Walking down the street

“Hey you! Yes you! What are you looking at?” dear reader, isn’t this what we all shout (in our mind ofcourse) when we notice someone undressing us with their eyes? One day, as I was walking on the street near my home, running my daily errands, I passed by a guy talking on the phone. He actually stopped talking and stared at me saying, “Wow! Even the lace of your bra matches the colour of your dress.” What in the…? Of course, I pretended not to have even heard him and continued marching ahead without even pausing in my step.

I should be proud of myself for not reacting to his crazy comment, shouldn’t I? Or should I? I was seething inside by the time I reached home. Almost all of us have experienced countless such moments in our lives. I have heard that men face some such bizarre situations too, but definitely not as much as women.

One other day, I was clad in the utmost ethnic attire of India – a saree. I was fully, decently covered from head to toe. Being in a rush to reach my workplace, I beeped the horn of my scooter. And as my luck would have it, the fellow gaily jaunting in the middle of the street happened to be yet another motherless fellow. He turned around, looked at me, and then passed some lewd comments which I cannot even bring myself to replicate here!

A few days ago, a few pre-teen girls I know, told me that they faced mental harassment at their gym from the gym coach. He would taunt them about their physique, about their looks and even their attire. One day, one of the girls just lost her temper and outright asked him, “Sir, why don’t you go judge a modeling contest or the Olympics or something instead of troubling us daily?” The coach was thankfully shocked into silence.

A few days later, I happened to meet the ‘brave’ girl again. I asked her how her cheerleading practice at the gym was going. And she replied, “My parents made me quit.” I was stunned. She was a cheerleading champion. “How could you quit? What happened?” And the morose not-so-little girl explained, “When my folks came to know about my outburst, they got afraid. They were scared that the coach would try to avenge the ‘insult’ that I had inflicted upon him.”

“What nonsense!” I burst out, “He is not the only coach there. I am sure you could take the matter up with the higher authorities of the gym.” “I could, but to what purpose? They would let him off with only a plain vanilla warning, even if that. And more than likely, he would come back stronger to affect either my grades or worse,” she concluded. That explanation coming from a pre-teenager shut me up effectively.

A few days ago, I attended a party. There were of course many people present there, most of who I knew. A few females in the party made a beeline straight for the washroom as soon as they entered the venue. ‘How vain!’ I thought to myself, ‘they’ve come here from home and yet they want to waste time touching up their make-up and brushing their hair?’

After a while, my pride burst like an over-inflated balloon. The women had come to the party dressed in super simple clothes, but their trip to the washroom changed them into beautiful Greek Goddesses. Gone was the super boring and staid cotton “salwar-suit-dupatta” combination. In its place was now a beautiful sari replete with a shimmery golden blouse and very modern hairdo! Yet another lady had changed out of her elegant but boring formal kurta into a classy, shiny, flowing top! A very dear friend of mine had arrived at the venue suitably dressed for the party, but her make-up magic in the washroom had transformed her into a diva.

I wondered why they hadn’t done all this in the air-conditioned comfort at home instead of changing in the smelly washroom. The answer came to me a few hours later as the party began wrapping up. We had had a great time exchanging pleasantries outside our workplace. I had even enjoyed chatting with an otherwise ‘bitchy’ lady from work. Outside the workplace, in this social setting, she had felt comfortable enough to tell me all about her financial struggles and how much she needed this job. Maybe the stress had gotten to her and made her behave so badly towards me at work, I realized.

As we began readying to exit the party, most of the ladies once again made a beeline for the washroom. ‘What now?’ I thought to myself. I had to stay back and wait for my friend as she lived close to my place and I had offered to drive her home. Finally, the diva make up and hairdo gone, replaced with a boring bun, she came out.

Once we were safely cocooned in my car, I asked her, “You looked so beautiful tonight with that make-up and hairdo. Why did you have to remove it?” She turned towards me and replied candidly, “Babe, your housing complex has security cameras, mine doesn’t”. “Shikha! What in the world do security cameras have to do with your makeup?” I asked in exasperation. Her reply left me astounded.

“I am returning home so late, dropped by someone in an expensive car. My attire shouts that I have been to a party. If my neighbours or someone in the neighbourhood sees me like this, they are going to assume the worst of me,” she was cool. I was not. “Did you drink something? Are you drunk?” I almost shouted at her. Shikha, my super smart, wise friend was making no sense at all.

“Sweets, I did have a glass of wine, but I am not drunk. My husband travels eight months a year. My in-laws are no more and my parents live in the States with my brother. So basically, I live alone with my infant for better part of the year. If anyone ever starts thinking of me as an irresponsible single mother, they are going to start speaking negatively about my character. Moreover, these days, one cannot trust anyone. That is why I make it a point to always look like a ‘behenji’ when my husband is away. Otherwise, people of all types will start trying to take undue advantage of my situation,” she reasoned.

“So they don’t take undue advantage now?” I asked her. “Well, my neighbours are fortunately extremely sweet people. The gentleman has served in the army and therefore the lady understands my ‘single mother for eight months a year’ situation. But other than that, I have had everyone from the milkman to the security guy to the shopkeeper ask me about the whereabouts of my husband. Why just that? I have heard gossip-mongers discussing my ‘open’ status too!” she explained as if talking to a small child.

By now, we had reached her home and Shikha got out of my car. She clearly and loudly thanked me, making sure to mention my name so that anyone within hearing shot would know she’d returned home with a female. I wryly shook my head and drove on home. As I turned the key in the lock, I felt grateful for my huge, loving, sometimes over-stifling family. Never again would I take their presence for granted, I vowed to myself.

P.S. Not all the experiences and characters mentioned in the above post are true, but not all are fake either. Some are true, some fake and others, well, let’s call them inspired. 

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