Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Delhi, after December

I suppose I had to revisit Delhi in order to recover.

I didn't even know that I had any recovering to do. When I heard of the gangrape-murder of December 16, 2012, I must confess that I didn’t feel shock. 

Anger, yes. But I read of brutal rape frequently; fresh reports poured in every day. After 'Nirbhaya' died, I tried to put my anger to work. I joined campaigns. I pledged to reclaim city nights. And I carried around a knot of resentment that I wouldn’t acknowledge.

Whenever anybody talked about how unsafe Delhi is, I was quick to leap to its defense. I've lived a few years in Delhi and those were good years. Years of personal and professional growth. No worse than years spent in Mumbai or any other town. But secretly, I felt angry at Delhi. How could I say I love a city that allows such terror? How could I talk of ruinous, scorching beauty, of balconies and terraces, of silver and cycle rickshaws? Every beautiful memory was scarred by December 2012.

So, I stopped defending the city. A part of me accepted quietly that no place in my country was safe, that I would never feel safe again. I accepted that if change did come, it would probably come too late for women of my generation. I signed the petitions and stood with the placards. But I stood with gall in my heart.

But last week I was in Delhi again. I sat in a small garden, reading a book. An older woman walked past. She maintains the garden, dotting it with bursts of bright spring flowers. I half-heard a friend telling her son the names of flowers. Almost physically, I felt my internal pall lift. I began, once again, to feel safe.

At a metro station, on the platform, I saw a young couple. The girl reached out, touched the boy’s face. And I felt safe. I stepped into a general coach instead of the pink one reserved for women. I noticed that several other women took the option of travelling in the unreserved coaches. Men of all ages boarded, and they stood at a respectful distance if they could help it. And I felt safe.

One afternoon, I stood at a chana-kulcha stall on the roadside. There were mostly male customers. Initially I hesitated, wondering if everyone’s stares would make me uncomfortable. Then I felt defiant and placed an order. I asked the vendor to hold the butter. He half-smiled, said, “Anything you want, madam.” And I felt safe.

I asked men for directions, and they directed me carefully, willingly. I asked men for food and I was served with a garnish of wit and charm. The knot of anger circulating in my blood stream began to melt. The city restored my sense of normalcy, even my self-respect.

I cannot explain how my self-respect was tied up with Nirbhaya and other women who are raped, killed or mutilated. Perhaps my anger came from humiliation. It was as if my countrymen were reminding me that I wasn’t an equal human being. And no matter how many cities I moved, no matter what I did for a living, I couldn’t win against that attitude.

But now, enjoying Delhi instead of being afraid of it, my ache has been blunted. I feel calmer, safer. So, to the home ministries of all states wanting safer cities, I say: Give us night buses. Give us gardens and well-lit trains and well-behaved men. Don’t sequester us. Don’t pamper us. Let us enjoy the city. And we will create our own feelings of safety.
Published here


Sunil Deepak said...

Dreams and nighmares they cohabit - you just need four high on alcohol or drugs or may be only on testosterone, and suddenly everything looks unsafe ..

Ravi said...

Like you this is how Delhi is close to my being. I've lived a few years in Delhi and those were good years. Years of personal and scholastic growth. I am a Delhiite at heart. But in later years when I read of Blue and Redline buses crushing people to death, and now recently the Ram Singh rape case, I feel hurt and saddened for the city that I always identified with.

From the Mughal era, to the post-partition demographic change, to the new Arab-springesque emergence of this City, I believe the heart of India lies in Delhi.

Good Post.

Khoty Mathur said...

I am glad that visitng Delhi restored your faith in the warmth and essence of your city. I've always known that Mumbaikars (for that is my city) are mostly gentle, easygoing and civilised. But the uncivilised and barbaric do exist in our cities and if our politicians and police won't let them know they are accountable for their behaviour, the onus will be on the united Indian public.

Unknown said...

Oh how i relate to this post especially after hearing so much negative about Mumbai the city I love. I guess with all the bad, there is also so much good and warmth that helps us overcome our fears. It is also the people that we are. Hopeful and smitten by the good we see.

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