After a long day of work, I decided to unwind over beer and sheesha with my lovely cousin at a restaurant of an upscale market in South Delhi. We entered and were greeted with warmth and enthusiasm by the staff, as they would welcome any other regular guests. As we sat down, I shot a glance to my right and saw two brawny men sitting at the table right next to ours. They were ogling at us with shameless delight. My first reaction was burning rage. I wanted to tell them off, beat them up, call the manager to our rescue, change our table, stare back hard and stern at them, or just simply leave the restaurant. I instead took my silent council for a minute and decided to ignore them at best. Many would think, why? Why did I not do something about it? Why did I not stand my ground? Well since we keep visiting the restaurant every so often, I decided against creating a scene for as long as my cousin and I were not being harmed or harassed in any way (not to mention that lecherous staring is a form of harassment, but never mind, this is Delhi in question, Hello!!). We settled in, ordered our beer and sheesha. I looked around; people had their eyes glued on the television screen, deeply engrossed in a LIVE cricket match, occasionally hooting and clapping. It felt like a fun, chilled ambience. The place was bustling with young people, who had come, to watch the match and have a good time, just like us, except that there was one difference- all were in groups of 3 or 4 and all these groups consisted of at least 1 male companion. At this point of time, our beer and sheehsa had arrived. My cousin is planning to attend B School next year and is just starting to prepare for her GMAT. She asked me to help her out with the vocabulary section. I was gleefully scribbling fancy words on a piece of paper, in a bid to pompously brandish my vocabulary. I wanted to be completely immodest about it!! As we were engaged in our sisterly banter, completely zoned out, in an imaginary classroom of sorts, my sister suddenly felt a heavy pat on her shoulder. She looked back and saw that it was one of those men sitting next to us. He audaciously asked- “Do you like cricket?”. My cousin retorted firmly saying “No”. He hissed- “No? Really??”. She ignored him and turned back to me, and we silently exchanged a look of mutual disdain. However, we were feeling so upbeat about our vocabulary session, that instead of dwelling on what had just happened, we resumed doing what we were doing. Our session was again rudely interrupted, when my sister felt another heavy hand on her shoulder. She turned around to again find the same guy. This time he asked her . “Do you have a lighter?”. My sister exasperated now, loudly said “No”. Our feelings had suddenly elevated from passive disdain to disgusted rage. We were well into our second round of beers. I had stopped scribbling now. We started feeling a little uncomfortable and I could feel myself cringing in the couch, with an impatient desire to lash out. I was just starting to get up and confront the men, when my sister started calming me down saying, “its ok, it happens all the time!” Sigh!!!! Ofcourse the men could perceive the uneasiness and resentment that their actions had inflicted on us, and were preposterously smirking at each other. I somehow tried cooling myself down and was just thinking on the lines of calling for the cheque when something utterly unbelievable happened. This very man, who had been bothering us all this while, got up, came to our table with a cigarette in his mouth and bent down on our sheesha to light it up from the burning coal. We were left aghast. I was now seething with mad indignation and had almost reached my tipping point. Knowing what could follow if we sat there even for a second longer, my ever discerning cousin immediately gestured to the waiter and he shifted us to their outdoor seating area. We narrated the entire happening to him. He empathized with us and called the manager and briefed him about the situation. The manager then gave the cheque to these men and asked them to leave.
Ever since, I have been trying to psychoanalyze the episode. Why were my cousin and I subjected to such a harrowing experience? Why would anyone harass 2 young girls who had come out to have a good time with each other? Were we skimpily dressed? NO. Did we exude inviting vibes? NO. Was our body language provocative in any manner?. No. Does drinking beer and smoking sheesha inadvertently send out wrong signals? MAYBE (many of you must be thinking it’s a crass inference!). Is it because we were not being chaperoned by a male companion? MAYBE. Then I clubbed the last 2 conjectures. Are 2 women who venture out alone to a restaurant to drink beer and smoke sheesha, assumed to be vulnerable enough to be considered promiscuous and fast?? Waves of such thoughts kept barraging my mental peace throughout the evening.
The reason could be any one of the above. I really do not know. Or maybe it is just that some debauched men, who strongly believe that they can get away with anything, are ravaging my city. They have zilch fear. No fear of law, no fear of social consequences and above all no fear of God. As for the women, everything boils down to this- “An act as simple as venturing out for a drink with your sister or a female friend is fraught with the peril of attracting unsolicited attention and sometimes even serious harm”. If I ever tell my mother about what happened, she will never stop me from going out, but will be forever fearful and worried about my safety. If I tell my friends about it, they will say “its normal, common, it happens all the time!”. If I tell some affluent acquaintances about it, they would say, “you should go to more fancy restaurants, they are expensive but at least safe!!” Some would suggest, “You may as well chill at home” or “You could have chosen a better time of the day to go”.
All these suggestions and responses are impertinent to nub of the matter. All I know is that I have been denied my basic human right, the fundamental right of moving about uninhibited and fearless, on the streets of my own City. I feel sad, angry, frustrated, resentful, caged, discriminated, vulnerable, frail but above all- HELPLESS!