You can call it road rage. I was on the road and was outraged. Plus the fact that I acted on my rage makes me the offender, somewhat. I was in a hurry and could have easily avoided it. But I didn't. I couldn't.
It was a Tuesday and a holiday for me. Midweek holidays are best utilised running errands. I am, however, mostly chased by the errands before I decide to pay heed. So grudgingly, I decided to visit the grocery store. It is strange how safe we women feel in our cars with the windows rolled up while we listen to the radio jockey introduce the next song on the countdown. Hence, I was oblivious to the other people on the road. The chances of it being a safe day were stacked in my favour. I am nearing forty, have sufficient grey hair, and I drive a drab looking SUV with windows always rolled up. I was in my cocoon and liking the countdown playing on the radio.
In front of me, were two men on a bike towards the left, minding their own business. Both were wearing helmets and looked fairly responsible what with not zigzagging through the traffic and keeping to their lane. And then it changed. From the right, a scooty carrying three girls overtook my car. The girls looked roughly my elder one's age, nearly fourteen. First the pillion rider's helmet came off, then the chap in the front flicked his helmet's visor open, and slowed down to the scooty's speed. Then the leering started. The girls seemed unmindful, but I wasn't. The men inched a little closer, ogling at whatever skin there was to see. Those girls were as old as my boys, a few years older than my niece. They were kids. I am a mother. And if you want to see a devil on the road, there is no better fire-breather than an outraged mother.
"I somewhere learnt to keep quiet, to ignore, to step out in an armour, and to look purposeful on the road. The societal conditioning did that - silently, subtly and surely. "
Hence, I sped a little first, and then glued my hand to the horn. The bike swerved to the left. This time I slowed down and rolled the window down. Choicest of the abuses were hurled at the two in the language they understand, while the girls, still chatting amongst themselves, sped past. The two men were too shocked to react, and took the next exit off the highway. I realised I was shaking. Was it anger? Was it fear? Did the situation warrant such a reaction? Was it simply road rage?
My mind flashed back to our days at that age. We would be unmindful too, or at least seemed to be. We, the growing women, took it for granted. We would be ogled at, and so we decided to ignore it all. But somewhere it kept piling up - each whistle, each rasping whisper in the ear, each brush - it just sat in a dark corner without me realising. And that day when I saw those girls, I saw myself, I saw my son's friends, I saw my niece. And I saw the pile hidden in the dark folds of my mind spill out. The primal instinct told me to swerve the car a little more and get those men to fall off. I did not listen to that instinct, just like most other woman. That is the man's forte. For he lets it govern his head when he gawks, and takes confident steps to trample a woman's dignity. We keep ours' bottled up, and sometimes resort to the next best thing - making them aware of their hideous faces. I hope I succeeded on that count.
I am not sure if they even gave it a thought after that. But in that moment, they knew the girls were not alone, that others were watching, and that things can go terribly wrong for them. There was a flash of awkwardness on their face, however brief. So for that one moment, they knew what they did. They saw hatred in my face and heard it in my voice. For that one moment I stood avenged.
"First the pillion rider's helmet came off, then the chap in the front flicked his helmet's visor open, and slowed down to the scooty's speed. Then the leering started."
Later, as I reflected on my reaction, I realised that conditioning doesn't erase the rage. It hides it. It makes us believe that we are strong and are blessed with a tough hide. It repeatedly tells us that we are women, and we are resilient, when all it does is benumbs us for that moment, those days, and all these years. And then one day, you see a young reflection of yourself on the road pretending to be above the lustful gaze. That's when rage tears through the quiet layers of the so-called strength, and snarls. That's when you realise that you hadn't been above it all. And that is when you come face to face with yourself.
My mother never shut me up. She always stood by me. Yet, I somewhere learnt to keep quiet, to ignore, to step out in an armour, and to look purposeful on the road. The societal conditioning did that - silently, subtly and surely. That day I realised that being a parent is not enough. Talking to them is not enough. I will have to do much more. I'll have to constantly undo the conditioning that society does. That day I realised I will have to fight harder to make sure that the boys do not become the men on the bike.