A line of Control. A dress. A word. A slut.
It is not an easy admission to make, but I have used the word 'slut' whilst referring to another woman. And I have regretted using it.
In fact, I regretted using it within ten seconds of it having escaped my lips. It wasn't about what she wore. I wore less. It wasn't about make-up. She used none. In retrospect, it was about anger, and a shade of envy.
This is about four years ago. I was sitting around with a couple of young male friends. They were talking about the difficulty of getting girls to attend parties. They asked me, half joking, if I could get them through to some girls.
And stupidly, sanctimously, I shrugged and said, 'I don't know any girls who'd go out partying with strangers. Well, maybe I know one. She's a bit of a slut.'
The boys reacted unexpectedly. They exchanged glances and one said, 'Shhh. Don't ever use that word for a woman.'
My humiliation has rarely been so complete as it was in that instant.
What had been going on in my mind? Did I disrespect girls who went out with boys too soon? But I too have hung out with men, when introduced through other friends. What did I disrespect about the girl?
It took years for me to figure out what and why. I envied the girl a little. She did what she wanted. She seemed not to be afraid of being judged by her family or other people like me. It is a different story that a lot of her recklessness and defiance was rooted in her fear of being judged by her own city-bred peers, of not 'fitting in' in glamourous circles. But I did not judge her because of her fears; I judged her because of mine.
There was another reason why I was so flippantly moralistic. The man who shushed me had not been paying enough attention to me. And I craved his attention. I wanted to win his approval, somehow. To show that I was better than those 'easy' girls he hung out with. After all, all my life, I had been told that men like girls who play hard-to-get; that they respect girls with the hands-off approach.
Unfortunately, the effect was opposite to the one desired. But the good thing was that I was immediately chastened, and flung into (a miserable soggy pit of) self-reflection. Here was a man I liked and, in an uncomprehending, instinctive fashion, respected. And whose respect I may have lost.
I began to think about why I respected him - not because he partied, not because he swore and provoked and argued. Perhaps, because he was one of the few men I'd met who was neither awkward around me, nor aggressively friendly. He seemed to ask nothing of me and never crossed any lines - physical or social. Never once did I fear either him or his morality.
Never again has the word slut crossed my lips, or even my mind.
In fact, when a bunch of us journalists were outside a restaurant, an acquaintance leaned over and whispered - 'See those girls? They're sluts!' - I was surprised.
The women being referred to were in tight jeans, skirts and halter tops, lots of mascara, no male escorts.
I asked, 'How do you know?'
I simply noted that the clothes were very smart, and considered asking them where they shopped.
'See! They're waiting to get picked up,' she continued.
'Are they?' I said, in a deliberately bored voice, and turned away.