We sent wishes. Didn't we?
May the moon charm you and the sun warm you. May your lips be assaulted by laughter. May the year bring health. Jobs. May you... may you... may the new year bring....
And the new year brought.
The news that even before the sun had a chance to dawn upon the first day of the new year, that two women - escorted by men - were molested by a mob of about seventy men.
Exhibit 1 of the year. Mumbai must be reeling. It reels rather regularly, this safe city of ours, no? Especially over the last few years, when photographers have been around to record her shame. The pictures have ensured front page fear where the news would otherwise have been a 'briefs' item or a single column somewhere.
I've kept that article open on a different window all day. Returned to it several times, trying to understand.
Is there a language with which one discusses this sort of problem? Some anthropological jargon? Some special gendered lens through which one can peer and begin to develop a perspective?
Where do I begin? With this, that I've never much been taken in by the 'safe city' bilge? With reminding myself of myself in Mumbai, of my friends there?
Or do I conjure up a remembered image of the Gateway of India?
That time I'd walked there with a male friend and he'd been sitting right beside me and how, within minutes, a bunch of men had begun to appear all around, to my right and left, and behind, crowding us in, and how their hands had begun to touch and I could only feel appalled that it should happen in a male friend's presence in broad daylight! And the fear of what it would be like if I had been sitting there alone. And how I have never, since that day, sat down to just look at the sea at the Gateway of India.
Perhaps, I should begin differently. Perhaps, I should talk of class, instead, and lifestyle divisions.
That there are people who stand outside... outside... looking in. That there are five-star hotels and parties and tickets that the average citizen cannot afford. That they stand out there, looking in, waiting, and when the party-goers step out, as they must at some point, then... then what?
What shall I say about this, then?
Shall we try to look at this as a migrants problem, then? As a problem of single men, throbbing with sexual desire and unable to touch the beautiful rich women they do desire?
Shall we try to look at this as a cultural problem, then? As a problem of men who have never partied with single women, never sat down and had a drink with them, never danced with them, never picked them up from their homes and safely dropped them off, never ever seen them up close - the sort of women who wear slinky, western clothes and go partying at night?
Shall we try to look at this as a western influence problem, then? As a problem of women who go out partying with men, drink with them, dance with them, step out into the fresh air at night?
Ah! It's beginning to sound easy, isn't it? It is beginning to sound like something we know, have heard, can believe. We know this beast.
This beast does not seem to understand that sex is a two-way street. It seems to think that the female of the species does not have a will of its own, does not deserve one. This beast is not empathetic. It only knows what it is, and it is not a woman.
This beast... how well I know it.
This beast says, don't. Don't, if you want to live. Don't, if you want to be safe. This beast stands breathing hard over our heads while we live fractured, fractioned lives wherein we build ourselves smaller and smaller cages to curl up and die in, unmolested.
And the thing is, that it really is a battle between us and the beast. At least, for me, it is. It is us or the beast. So, in a way - a rude, blistering, numbing way - it is time to pick up the cudgels and renew the pledge.
Because I had a nice new year's eve, you see. I had a nice time sitting at home with a few old friends, laughing and gossiping about the old times. Unafraid young women because they were home, locked in from the big, bad world. Women who kept glancing at the clock after eleven at night, and rushed home soon after midnight hugs and wishes, because they would not risk driving by themselves any later than that. Women who spent twice as much as they needed to - taking taxis instead of autos, because that's the price you pay for wanting to be out in the evening. Women who were clothed head to foot twice over since it is a cold winter night, but would have worried nevertheless.
And today, I renew my commitment to Blank Noise.
Because I will not expect it, and will not accept it.
I will not stop buying 'provocative' clothes. I will not be modest. I will not behave. I will not treat the night as a na-mehram I cannot be seen with. I will not change my stride to side-step the maps of our molestation. I will not call a violation by any other name. I will not make unwanted rules for myself.
I will crush the beast where I see it. With a stare, with a slur, with a scream, with a camera, with an alphabet at a crossing, with a pamphlet, with a map, with a voice, with a can of paint, with anything that comes to hand.
I will take the sun AND the moon, the day AND the night, the sky AND the sea, the daily grind AND the parties. I will take my rights as a citizen and nothing less.
Will you help?