So I have officially been called out for my delayed blog post, thank you Tobi for reminding me!
To be honest the following stories, that should appear in different categories, were very personal to me. They seemed more like a personal diary than a blog that anyone could read. So I hesitated. I revised. I hesitated some more. The following collections are a piece of my heart. I hope you like them!
“India is a bundle of contradictions held together by strong but invisible threads.” –Jawaharlal Nehru.
Even with the absence of stars the night was still beautiful. The moon hid shyly behind her dupatta, sneaking peaks when mother Night was not looking. The trees circled the house, ferociously protecting it from the aggressiveness of the city. While you could not escape the loud horns and busy highways of Sarita Vihar, the trees provided a sort of palanquin. Providing space for some secrecy and privacy behind the veils of nature. Sometimes peacefully or overwhelming loud. She had grown to appreciate the contradictions of the city. It reminded her of being a woman on her own abroad. India indeed was her first country, but already in a month it had taught her so much about her forgotten identity: gender…her womanhood…her femininity???? It was confusing. She could not process it. She walked around feeling suffocated yet it comforted her to be without air. In some of her more anxious moments she also felt the most powerful and in control of her body.
It was the looks that got to her. She was not a stranger to sexual harassment, and did not pretend that back in the States that she was not subject to a set of hoots and hollers and other cat calls. She realized how much she had internalized those thoughts, and thought nothing of them. That’s how it was. She knew “they” were not calling at her or groping her for the sake of an intellectual conversation, but she was also sure that it would never go farther than a butt grab, or a hey “sexy lady.”
Here she did not know why they stared so hard. It was like the men here had x-ray vision, and could see everything underneath her clothes. She felt naked when she left the house. Like no amount of covering could protect her from the stares. She learned to walk quickly with her head down. “Don’t make eye contact,” a friend had warned, “they take that as a sign that you are looking for what they are selling!” “Don’t touch any man,” another friend chided in. “They will think that you are available and interested.”
So her walk had adapted to some sort of tight rope walk. She balanced not making eye contact with not touching ANYONE in a very crowded street. She failed miserably. She wondered why she never got so offended at home, why she never felt so dirty, so weak, and so vulnerable to attack even in new cities. She turned slightly psychotic. She learned to be afraid of every man. By fearing everyone she also feared nothing. She figured if she prepared herself always for attack that there could be no shock in getting attacked. None of her male friends, heck most of her female friends could not understand her paranoia. They scolded her. Some told her to not be so cautious, others warned her that she was too trusting The overall message seemed to be to try harder, you are blessed to travel so shut up and enjoy every moment of it.
She began to think it was all in her head. As if she had created some fantasy world. But this dreamland was not full of milk and honey, it was real. It had blood, sweat, and her tears.
A month later she would adapt. Soon she would meet their gaze with defiance. Stare back so hard that they had no choice but to look away in shame. She would forget that there was a time when the thought of leaving the house created such a huge pain in her chest. She succeeded in trying harder; she shut up and smiled on cue.
She decided that she would not have picked a different city in India for all the gold in the world. She was always on her toes. She was never sure of anything, but she was convinced that she never needed to be. Even during the emotional breakdowns, she knew she was capable of anything. She could pick herself up within minutes. She found beauty where none was readily apparent. “You have to be adaptable if you are going to survive here,” someone once told her. She wanted to tell him that “adaptable” was not a strong enough word. You have to be able to transform yourself in minutes to protect your sanity here, she thought. But that excited her. Her schizo moments gave her the freedom to finally be whoever she wanted to be.