The Fear of the Gaze

I got off the auto-rickshaw and was moving towards the house, when I saw them. Two strangers staring at me, smiling leacherously, a smile which most women must be well acquainted with. I stared back angrily, they laughed and started moving towards me slowly. I felt uncomfortable with their unabashed gaze, and clapped my hands, my call for the two dogs, Angrez and Bhuta, who are my playmates here.

They came out from under the car and licked my hands, they walked by my side. I wanted to convey that dare you come closer, my dogs will rip you apart. I looked at them again, they smirked with their pan smeared lips, and I could feel my own fear. The fear that I have at times felt sitting in an auto-rickshaw and being watched from the mirror. The fear that I have also felt while going back home in a Metro, when late.The fear that I felt on being stared at by that red haired man in the train to Jhabua.The fear that suffocates me and makes my blood boil too often, but then I let it evaporate in silence.

I tried to reason with myself, perhaps they were just standing there for some valid cause, maybe they had just dropped someone from their car.

But then what got me suspicious was the fact that one of them just got water from someone’s home, and I had recently heard the rumour of people robbing houses on the pretext of asking for water. This was silly, I was connecting various dots in my imaginary danger.

The truth was that their stereotypical hooligan-like faces, their red lips, those piercing eyes, and the fact that they were relishing the fear on my face, it made me hate them. I could imagine how I must be looking, a timid stupid human. It definitely must provide pleasure to a bully and that is precisely who they were, bullies.

It has been a day, but I cannot get over it, it is still there in my mind, that someone, without saying a word, without physically harming me, just with a stare, could shake me right outside my house. Such is the pervasiveness of this fear, such is the extent to which I allow myself to be victimized. It is not as if this has happened for the first time, it happens every now and then, and I continue to live life as I want to, with my freedom, but it always affects me.

I wonder, Why am I letting this happen to my mind? Why do I raise that bulky man to such pedestal of power,when maybe he is not. I am sure many would have reasoned that he is just an immature guy who had nothing better to do on a lazy afternoon than to stare at a woman who calls two dogs by clapping her hands.

But listen, no matter who you are, whether you are a juvenile bum or a patronizing elderly, I don’t want you to stare at me,  it is not your existence, but my fear which troubles me.

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Have a seat?

If you live in Delhi, and travel frequently by the Metro, and if, you change your line at Rajiv Chowk, you deserve a hug. On second thoughts, you might not want that, having forcibely been hugged (clubbed?) by the swarm of fellow citizens .Having somehow managed to set foot inside and on feeling the Metro’s floor with your feet (i.e. you are not stuck between two people and hanging), the next challenge is to grab a seat.

After a tiring day, and the war to get in, a seat seems like human’s creation of paradise. All you want to do is to drop your weight against that sturdiness, let your body act like a fluid which would be shaped by the container…And that moment… when you really get that seat…especially on that terrible day when your laptop weighs heavier than yourself… or when you forget to have lunch…that feeling my friend, of gaining access to a seat, its orgasmic.

I often travel standing, for there are others who need the seat more than I do (in other words I generally don’t find a seat), and also, because standing  in between, hanging seemigly victimised, you get a chance to look around and observe how people really use the seat, what does a seat mean to different persons? What does a seat mean to you? Perhaps the meaning of the seat varies with  your understanding of your own self? So maybe the question must be reframed to who are you when it comes to a seat?

I possess the seat:

There are some, who enter with an air of ownership. I own this seat, and I deserve to spread my flesh on this material as much as I possibly can . It is my right.

Touch-me-NOT:

There are some who do not wish to rub skin with others. They create a boundary, an isolated seating arrangement with the help of side-bags or shopping bags etc.

You really are invisible, I can see through you:

There are some who look through you, without flinching. They convince you that your pleading face or the anger of an elderly lady is unseen by those eyes, which are staring at some ghost in another zone altogether. No matter how difficult it is for you to stand with your seven bags, they continue to sit right in front of you. You wonder if they are human, they wonder if you are a fool to be carrying so much in the Metro.

I am so tired I believe that I am a woman, an elderly or a person with disability     (even though I am not):

These are the extremely tired species, who occupy seats reserved on the basis of gender, age or physical disability. It is obvious to occupy those seats if not needed, but often one finds them full, while the ones who might apparently need it more, are standing, hanging or trying to balance. Those are hard nuts (occupants), it is difficult to talk sense to them and this leads to the role of the next category.

I am the seat-activist:

They are the ones who help others in need for a seat. They would ask men to get up for women, and youngsters to make space for the elderly. They would offer their own seats and might not accept one even when there is plenty of space. Some of them would stand against the pole, look outside while banging their head to music, some would stand with their head raised in pride, some glare and look around for any more victims of seat-bullying.

I share- I am sorry I am sitting- I am sorry for my existence (let me shrink a bit):

These are the empathetic and kind souls, they realize others’ need.

Some of them even go to extremes, they sit on the tip and manage to fit in some more people, no matter how uncomfortable it would be for even those whom they are trying to help. Maybe, this is just my assumption, maybe, they went to school in a private auto-rickshaw like I did.Now that I look back at it, I am unable to decipher, how I managed to fit in, fit into that autorickshaw with at least twelve or more species of my kind. How did we manage to share that space, especially that additional wooden board, the jugaad in the name of well…seat?

I am flexible, will you shift please?

These are people who assert their right and also convince others to make space due to their body’s flexibility. They are the ones who make best use of the kindness of above-mentioned category and truly complement their efforts.

I need space, and I shall fight for it!

They are the ones who have really had a bad day, and you better let them sit, than have them ravaging across the compartment. They don’t need other agents, they can fight for themselves, bully someone, stare and embarass or even continuously pass comments until allowed to sit. Their pain and discomfort is greater than anyone else’s and hence they believe in single-minded obsession for possession of the seat.

If we don’t sit together, we might not remain best friends:

They are probably superstitious that  a tangible distance in between could create a rift in their bond. They always sit together and would request people to move somewhere else if possible, to make sure their togetherness is not hampered. They love each other so much, that if they were standing, and one seat is vacant, they can’t decide who should sit, when both of them desperately want to sit there. On such occasions, they also manage to convince the flexible ones to shift a bit more and try to fit in, together.

I am grounded

They have either given up, or are wanting to show they don’t care. So there are some, who sit on the floor with a sad expression and give fleeting glances to those sitting higher, while there are others who express their comfort on ground in every possible manner.

Then there are these special categories who perceive differently not just the seat but the entire space altogether:

I am in my living room:

They are often almost sliding while texting on their celphones, or reading the book in such demeanour that it makes you grind your teeth while you swing and sway each time the Metro halts.

I am in the classroom eating my tiffin:

They stealthily eat from their tiffin box/from something inside a huge polythene bag/from something wrapped in aluminium foil etc. and gulp without having chewed upon their food normally. Their faces bear testimony to sheer delight and guilt which arise simultaneously. They are hard to miss, because amidst body odours and tired deodarants, arise the smell of Paratha Sabzi, or mango pickle. You try hard to ignore, but your jealousy cannot be hidden,you just swallow back in acceptance.

I am in a telephone-booth:

So they have perceived themselves to be inside a cubicle, and assume that none of us can listen to them cribbing about their boyfriend’s changing behaviour, and how their life has become redundant after marriage. They might themselves want the world to know that they are handling a crucial deal or that they are about to win a date. The intent varies.

These were just some of the categories, there are so many more, I do hope to update them.

No offence please 🙂