the best summers of my life were the summer holidays i spent at thatha(grandfather)’s place in madras. my brother and i would look forward to loads of chellam-kuduthufying (affection) and edam-kuduthufying (long-leash-ness). in short it was just a whole month of teens-will-be-teens.
and we had a rigorous schedule too: swimming, chess club, library, the games arcade at shanti vihar (used to be at the corner of luz and royapettah) – everything had to be fit in.
rajeshwari lending library was located on kutcheri road and we would take the 12B bus to get there from mylapore. one summer though i was in for a shock. instead of being greeted with the usual “munnadi po! munnadi po!!” (move to the head of the bus!) the conductor yelled “aambalenga indha pakkam, pombalenga andha pakkam!” (men go this way, women that way”). the momentary pangs of confusion i felt as i stood at the steps of the bus were erased the second i laid eyes on the interior. pallavan transport corporation had pulled a fast one on us. they had somehow managed to arrange for a sheep van complete with a metal divider that ran along the entire stretch of the center of the bus, from driver to the bumpy last seat, from floor to ceiling. that’s right: men on the right, women on the left.
and that was how bad the harassment of women had gotten in the late eighties in madras.
i have been a mute witness to scores of scenes of hands being where they shouldn’t, words spoken that would turn unborn baby girls in their wombs, cruel lingering eyes that deserved a proper gouging – always horrified, but always mute. what could i do .. what indeed? but today i realise what i could have done.
as i watched a high school girl shed a tear and get off at the next stop with barely enough money to catch another bus to school; as i watched a woman old enough to be my mother subject to horrors at the hands of business suit wearing lechers; as i watched how it didn’t even if they were old or young, married or not, i realise now that i could have just said something.