Sunday, 4 January 2015

Encounters with predators and protectors....-Neha Singh

This was our second post midnight loitering session and unlike the first one, where we were four of us, this time there was only two of us, the ones who began the movement, Devina and I. The map we had planned to walk was from Kaifi Azmi park in Juhu to Lotus petrol pump in Oshiwara.
After a nice dinner of roadside hakka noodles and schezwan sauce at the chinese tapri opposite Kaifi Azmi park, the two of us began our loitering. It was twelve!

We began walking on the link road which was quite busy and lit up, at least till Juhu circle. We stopped at a coffee anna (a unique concept in Bombay where men on cycles park themselves at roadsides and sell coffee, idlis and cigarettes late at night, till the wee hours of the morning). We explained 'Why loiter?' to him and clicked a photo with him too. He told us that in seven years of his job this was the first time someone had asked him to pose for a photo. A young 'night jogger' also came for coffee and overheard our conversation. After a little conversation with him, we were on our way.

As the clock struck one a.m, and the streets began to get empty, our bodies became more alert. Several rickshaws stopped, hoping we would get on, but we told them we were just walking. A few strange and curious stares from men that themselves were loitering on the empty roads and we became more stiff and more aware of the dangers lurking around us. I missed the strength of numbers. Just one more woman with us would have made all the difference. But, we still walked on and even enjoyed a light hearted conversation about college times, ragging and teenage crushes.
'Tch psshhht', we heard someone call out. We didn't look up.
'Shhtchh psssttt' he signalled again. This time we looked up and saw a middle aged, middle class-ish man standing on the pavement and masturbating. He was staring at us, his hand on his penis, and smiling a broad smile. The shock was too great to react instantly, but a few moments later I pulled out my phone, aimed it at him and said , 'Bhaisaab, can I click a photo of you?" He looked stunned and confused for a moment, and I repeated, "Just one photo, please!" and this time he understood the consequences of getting a photo clicked in that situation. He ran like someone had lit his tail. We ran behind him for sometime, but he could easily give P.T. Usha a run for her money.
We burst out in giggles, and in the middle of all this chaos, a bunch of young boys came to our 'rescue' a little belated.
"What happened? What happened?" they asked most earnestly.
"Nothing spectacular. A man was masturbating and harassing us." we replied.
They seemed so embarrassed and shocked at our words that they just looked at each other with very affected concerned looks.
"But why were you two walking here? I saw you two, just walking around." one of them said.
"We were just chatting. Just like you are. Why, is that a problem?" we asked.
They again exchanged deeply concerned looks.
"Okay, just BE SAFE" they called out as we resumed our loitering.
"YOU TOO." we called back.
For a long time after that our 'protectors' followed us, making sure we didn't "land" ourselves in anymore trouble. We also saw our earlier pervert predator come back for his car and zoom off quickly.
Predators and protectors. Why do men always seem to fall in these two extreme roles when it comes to women? Extreme roles that become interchangeable if women cannot justify their own movement in public spaces.
Every space seems gendered and women and men acquire predetermined roles in public spaces. Women constantly aim to appear dignified, respectable and safe, and men lurk around as either predators or protectors. The interaction between the genders is always coloured in these roles, unable to think of each other as merely human beings with equal rights to public space.

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