Male Colleague: Happy Women's Day!
Me (managing a half-smile): Thank you.
MC: Kya hua Madam? Aren't you feeling well?
Me: No I am perfectly alright. Thank you for asking.
MC: Show some enthusiasm Madam! Aaj Vishwa Mahila Diwas hai. World over, people are celebrating the spirit of womanhood... the umpteen sacrifices you make, your sternness and softness that make you special. (He smiles proudly as if he created women, waits for the halo to appear.)
Me: Yeah, sure.
Over a distance, I see women hugging each other happily, a tad frantically.
Meanwhile, three over-enthused male colleagues (Human Resources, before you ask) come over to my desk, dangling chocolates and scented roses.
They squeal in unison. Happy Women's Day!!!!
I sense a slight resentment in the air. Managing the half-smile again, I thank them for their wishes.
Rose-bearing Male Colleague No.1: Why so grumpy, my dear? We have fun things planned post-lunch for all the women. Today is all about you.
Rose-bearing Male Colleague No. 2: Are you PMSing? (Smirks, and looks around for support.)
MC: Women are unpredictable. Kuch karo toh you are the villain, kuch na karo toh bhi you are the villain. Karein toh kya karein? Damned if you do, damned if you don't.
They look at me quizzically. I sense a slight resentment in the air. Managing the half-smile again, I thank them for their wishes. They move ahead to another female colleague's desk and repeat the same enthused squealing. The woman, decked in festive garments, looks bright and elated to be wished. So do many others. Around the premises, I see women wishing each other happiness and strength. Feeling my eyes moisten, I leave my desk to withdraw to my Fortress of Solitude--the washroom. Locking myself in the corner-most cubicle, I pull down the seat cover. I feel warm tears rolling down my face as I sit. Before I can make sense of the deluge, the events of the previous evening inundate my head.
Already fuming after a verbal spat with a regressive autowala who blamed women drivers for the Mumbai traffic, I was too deep in my thoughts to notice I was about to collide with a figure at the entrance of my building. The boy (a neighbourhood grocer's errand guy, as I later found out), merely 13-14, nonchalantly winked and said, "Chudwayegi kya?" I was too stumped at this obscene proposition to react instantly. However, I gathered my wits and went after him, pulling at his collar and slapping him with all the strength that I could muster.
The boy (a neighbourhood grocer's errand guy, as I later found out), merely 13-14, nonchalantly winked and said, "Chudwayegi kya?"
Shocked, the youngling stood still, unsure of his next step. The guard came running, demanding, "Madam kya hua? Chotu ne kya kiya? (Madam, what happened? What did Chotu do?)" When I recounted the bewildered boy's lewd remark, all the while clutching at his bony hand to prevent him from escaping, the guard implored me to let the matter go. "Chhodo na Madam, baccha hai (Leave it, madam, he's just a boy)."
He turned to the boy then. "Chotu, badtameez! Madam ko sorry bol (Chotu, you lout. Say sorry to Madam)."
Lost cause, I knew. Of course I would have to let him go, like I let go of the auto driver who said, "Aurato ko driving school me admission hi nai dena chahiye (Women shouldn't be allowed admission to driving school)," earlier that evening. Like I let go of the drunkard trying to bump into my breasts on Worli seaface. Like I ignored the group of guys my younger brother's age on the promenade who sniggered, wolf-whistled and followed me while imitating my jog before turning their guns onto another female. Like I disregarded the pubescent guy, riding in the opposite direction, who actually did grope my right breast when the 12-year-old me, happy to have got her first period, was biking with gay abandon in a sleepy locality of Garia in Kolkata. Like I tried to forget about the school principal asking me to apologize to the standard 12 high-repute chemistry external whom I defamed in front of a swelling crowd for taking pictures of girls while they were bending down to work the tubes and burners. Like the myriad butt-pinches, clandestine strokes, insensitive jokes about nagging gold-digging wives/girlfriends, scathing remarks on female efficacy at workplace, street sexual harassment, suggestive hand gestures, or the pointed consistent leering.
Why should I be touched or leered at? And if I protest, why should I be told to keep shut...?
All to be let gone, to not be protested for too long, to be dismissed.
What, I ask, is the purpose of this blessed day then? How exactly is the spirit of womanhood being commemorated? And what is the spirit that the world keeps referring to anyway? Why is it that one moment I am being wished Happy Women's Day in office, and the next I am being sexually harassed on the road?
Why should I be touched or leered at? And if I protest, why should I be told to keep shut as he is a man and that he might ruin my face with acid, or destroy my career and life? Why was I holed up at home for two weeks after I mercilessly trashed two guys for harassing me? Why is it that when my auto-rickshaw toppled over, that man, sensing I had hurt my rib cage, was attempting to grasp my breast on the pretext of pulling me out, even when I was in excruciating pain? Why should I have to question the very purpose of being born a woman time and again?
In all probability, none of these occurrences will impede my life. They might slow me down but they'll never make me grind to a stop. At times, I will ignore the atrocity, at times I will protest. But each time I will feel aggrieved. I will fume at being gnawed at constantly. I will feel for the unnamed millions and billions of XX chromosomes who suffer silently. I will read and watch when there are demands made for change, empowerment, and action-and-not-words. And when my irritation reaches tipping point, I will cry to myself in the corner-most cubicle again.
When I was eight, I thought the world would be a secure place by the time I turned 18. Of course I was wrong.
When I was eight, I thought the world would be a secure place by the time I turned 18. Of course I was wrong. If anything, matters have taken a turn for the worse. I wonder how I will react when my daughter expresses shock at being leered at for the first time, or worse, at being lewdly touched. How will I comfort her? Should I tell her that boys will be boys; that even if you retaliate or demand an apology from one or two, the world will collectively shut you up? Should I keep her holed up at home after the incident to avoid possible retribution? Should I advise her to be inconspicuous at all times?
Will I die a contented woman?
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