Friday, 29 August 2014

Cycling in the rains- Devina Kapoor

After immense co-ordination and calculations, 6 girls got up early morning on a Sunday and went cycling in South Bombay. Since I work in that part of the city, I was given the responsibility to figure out a shop that lent cycles on rent. Though I had cycled there earlier, I knew of one such shop, but I also knew that it would be open only in the evenings. Just Dial came to our rescue and I found out about this rare cycle shop.

We reached the shop at the designated time, only to find out that they didn't have cycles for women.. none.. And they were surprised to see girls that wanted to cycle..

Amir cycle shop with no cycles for girls

Losing all hope we were about to return, when a friend of mine called and said that  he knew of a shop that MAY rent cycles for girls. We reached "Happy Cycle shop" and grabbed 6 UNISEX cycles..

Happy Cycle Shop

Happy Cycling girls

So we started our cycle tour at the Gateway of India

Gateway and Girls

We cycled through Lion gate, Horniman circle and Asiatic Library

Lion Gate

Asiatic Library

Sunsaan Raahien (lonely roads)

 After this rigorous work out, we craved some good breakfast. What better choice than to head to an Iranian Cafe and to have Bun Maska and chai.

No Caption needed

Bun Maska and Chai

With Yazdani Owner

Spreading why loiter love

Rains, Bun Maska and Chai...and ice cream at Rustom's was the icing on the cake!

Cycling along the Marine Drive, a Cop asked us to cycle and stop posing for pictures (please it is important to click pictures when you are doing something this fun!)

And this is how we ended our Cycling session..

We are cycling again this Sunday in Bandra and want cycles, help us by spreading the word and join if you can.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

PERIOD DRAMA....(kissi khooni darinde ka)- By Avantika Ganguly

I have grown up in an extremely crazy liberal and to great extent a highly matriarchal family where we never followed any social, religious, economic rules. Thus for me knowing about sex, hormonal changes, menstruation etc.was not an awkward or hush hush matter at all. In fact, since the time I can remember, my father was the one who used to buy pads for me and my mom. I could talk about it normally to my dad and tell him “my periods are on” instead of saying “I am not feeling too well so I need to rest”. But my bubble broke when I spoke about it at a friend's birthday party when i was asked to do push ups as a part of a ‘dare’ (I didn’t choose ‘truth’ cause i knew then would ask me to name my ‘crush’ :) ). Anyway, back to the point, I used the ‘p’ word the unforgivable, sinful, miserable word that unleashed all the wrath from my friends, especially girls (boys were busy giggling away , of course, because for them ‘period’ and ‘porn’ fall in the same ‘asked not to, but want to’ bracket). I was told for the first time that i am not supposed to talk about my period. As a matter of fact, I am supposed to hide it. Slowly I realised that my family was the ‘abnormal’ family. Cause a normal family would treat this as ‘unn dino ki baat hain’, not let the girls attend any puja or enter the temple premises or touch a jar of pickle or even boil water in the kitchen. I have seen girls ‘whisper’ the name of the pad company more softly than Sonali Bendre and Salman Khan spoke in the movie hum saath saath hain.

Since I am writing so much I would like to mention another incident. On the day of Saraswati Puja I organized everything- flowers, sweets, the idol of saraswati, diyas, agarbattis- EVERYTHING. I decorated the puja area. When it was time to start the pooja, one of my roommates suddenly objected to me doing the pooja.
a. She saw a dream the night before where Maa Saraswati appeared and told her that if she didn’t conduct the pooja the the person doing the pooja will eat her up with mayonnaise.
b. She is the third inconsequential vampire from Twilight Part 2.
c. I was having my Period.

Audience poll se uttar aya hain…. c. I was having my period. Inspite of being uninteresting, it is the SAHI JAWAAAAAAAB.
I was shocked. She was in the 2nd year of law school and this is what she had to say. No logic. No reason. No explanation. “Bass aisa maantey hain” was her answer. I was the weak one next to three other roommates. So I let her earn the Saraswati brownie points.

The reason I am writing about this is not because I love my periods. I HATE them. They are the worst thing ever and I wish Justin Beiber would have it. But no matter how much i hate them I wouldn’t want to be ashamed of them. I hate the fact that all the shopkeepers wrap up the sanitary napkin pack in newspapers,put them in a plastic bag and then give it to us. I am fed up of it. I don’t want ugly plastic bags. The sanitary pad wrappings are so nicely done. I would like to carry it without the black skin (Okay that sounds racist.) Rephrase- I would like to carry it without and ugly plastic around it (Okay better.)
So finally my dream came true. One fine night in the middle of rains in the month of august I met ‘the one’. I went to a store named ‘REAL CHEMIST- 24 hours’ next to Banana Leaf and once the billing was done he handed me the Whisper Ultra XL pack. I looked at him cause i actually thought that he didn’t notice what was in my hand. But I soon realized, it was not a mistake on his part. It was a choice that he made. I was ecstatic. I thanked him. He said something of this sort- Madam, yeh hi normal hona chahiye. Plastic wastic kayeko. Yeh to normal baat hain. Shareer ka normal baat. Isme sharmana kayeko? (Madam, this is what should be normal. Why should you use plastic. This is a normal part of the body. Why should you be ashamed of it?) I was so happy that I wanted to marry him. I didn’t. But I was really happy. For the first time someone treated ‘Period’ with dignity and most importantly someone treated it as normal. Not something to be ashamed of. I felt good about it (P.s. I still hate periods by the way). I was all smiles. It made my day. I didn’t ask him his name. I was too happy. But for me he is and will always be Robert Downy Jr.

By Avantika Ganguly

Friday, 22 August 2014

Loitering in Meghalaya- Neha Singh

learning journey
I decided to dump my numb existence as a 9 to 5 employee in an office in Bombay and the drudgery of trying to earn some money every month.  As a fine birthday present to myself, I wrote down a short and articulate resignation letter, handed it over to my superior, quietly received my life back and walked out.
Everyone I know had dreamed of leaving work life to travel. Predictably, I too embarked upon what I like to call my ‘learning journey’. I discovered that being a ‘tourist’ is largely separate from
being a ‘traveler’. A traveler looks at every place she visits not with an intention of being an outsider
who will quickly buy everything he desires, but as a person interested in local ways of living, art,
culture, language, food, and people. Traveling and loitering are mutually exclusive.

Early memories of the North-eastern states of India
The Northeast is a part of our country that most people have an image of, whether they
have ever visited the place or not. Most often used adjectives are “beautiful”, “unsafe”,
“political turmoil”, “detached”, “ ULFA, BODO”, etc. The northeast part of India
consists of seven states:  Assam, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Sikkim, Tripura and Nagaland.
I had often visited Guwahati, the capital of Assam, in the years 2001 and 2002. This was because my father, who was serving in the Indian army at that time, was posted at the Guwahati Cantonment. I was studying in Delhi University and the first time I visited my parents, the train reached Guwahati station at mid night. It was my longest train journey (36 hours), alone. Immediately, eight armed and uniformed soldiers entered the compartment I was in, and started picking up my luggage. I would have screamed if I hadn’t noticed my Dad
walking in behind them, with a grin on his face. I was put into an army convoy that stopped for breath only when it reached the cantonment, a fair distance away from the city. I realized soon after that I would be trapped inside the cantonment till the end of my visit, when I would be taken to the train station in exactly the same manner that I been brought in. There were times when we visited Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya and the Tenga valley in Arunachal Pradesh, but the security paranoia and the grimness in the air
took away any kind of pleasure I could have squeezed out of the trips. These trips only
left me with a longing to visit this beautiful part of my country as a loiterer, a free bird that roams
about unsuspecting of fellow people, fearless and happy.

The loitering journey
I boarded a train from Mumbai to Guwahati, alone, which took three days and two nights filled with second class compartment joys like ‘jhal mudi’, pineapple slices, khichdi, salesmen selling digital watches, cameras, neon toys and pocketsize umbrellas and of course, talkative copassengers. My friend who had just finished shooting a documentary in the Garo hills of Meghalaya wanted to spend more time visiting the North easterm states and asked me if I would join him. I jumped at the offer. There was one added interest, we would be staying with the local people wherever we went and engaging ourselves with their daily chores and farming, not in any way a barter, but more to learn about farming and leading an eco friendly and sustainable lifestyle, aspects of rural life that are of great fascination to me. After spending one night at a friend’s house in Guwahati, I boarded a packed Sumo car early the next morning, from one of the many lanes in the Guwahati market, that would take me to Tura, the capital of the Garo Hills. I sat next to an old lady chewing betel nut
and carrying different coloured threads that she would take home and make yarn out of . Meghalaya consists of three tribes, the Khasis form the largest tribal population, the Garos and the Jayantias. After a three hour long ride, and hopefully the last leg of my journey, I reached an old world type market place, with three book shops interspersed with bakeries and coffee shops. I had arrived in Tura. My friend, Shammi rode there on a rickety green scooter and informed me, much to my dismay, that our destination was still
35 kms away.I was already beginning to like this little market place. On the promise that our final destination would be far better, I decided to go along.

Final destination
We reached Sadol phara, a remote village set in the thick of the dark green and mysterious looking hill forest by afternoon, and I was greeted by several women and children wearing wrap around skirts and spaghetti strap tops. The village didn't have more than forty homes, all built on bamboo stilts and decorated with various bamboo objects. I was invited by the oldest woman there, for a cup of chu, which i presumed to be chai, but eventually realised that it was a home made rice beer that is popular in most Garo homes.
So, the two of us sat in her bamboo balcony, gazing at the orangepink sun that was setting behind the dark hills and the twinkling fire flies that were slowly creeping into the night sky, while sipping on chu and smoking home made bidis; tobacco wrapped in corn leaves. I didn't know whether to owe my intoxication to the beer and bidi combination or to the ethereal beauty of the place.

The families in the Garo hills are matrilineal, matrilocal and matriarchal. The property is passed on from mother to daughter, whether its the house or the farm, and after marriage, the husband shifts into the wife's home and works on the family farm. While in college, I had read about the Nairs in Kerela and the Khasis and Garos in Meghalaya as being the only societies that practice matrilineaty in India, It was almost like a dream to imagine a society like that, after having lived almost all my life in the northern states, where patriarchy is the only way of life and one can experience its effects in almost every aspect of daily living.
Early the next day we left for Chhipang Michel, another village set even deeper into the forest, where we were going to live with Chekzak's family . I stayed with her, in her home for the next one week. She has a large family, with her husband Ponjan, two daughters, their husbands, children, babies, dogs, cats, and hens.It was the first time in her home that I met a pet owl, with yellow eyes and a red beak. Honestly speaking, the animals in her house should ideally be called livestock, since the Garos are well known for eating almost everything that moves! No wonder we couldn’t hear any birds in the forests, the lucky ones must have flown off to safer skies long ago.

Farming adventures
I was pretty much on my own with the villagers since Shammi was involved in other projects like learning how to weave and learning the local language. My  usual day began at 5:30 am, since the sun comes out at that time. Farming is done in a unique fashion. Millet seeds are just sprinkled all across the land while vegetables like pumpkin, brinjal, radish, lady finger are all planted in the same farm, randomly across the large land called Abba, and cultivated. Recently, monocropping has been introduced and there are cashew nut and tea gardens. Interestingly, the traditional abbas are owned by the matrilineal families, while the newly
introduced mono cropping estates are in the name of the men. After the planting is done, the major
work involves weeding, since it is an area blessed with excessive rain fall and fertility. Any piece of
land in the area belongs to anyone who can weed it. There is no individual ownership of land and
families move from one piece of land to another, after every few years. The west likes to
call this traditional practice the 'slash and burn' cultivation. During one of the conversations that my
freind Shammi was having with a scholar who was doing his Ph.D. dissertation on 'The impact of
slash and burn cultivation on the schooling of Garo children', asked him why he never thought of a
dissertation on 'the impact of schooling of Garo children on the slash and burn cultivation'? The
scholar stood there, stumped!
The Garos believe in keeping their tools very sharp. They spend an hour sharpening the tools and this greatly reduces the amount of effort required to weed the field. They also take smoke breaks after every twenty minutes of work, and farm at a leisurely pace. My city bred greed of wanting to finish a big patch of weeds as quick as possible resulted in boils on my thumb, two aching arms and a near fainting situation because of excessive perspiration, within an hour of work. Chekzac gave me that look that mothers often give their impatient and foolish children. Gauging my failure at weeding, I was given a simpler task of planting rice in the water filled field the next day. I wasn't too bad, though I could see a sizeable chunk of the plants floating in the water aimlessly when i had finished 'planting' them. Obviously, i hadn't put them deep enough. On my way back, I realized that the inevitable had happened, LEECH! I was immediately taken to the nearest house and a little salt at the mouth of the vicious creature did the trick. Very often, while taking a walk back home after a day's work at the farm, one of the children would go into the forest and bring back a huge chunk of bamboo shoot. Dinner!
The food is simple, organic and delightful. The staple is rice along with one curry, it could be, bamboo shoot, pumpkin, dal, chicken, etc. Fish, or at least its flavour, is a must in every meal. Chekzac had a long bamboo vessel in which she fermented fish and put small helpings in any curry she had prepared. Mid day snacks consist of juicy pinneaples, guavas, and corn which you can pick from anyone's farm. It is only recently that the villagers have started using salt and oil in their food, their sole dependence on the market that is 35 kms away from the village. After dinner, all the neighbours would collect in the courtyard, called kachahari, and smoke bidis, catching up on each others' lives, singing and asking what the others ate for dinner, the most
popular question in the village. One of the neighbours' had stopped coming for these
afterdinner chats. Apparently they had recently bought a television set that ran on

The kachahri day
The day of the kachahri was a happy one for everyone, because traditionally, anyone who calls the kachahari (the village panchayat), also has to arrange for a beef and pork feast for all the villagers. Shammi and I were invited to come for the kachahari, along with everyone, including the children from the villages.The man who had called the kachahari wanted to know what action to take against his wife who was having an affair with a neighbourhood boy. I saw the three of them standing there in front of the village elders, none of them looking very guilty or remorseful. I had met a young woman earlier who was an unwed mother and living comfortably in her own house with her mother, looking out for a prospective groom. Chekzac's husband is her second husband, she his first wife. The elders reached a decision that wasn't in favour of the young boy, which was obvious in the way he threw his hands up and walked off, as if to say 'I care a damn about your decision'. The villagers kept calling him back, like how a mother calls after her child who is angry with
her about something. Two things really left a mark on me that day. One, that children are part of what in
urban parlance would be considered an 'adult' issue and two, that the young man had been given a space where he could express his anger. Of course, the consequent beef, pork and rice beer feast left quite a mark, too.

Zero waste zone
The sub tropical evergreen forests that form a backdrop to the innumerable, small waterfalls jutting out of the hills where the villagers bathe, wash and bring back drinking water from, the fields with criss crossing mud paths that lead to the bamboo homes make the Garo hills a splendid place to be in. The Garo hills are devoid of any plastic littered around. The few plastic bags that are there are valued possessions that are used to store expensive items. The villagers make their own homes, grow their own food, make their own tools, educate their children as they go about doing their daily work, and largely heal themselves with thinnumerable herbs that grow around them. They require to go to the city only for clothes, salt and cooking oil. Zero city, zero waste!

I must admit, at the cost of sounding immodest, that by the fifth day I had become so efficient at any task that was given to me that Checzak offered me a sizeable piece of land that I could cultivate and live off. I almost accepted her offer. The leeches played a pivotal role in me declining my first wouldhavebeen
land aquisition.
The day we were leaving she gave me the only family photograph she had, so I could remember them. Her ten year old grandson Raka, my best friend in Chhipang Michel, ran a temperature because he was sad we were leaving. Were these the people my father and the Indian army were keeping me protected from? I know its not as simple as that, but I wish it was. I haven't yet needed that photograph to remember them, I just look at it when I want to smile. The tribal villages of the Garo hills in Meghalaya were one of my first long loitering trips and I would recommend them to all my co loiterers as safe, friendly and highly hospitable.

P.S. Have recently found out that after 50 years of trying to 'develop' the Garo region, the
government has suddenly accepted it unconditionally, ever since the UN declared that its a
'biodiversity region' and should be 'protected'. So, now there are government officials who come to

research the varieties of millet that grow, and how they can make them grow in the metros!

posted by: Neha Singh

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Freedom- Devina Kapoor

 67 years of Independence.. Wow!!


England:   Hail the Queen!!
                Oh! in your country there is no freedom?
                I have so much, why don't you take some from me?
                Store it because its very precious

India :      Thanks, I need it badly and will take very good care of it
                I will return you the freedom with interest
                We will use it carefully and in limitations

Coming years:

  • "Boys you all should study as you are the future of the country. Girls, you know we are just saving the freedom, its a loan and we have to pay it back. Hope you will understand."
  • "Ya ya.. my boy you can marry whenever you want and start family whenever you want but oh my poor little girl, I have to save the freedom as this is a loan I have to pay back."
  • "I got this new t-shirt for you son, it has your favorite WWF wrestler on it, Oh my baby girl, please don't wear such clothes, people would think you are not from good family and I still have to save that freedom and give it back."
  • "Loiter?? and my girl? No No, Mr. stranger, my girl obeys me and she would not go in public without asking me, I have told her that I have to work on budget and only one child of the family can use freedom which i gave it to my son. "

Oh Dear Queen! you please take the freedom back, because there is no way this country is free, at least one gender is not. The interest of this 67 years has been well saved and kept for you!

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Open, green and cost free spaces perfect for loitering in Bombay- Neha Singh

I often found myself complaining about the limited number of open, green and cost free spaces in Bombay to just go and hang out at. Going out essentially meant either to a mall, a movie theatre, a restaurant or a coffee shop. All these spaces not only need one to shell out insane amounts of money, but also limit the experience to concrete walls and a predefined  unfolding of events.
When I read the book ‘Why loiter?’ that spoke about public spaces that were free/open and accessible to all, they warned the reader to not include malls, movie theatres, restaurants and coffee shops, which are essentially privately owned spaces that pose as public spaces. Public spaces, in the purist sense, mean public parks that preferably do not have an entry fee, train and bus stops and depots, beaches, roads, pavements etc. These spaces did seem risky at first, but when I started loitering in such spaces, more often than not, I felt calm, happy, fulfilled and replenished.
Why loiter? Is a movement where we explore public spaces in the city and loiter there as a group of women. Not only do we make new friends through the movement, but also discover a plethora of green, open and cost free spaces that are open to all and worth spending a beautiful evening at.
There is a lovely park diagonally opposite the Costa Coffee at Versova, right opposite the Nana Nani park. The grass feels so good and the blooming trees and shrubs make this park worth spending a quiet afternoon with a good book and some music. Right outside is an idli dosa counter which easily offers the best sada dosa I have eaten in the city. Here are some images from our loitering session in the park.

The public park opposite the Costa Coffee at Versova. (Don’t confuse it with the Nana Nani park which is on the opposite side)

The following week we visited another park, the Swatantrata  Sainani BMC park  in the Versova/Yaari road area. It is opposite the Fisheries Institute on the Versova back road/Fisheries lane. You can’t miss this one because there is an area dedicated to swings, slides and jungle gym for children as soon as you enter.
This park is beautifully designed, with little sheds, a badminton court, a jogging track, and a generous lawn to just laze around in. We loved it so much that we have revisited it several times. Each time the experience has been new and rejuvenating.
Here are some images

We recently explore the Kaifi Azmi Park opposite Amitabh Bachchan’s old bunglow. Though it doesn’t have grassy lawns, the flora is splendid  and the pathways are delicately decorated with purple mosaic. There are tin sheds with a seating capacity of almost 50-60 people, perfect to have little play readings, music jamming sessions or picnics.
Here are some images


At the Kaifi Azmi park, Juhu
Another beautiful public park we explored is the Fort Garden at Bandra Bandstand, near Taj Lands End. It is  large, layered and filled with interesting stairways, variety of plants, trees and shrubs, provides a spectacular view of the sea. There is also an amphitheatre in the garden where groups perform music/dance/theatre.

At the fort garden, Bandra Bandstand.
There are many other green, clean beautiful spaces we have loitered at, but for now, I insist you visit these four spaces I have talked about and shown you images of.
Loitering has helped me gain more love and admiration for this city, that not only provides me the freedom to live my life as I like to, but also has helped me understand that Bombay is not just about traffic jams, cluttered housing societies and flooded roads in the monsoons, but also  open, lush, peaceful, public parks that are inviting me with the possibility of experiences that are not pre-determined.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Week 2: When the Gardner rejected us- Devina Kapoor

Looking for a park
After the first week photographs, there was  a lot of curiosity among the people, to know more, to loiter and to get clicked. Message was sent to the Whatsapp group, and after a lot of excitement, again 3 girls showed up. Neha, Sukriti and the manager of this blog. We went to the same garden, with the beautiful grass and lovely flowers and of course awesome Anna for Dosa and Idli BUT to our utter shoc the Gardner rejected us to enter, can you believe that? 3 beautiful girls get rejected.


Well, because he thinks his grass will get ruined.
This dedicated Gardner has a back story, he very much is in love with his garden. His official timings are 10 am to 6 pm but he comes early morning and leaves late, he is basically obsessed about his plants and flowers.

Still looking for a park

Dejected we, left from there, heartbroken.

We went to 4 parks and I am not kidding, all 4 rejected us. Apparently most parks in Mumbai are open from 5 am to 10 pm and  5 pm to 8 pm ONLY. People (Girls) have to time their sessions.
Finally we went to this park in 7 Bunglows which was fortunately open (till 12 noon) and parked ourselves there.
We lazed around, played, talked to the gardeners. (who were friendly to talk to)

And the best part of the park.. There were swings, You must be thinking what is the big deal about it? Well.. just try this out, if you have not sit on a swing  for a long time, then please, just for my sake, sit on it and take the first swing and believe me, there would be a smile on your face, a big one, I am sure.
I know i had.
So if you are reading this, please go in the evening to a park and take a swing.

In our week 2 session, we enjoyed our swing rides and shared our meals with the gardeners.
The session ended with a long and suffocating metro ride.

Some pictures for your joy.

Finally a place to sit
Yay!! Park where we are allowed
More Swinging

Much More Swinging
Metro Ride

Saturday, 9 August 2014

“It is better to live one day as a lioness than a hundred years as a sheep”- by Kanchan Gandhi

Loitering in the north and the south of India

No matter where you live in India, you will always be a woman who has to face the flaneur gaze if you are perceived to be doing anything “deviant” by being out at the “wrong” time or in the “wrong” space. When I was based in Delhi, working at an NGO, a job that took me to different states and cities for fieldwork, I was still a woman who needed to be indoors after sun-set and now as an Assistant Professor in a South Indian city, a single woman who shares an apartment with two other single women, I am still that woman who needs to be safe and cautious and watch out for intruding male gaze all the time. How does it matter that I am going to turn forty in two years’ time, I have put on loads of weight in the last decade and I am no longer an attractive prey. I am still a woman and other things just don’t seem to matter. What has changed however is, my level of fear and trepidation when men stare at me or drive closely past me on their bikes and cars. I feel more prepared to face and challenge sexual oppression in contrast to what I felt 10 years ago when I was not married and the society told me that the onus to preserve my virginity and “izzat” was on me. Although an element of insecurity is still there when I am alone at odd hours walking on the street or in an auto, it is accompanied by some level of confidence that I will shout myself out of a bad situation if it arises. I am not afraid of post-sunset travels anymore if the mode of transport is crowded. A crowded metro-train or a city bus is comforting at such times. The fear of private buses with tinted-glasses however is still large especially after 16th December 2012.

When I was working at the NGO in Delhi, I accompanied one of my male colleagues on a field-work to a slum in South Jaipur in March 2012. We stayed at an NGO premises in Malviya Nagar (South Jaipur) and our field-site was a 10 minute ride away on a public “tempo” the service of which was quite regular. The days passed happily and I never felt uneasy in the city of Jaipur as the people were friendly, helping and very respectful. I gave Jaipur 10 out of 10 marks for liveability as it was positive on all the criteria that I had set for my dream city where I would like to live. The top-most being the lack of fear of molestation while walking on the street. During the day the streets were full of men and women going about their daily activities - shopping, work and child-care. We hardly ventured out in the night and spend our time writing field journals, cooking, chatting and watching TV.

 One day we decided to have dinner in the old or the pink-city which was an hour ride away from the place we were staying at. We resolved to finish our day’s work by 6 pm and take a city bus to the pink-city. When we arrived in the pink-city we headed to the “Bapu bazaar” as I wanted to shop for dress materials and bed-sheets. The bazaar was bustling with activity. Each shop was crowded and there was festivity in the air. Women were busy shopping and bargaining with the shopkeepers. I was very happy that we had decided to come to the old-city. We had dinner at the famous LMB Hotel in the pink city.

After finishing dinner we headed to the bus-stop to catch our bus back to Malviya Nagar. To my surprise the bus-stop was rather dark and scantily lit. Additionally there were no women passengers waiting for the bus except me. The bus-stop offered two options for our travel back to Malviya Nagar, a city bus that would arrive in a few minutes and readily available jeeps and tempos run by private operators. Since the jeeps and tempos were full of men and we would have to cramp in, my male colleague suggested that we wait for the city bus so that I would be more comfortable riding it. The city bus arrived in few minutes and we boarded it. It was 10 pm by then. There were no women even on the bus. I thought to myself, maybe some women will board at the next station. The bus kept moving, but no woman boarded it. Through the long ride on the pitch dark streets I kept wondering – “where did all those women we saw in the bazaar vanish?”, “did they all come on private vehicles only?”, “how come post-sunset Jaipur looks so different from day-time Jaipur?” “How is it possible that there is not one woman on this bus except me?” Jaipur had suddenly lost a bit of its charm for me. It had slipped one notch down on my criteria of a dream city. Women do not use public transport at night and it becomes a male-dominated space – not good, not good at all I thought.
What I had failed to do was to check the statistics on crime against women before I had glorified the city as my “dream city”. A look at the National Crime Records Bureau tells us about the most risky cities in terms of crimes against women. It states:

“Among 53 cities, Delhi (5,194 cases) has accounted for 14.2% of total such crimes followed by Bengaluru (6.2%) (2,263 cases), Kolkata (5.7%) (2,073 cases), Hyderabad (5.2%) (1,899 cases) and Vijayawada (5.2%) (1,898 cases). The crime rate was significantly higher in Vijayawada, Kota, Kollam, Jaipur and Indore at 256.4, 130.2, 106.3, 98.1 and 88.8 respectively as compared to average (47.8) of mega cities.” (Chapter 5- Crime against Women, Crime in India, 2012 statistics )

Jaipur figures high on crimes against women, and so does Vijayawada, the city I chose to move in for my next job as a University Professor. I was elated at the thought of a new job and a beginning that would allow me to explore a hitherto unexplored state when I got a job offer at a central government University in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh. I was getting quite overwhelmed with the crowded life in Delhi and was looking forward to moving to a much smaller city which would offer some breathing space without looking at the statistics or realising the trials and tribulations that single professional “outsider” women have to face in this rather conservative city. I was going to share an apartment with my 2 other female colleagues. They arrived in Vijayawada before me and started the house-hunt. I would call them from Delhi and ask what progress we were making on the accommodation front only to hear negative and frustrated responses from them. For a month they kept telling me that no house owner was willing to let their house out to 3 single women. The city’s propertied people favoured “families” as tenants and were rather intolerant towards us deviant women. After much sweat we found an apartment and heaved a sigh of relief. It was in a housing society, a so-called “gated community” and we felt that finally we had a safe roof above our heads.
The myth of the “safe roof” however did not last very long. There were prying eyes of men especially car drivers who waited on the ground floor with their vehicles when we left for work in the morning or returned from work in the evening. We decided to be very careful and aware of our surroundings. Then came the earth-shattering news that a 41 year old woman had been gang-raped by her husband’s 27 year old driver and his friends in her own house and later murdered. Her body was recovered from a canal that flows through the city. The news freaked us out and we were really concerned especially since one of the drivers in the society had really been noticing our movements. We decided to talk loudly about our police-connections when we passed through the parking lot the next morning. We did it in front of that driver.

The joy of a highly desirable academic job has gotten diluted by these daily uncertainties and negotiations in public space. The questions that arise in my mind are – “is there really no space in this country for single professional women to feel safe and pursue their lives and livelihoods with dignity?” “Must we always live in fear of some known and some unknown men hurting us?” “Till when will violence begin at home and continue into the public space for so many women in this country?” I have so many questions but find no answers. I constantly remind myself of an Italian proverb “It is better to live one day as a lioness than a hundred years as a sheep”.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Girl in the Metro- by Greeshma

Greeshma, thanks for sharing this with us. What a beautiful read!!

Pic courtesy: Manager of the blog 

Girl in the Metro

The characters, places and the incident mentioned in this piece are not fictitious. Resemblance to any person or place is not coincidental at all.

The girl, newly arrived in Mumbai, decided that she should go see places in the city. Accordingly she set on one Saturday morning, brimming with enthusiasm and self-confidence. Nerdy enough only to purchase books rather than clothes and accessories from Fashion Street, she reached the famous second-hand book street at Flora Fountain. She started browsing from one end, completely unaware of her surroundings. But she did notice a homely-looking old man, standing next to her, checking books earnestly and bargaining with the sellers. The plump man with thick-rimmed glasses was very neat and tidy except for a conspicuous, white patch under the left collar of his ironed, flawless, orange t-shirt.  It must be of the chutney that comes with the Idli-Vada. Must be a South-Indian, she deduced. The prim and proper appearance of this Grandpa reminded her of the clean and kind Jesuit, Brother Philip at the monastery back home.

The very next moment, Grandpa asked her politely, flipping through the pages of a GRE Workbook, ‘Could you please explain me the difference between TOEFL and GRE?’  Once the girl gladly explained it, a conversation followed. Yes! The grand old man hails from her home-state, Kerala. She was proud of her own deduction skills. When she introduced herself, he said that he had guessed that the girl was a Malayalee too and that he had been observing her.

The old man apparently had been working in the Middle East, and at the Economic Times. ‘Call me Pillai Uncle’, he insisted in English, although the girl had wanted to call him Appopan (Grandpa in Malayalam). After a successful career, Mr. Pillai has settled in Mumbai with his family. Now that his sons were married and having discharged all the familial responsibilities, Pillai Uncle for a pass-time taught English at a local tutorial. ‘I am an old man’, he would remind himself often, although he tried to conceal it by dyeing his graying hair jet-black. The girl did not want to take liberties with a stranger whom she had just met by telling him that the black hair-colour certainly did not agree with his octogenarian looks.

Thereupon, Uncle Pillai and the girl started browsing books together. He recommended her a collection of short-stories by Maugham. ‘I am an old man and my tastes are all really old which may not find favour with your generation’, he said. As they chatted along the way down the street, Grandpa appreciated the girl’s confidence and courage, traveling all alone in this big city. The girl was, needless to say, flattered. He even knew certain Malayalees in the publication she was interning at. Although this gentleman claimed to have had an impressive career in the past, the girl felt that he showed a profound ignorance of things in general as they strolled down past the street. For some odd reason, she lied that she has a highly placed Uncle in the Maharashtra IPS Cadre whom she could call for help while sight-seeing; but preferred otherwise for sheer adventure.

Pillai Uncle told her about a book shop nearby which has some better collection of old books where he was heading to next. He asked if she would like to join. The girl promptly agreed and they started towards this particular street across a few lanes. It was noon time and both of them were feeling hungry. They stopped at a decent-looking South Indian Dhaba where they ate vada-chutney with coffee. Pillai Uncle, in between the meal, attended a call from his son. As he spoke in Malayalam, he said that daddy was at a South Indian restaurant but did not mention whom he was with. Pillai Uncle did not let her pay the bill, ‘Don’t be silly!’ he said.

On the way to the bookshop he showed her the various landmarks and their importance. ‘Good that I met this person, that too a Malayalee grand, old man’, she thought.  Pillai discussed politics with her; but not informed enough for a person of the intellectual stature he claimed to possess. But she tried to put off the lingering doubts as arrogance. The visit to the book shop proved to be worthy enough as she found this beautiful Red Indian Poetry, a genre she has never heard of before, in addition to many good, old classics. The girl, fresh from a heartbreak, also found this ‘101 Uses for an Ex-Husband, Lover, Boy-Friend’! The shop owner treated Pillai Uncle, the regular customer and his guest with hot, steaming coffee. ‘Oh, the trip has been a wonderful one’, an elated girl said to herself.

Pillai Uncle then proposed to accompany her to the Gateway. On the way, he received another call, this time from his wife. As the girl listened to the conversation in Malyalam, she noticed Pillai Uncle dodging her repeated inquiry of who he was with. At the end of the call, Pillai Uncle apologetically said to the girl that he would explain it all to his wife later. ‘Women are after all women’, Pillai remarked. The girl pretended to him as well as to herself as if she did not hear it.

They got into a taxi towards the Gateway. Once inside the taxi, Pillai Uncle grew overwhelmingly affectionate to her. It started with Uncle Grandpa moving close to her in the seat. It later went on to gestures like petting and patting her. Alarm bells rang!  She panicked as Uncle Pillai showed no signs of stopping his display of fondness for her. The girl tried to collect herself. Uncle Pillai in between would show her the landmarks while continuing to bestow her with affection. The girl could hear her heartbeat as well as feel her face flushing with anger and fear but maintained calm. She contemplated on her options. First and foremost, it was she who was overly friendly with this stranger than the other way round. And the whole act looked like genuine affection. She was in this part of the city for the first time and could not communicate in Hindi properly. She was not sure if she should ask for help from the taxi-driver. Running away or creating a scene appeared foolish to her then. Pillai, who knew the place well enough, was in a stronger position. The girl decided that she should not reveal that she is frightened and that a strategy has to be worked out asap. In ten minutes, which seemed like ten, frozen epochs, they reached the Gateway.

Once out of the car, they walked towards the Gateway. She found the place crowded much to her relief. She frantically searched for a familiar face in the crowd. Pillai led her to the Gateway, the Taj, and the seaside through which the boat carrying Ajmal Kasab & Co entered and so on. The girl decided to stay with Pillai for the time-being and waited for his next move. When Pillai Uncle made this generous offer to escort her to Colaba and Churchgate, she calmly said ‘That is so sweet of you, Uncle Pillai, but I am afraid I cannot as I just got a call asking me to get back home soon.’ Swift came the reply from that disgusting face with bulging eyes and a smile so crooked and cocksure, ‘Are you running away because you are scared?’

Bingo! There it is: bloody direct and plain. How could have I ignored all those clues and be so stupid? She tried to control her rage. That menacingly-looking, white chutney-blot on his t- shirt, the distance he had carefully put right from the start, his total ignorance of the Maoist question in India, and oh yes, the punch statement – WOMEN ARE, AFTER ALL, SILLY, STUPID WOMEN- it all made sense to her perfectly then. ‘But I am not late yet you sly, slimy jerk’, she seethed in anger. The girl replied feigning a smile, ‘Uncle why do you think I am scared when my Uncle (the fictional, Maharashtra IPS Cadre Uncle posted in Mumbai) is just a call away?’

Uncle Pillai did not say anything and suggested that they would go to CST together as he also had to catch the metro for home. The girl in the hope that Pillai will henceforth behave properly agreed to it; besides, she wanted an amicable end to the situation. Thus, they got into another taxi.  She was relieved that he had bought her IPS Uncle story. But that comfortable belief was soon put to test because he played that final card: When she had offered to pay for the taxi, he said that she was being very silly again. ‘Look, I am rich enough’, he showed her the wallet with wads of currency. ‘You take my number and call this old man whenever you feel like’, he said. She understood that she had been wrong in trusting this man again. The girl however took the cell phone number thinking that once she’s back to her place, she should call him and blast him. The car soon reached CST.

Inside CST, while walking towards the metro train platforms, Uncle Pillai turned all spiritual, ‘It is by His design that we met today’. Before parting ways, the girl thanked him, gave him a handshake and conveyed her regards to his wife. As she walked towards platform number three, she thought it was better to delete Pillai Uncle’s cell phone number from her contact list.
September 2010

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Week 1: There is always a first time- Devina Kapoor

Ocean of Grass 
So as you know from my previous blog that only 3 people showed up for the first session. The manager of this blog, Neha and Gurleen (ya her surname is Judge, so What!!). We parked ourselves in this beautiful park in Versova, just opposite Costa Coffee, (not the Nana Nani park, the other one). We came with the books we were reading, the text that caught our eye recently, talked about the play we watched lately etc etc.. lying around in the ocean of the lusty green grass, just gazing at the sky, listening to some music (portable speakers), we three kept talking for hours. Ofcourse, we had audience, people peeping in from the road (well ofcourse girls are not supposed to lie down in the gardens).

Our session ended with a wholesome meal by anna outside the park, dosa, Idli, and chai..

Also, there is a one really interesting story about the gardener of this park, to be continued in the next post.
Some pictures for your joy..

Discussing the text

Chai and Why Loiter goes together 
Neha lazing as usual

A book on "how to groom yourself" for teenagers- God save the world!

Monday, 4 August 2014

Why Loiter Exactly ?- Devina Kapoor

                                                                                                  On a Sunday Morning,  when half the Mumbai was under the gin and tonic hangover, few girls (well few brave girls), came out of their houses, sacrificing their sleep.

Purpose? No No.. No purpose..

Oh Is it a big thing to come out without a purpose? Oh.. Only for girls.. Ya Right!

But why are they out then? Aren't they from good families?

Answer: To reclaim some spaces in the city.

Huh.. that..

"Reclaiming the spaces" or should we say "loitering"?
Well reclaiming the spaces sounds much better.

So ya, these handful of girls with a vague vision in their minds are out and spreading in the city.
You better watch out!
You want to know more? Fine I will tell you.

A Girl, well her name is "Neha Singh", you see the picture, she is the one lazing around. Well, ya, so Neha read this book called "Why loiter", (again please see the picture), recommended to her by her German roommate some six months back, which made a big impact on her, when the rebel in her processed the book, she couldn't resist to not to do anything about it.

What the book says you ask? well, here is the link to that.. go check it out, come back and read the blog. Why Loiter? (not promoting the book, but would be good if you read it)

So coming back, Neha kept thinking about the book and what good could come out of it.

So she called her friend, who also manages this blog for some brain storming and Neha came up with this idea of doing weekly session of why loiter. What to do in these sessions? anything you like, read, write, paint, play board games, anything and loiter.

Hmm.. how would that work out, manager of this blog thought.. well lets see.. she said.

WhatsApp groups were made, people were called, "love the idea" everybody said. 

Week 1: 3 people showed up. Neha, Me and Gurleen Judge. (ya her surname is Judge, don't get confused.) 

For more news on Week 1 and so forth, watch out this space. :)