Sunday, 28 September 2014

Claiming the night...- Neha Singh

I would often hear my friends talk about their night time adventures...stepping out for a midnight snack or for the crave of that one smoke. They would tell me about their heartfelt conversation with the 'coffee anna' as the night time coffee sellers are fondly called in Bombay. Or their misadventures with the stray dogs in the gullies when they had to run to escape the snarling mutts. Or just sitting on the rocks at the beach, pondering over life's mysteries. Needless to say, all these midnight tales belonged to my guy friends.
I wished I could just get out of home without looking at the watch, without having to care whether it was an 'ungodly' hour. I wonder why that term was coined, because for me, breezy, lonely nights are so much better than hot, sultry, crowded days sometimes. 
When why loiter? began its weekly loiterings, I itched to propose a midnight loitering, half fearing it would be shot down immediately. Much to my delight, it was accepted without any discussion or hesitations. That's why I love these girls so much. :)
So we began walking from Prithvi Theatre, Juhu, at 1 a.m. Just four of us. 

We walked past Juhu Circle and the roads were still crowded, we took the Juhu Versova Link Road since our final destination was Yaari Road.

We walked without any fear or worries, laughing, clicking pictures, buying water from the Chemist shop. We walked further, now it was almost 2 a.m and the roads were more empty than I had ever seen them in Bombay. Yet, there wasn't any reason to be fearful. 

We stopped and clicked some more pictures at a divider on a lonely residential road. 

A couple of noisy cars passed us by, maybe they were returning from a party. We kept walking towards our destination, when suddenly a man on a motorcycle approached us with a surprisingly sharp sense of authority. 
'Aap log itni raat ko yahaan kya kar rahi hain?' he questioned us, as though he had a right to ask us that question without bothering to tell us who he was. 'We are walking', was our matter of fact reply.
'Do you know a couple of cars have been following you? I have been watching you girls for sometime now. I am a police officer. Now get into an autorikshaw and be on your way home. This is no time for girls from 'good families' to be out on the roads'. After this, he continued to demonstrate his brazen sense of authority over us by stopping an autorikshaw and commanding us to get in.
We tried explaining to him that we aren't doing anything wrong, just exercising our right to walk on the streets at anytime we want. If he feels that the boys in the noisy cars can harm us, shouldn't he be stopping them, rather than us?
He still couldn't for the life of him understand why us 'girls from good homes' would want to loiter at night when there are entire days available to us to loiter. We told him about the purpose of Why loiter? and how it encourages women to take risks, to loiter in public spaces, at day or night, in groups or alone, and to be seen by others and to reinforce the thought that it is alright to see a woman on the roads, without purpose, at any hour, and you need neither harm her, intimidate her or protect her. 
Things seem to seep into his system and when I asked him 'What, according to you is the solution to women's safety on the roads?' he replied 'I think the only solution is that more and more women come out of their homes and claim spaces'. There was a collective 'Eureka' feeling that we all felt as our hearts melted for this 'protective-conservative-self proclaimed big brother cop'.
To declare peace he offered to treat us to coffee at a coffee anna close by and we agreed. After some more conversation on the pleasures of loitering we bid him goodbye and left.
Now, the funniest part about our entire interaction with him was the fact that he had said that he was a police officer, but none of the things he said to reinforce his stature seemed true. I asked him what his post was or which police station he was attached to, to which he just mumbled something and much later came up with 'I am junior inspector Rishi and am attached with the Versova Police station'. He was dressed in black pants and a black shirt, had diamond studs on his ears and long-ish hair. He even tried hammering his statement by picking up a call (fake) and saying 'Yes, Sir, I have patrolled the entire area and everything seems to be alright' and after he hung up he told us that he was talking to the ACP!! He went on explaining how he had similarly 'rescued' a girl in Borivali a week before.
Even though we gave him the benefit of doubt, we were all pretty sure he was no real cop, just a cop in his head that felt he had to go around 'policing' people into what he felt was right and wrong ways of behaving. We were glad we made a dent in his thought process. And of course, had a good laugh at his desperate attempt at making us believe his 'cop' status. Ironically, soon after Junior Inspector Rishi went off, we were stopped by cops in a patrol vehicle, in uniform, and asked us to head home lest someone stole our purses, but when one of us retorted 'We are fine! Thank you!' they just said 'Jaao jaao ...ghumo...dhyaan se par'! 
By the time we reached Yaari Road it was 3 a.m and we had had a perfect loitering session. 

Sometimes, I feel that the demons in our heads are bigger than the real ones. I had denied myself the pleasures of breezy, lonely nights outdoors just because of the fear of something wrong happening. I don't deny the fact that crime against women are committed every day, every minute. But I also feel that it is high time we learnt to take risks in order to lead a life that in a parallel, un-oppressive universe would be a regular life with the freedom of movement without fear, no matter what your gender.

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