I’m from Chandigarh. Now, Chandigarh is a lovely city, but the boys riding their fancy Enfields are often far from pleasant. And of course when I say ‘Chandigarh’, I could just as well be referring to any part of India. Men and the society they’ve built is largely unpleasant for women in most parts of our country.
Let me begin by admitting that I’ve lived a largely protected life. I am from the privileged lot who wasn’t killed in the womb, forced into prostitution, married off before puberty or tortured for dowry. I am educated, I hold a job and am married to a lovely man who respects me.
Perhaps being in this rare and privileged lot should be enough for me. But then by nature, man or woman, we’re all greedy and I must ask for more.
I don’t think it occurs to most men that they are men. Bear with me please. I have a point to make, I promise.
I believe that men aren’t constantly aware of being a man. While I agree that gender-specific roles find their way round the heads of both men and women, it is my firm belief that women rarely ever get to forget that they’re women. And that, I believe, is telling of a society that doesn’t give them the freedom they need from this constant reminder.
In India, a woman is always aware of her gender. Always adjusting her dupatta, wary or any man who comes within 2 feet of her, suspicious of friendly hellos and always alert. Always aware.
When the clock strikes 8 at work, women are reminded that they are women and must head home safely before it gets dark.
School girls are reminded to keep their legs together and watch their skirts.
Sit this way.
Don’t smile too much.
Don’t go alone.
Don’t work late.
Take a cab home, the company will pay.
Someone should drop you home.
Keep latitude on.
Don’t trust the ricksha wallah.
Stay on the phone till you get home.
Watch your neck line.
Call me when you reach home.
Mumbai, while you are far from perfect, you have allowed me to forget my gender from time to time. I haven’t had to think twice while boarding a late night local or hanging out at marine drive all night. I haven’t had to worry too much about the men. There were a few who were lewd but as a woman I’ve come to expect that.
You’ve allowed me to forget my gender in board room meetings, and late night dinners.
And as I leave you, Mumbai, I’m suddenly acutely aware that now I might need to remember more than just my name. I might need to remember and be conscious of my gender.
Mumbai teaches you many things. Not so much about the city, but about yourself.
As I prepare to leave Mumbai I feel a sense of loss. I’ll miss the locals, the sea but most of all I’ll miss the person that Mumbai made me.
As a tribute to the city that has given me so much I will be writing about the ways in which Mumbai has enriched me.
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