before, only this time their eyes never leave you. They’re talking, chewing paan, their arms around each other’s shoulder and they make looking into an almost physical gesture.
And that's my year in writing! I hope 2016 is more of the same--full of reflection, full of writing, and definitely, DEFINITELY full of new experiences.