By: Aniesha Brahma
I have lived in Kolkata, India for the last twenty-six years. I saw my city change from a sleepy, safe haven to a pretty unsafe city. Once upon a time taking a cab alone for a woman at 9:30 pm was not a big deal. And now, we have to second guess all our decision. It is a blessing that transportation apps like Uber exist.
But growing up in India has had an unique charm of its own. I was brought up in the absolutely Bengali culture where daal-bhaat-maach (lentils, rice and fish) have been a must in our meals. Where, the month of October meant the celebration of the longest festival in the world: Durga Pujos for five days. Almost everyone knows the myth of this great Goddess. She was created because Asura (the demon) had a boon in which he did not want to be defeated in the hands of a man.
The funny thing about our country is that while women made out of earth are worshipped as Goddesses, the flesh and blood women are mistreated in every other household. Perhaps not by physical violence but subtle discriminations like, ‘Being a woman, should you be doing this?’ or ‘It is not wise for a woman to roam the streets alone at night.’ When a girl grows up hearing the dos and the don’ts of being a woman, she would feel inadequate.
Unfortunately we are conditioned from a very young age to think our safety is our responsibility. So matter how great the music might be playing at a discotheque, we are forced to leave the place early. Because our safety comes first. And you never know what kind of people might be lurking in the shadows. Our parents mean well, and they worry about us, and so we give a lot of fun things a miss in this city.
Every young adult who started traveling on their own using the public transport has been harassed at least once in their lives, either verbally or physically. Creeps trying to feel you up as you struggle to get the change out of your purse for your bus fare, or your auto fare is something everyone has suffered from. Lewd and unwanted comments from the hooligans in the streets as one walks by is another harassment one faces. While most women tend to ignore this, others try to protest only to be shut down by the bystanders who do nothing of notice to help.
Yet in this same city on an evening to and from Princep Ghat which is completely off-route from my house, my friend and I had the most brilliant experience. Our taxi driver drove us to the place, even fought with another taxi driver trying to peer in through the window. On the way back, a policeman flagged down a bus for us to stop. The conductor and fellow passengers made enough room for us to stand properly in the crowded bus. One of them even showed us the way to the auto rickshaw stand when we had to get off, and take the auto home. Everyone helped and helped so willingly, and without being asked for it, that it restored my faith in my beautiful city.
It also made me realize how vital it is for everyone to know how to drive a car. I often fantasize about driving a car around at night, with soft music playing and no one but my thoughts for company. It might seem like a crazy idea to a lot of people. Because the most common reaction I received after voicing this thought has been, ‘Do you know how unsafe your city is?’ Well, I’ll never know if I always live in fear of what might happen. I might just miss out on an experience of a lifetime. So, learning how to drive is definitely on my bucket list for now.
Back in June-July 2015, I had gone to Mumbai. One night I was returning to my cousin’s place from Andheri East railway station on my own. Not only was my auto driver nice enough to figure out where I wanted to go, he even showed me three landmarks I need to bear in mind every time I commute on the route we were currently in. Because I could not find the correct lane on time, we actually gave me a discount of Rs 10 on the fare, claiming if I knew the way, that would have been the fare! It got me thinking that maybe our own expectations influence the experiences we have.
I have not travelled much: just to Pondicherry with my mother in 2010, to Darjeeling with friends in December 2012, to Udaipur, Jaiselmer, and Ajmer with friends again in January 2015. I would love to explore my country more. To see which are the cities a woman can travel by herself safely. To discover places people would usually not bother checking out.
Since I love writing, I want to go to hill stations which offer you the solitude and quiet, that one really needs when crafting a new story. I was far too young to travel alone so long. I am thankful that my mother believes in letting me go (much to the chagrin of the rest of the family) and explore places on my own. She does worry. But only when I forget to send her a text updating her about my whereabouts on time.
Being a woman in Indian is a complete paradox in itself. You will find yourself both loving it and hating it. But at the end of the day, you’ll make your peace with it and begin to the enjoy the adventure that comes along with it.