Saturday, November 09, 2013

The Bigger Tragedy

I have not known fear in all my life.
My parents fear for me for just the same reason.

9:30, 10, 10:30, 11. In the night.
They didn’t mean much to me.

Lost in reading a book, I would suddenly realise it was 10 and I hadn’t had dinner yet. I would put down the book unwillingly, lock my house and amble to the Adigas restaurant nearby, humming a tune on the way, like there was no hurry, have my Dosa or Roti Curry and walk back thinking how much more easier it was to cross the road at that time with a just few vehicles passing now and then.

When I had finished calling all friends and known no one would be free to watch this movie that would be taken off the screens any time now, I would step out alone, take a bus to Forum mall to watch the 8 PM show. I had gotten used to watching movies alone by now, though I had company many a time.
I would come out of the mall at 10:30, my mind still on the roller coaster ride of songs, drama, dialogues and dances...a movie review already taking shape in my mind.
I would reject most of the autos for asking for double fare and finally take one to silk board. I would hop on to any bus that came, for all of them went straight to my home. When I got off, the movie review was almost ready in my head.
I enjoyed the stroll home, thinking how quiet it was at that time and how nice the houses looked when washed in the orange of sodium vapour lamps. I would look up at the half moon through the silhouette of the swaying coconut fronds, climb the stairs to my house never bothering to turn on the stairway lights, my feet knew the stairs by now. The key too went into the keyhole without a falter.

Once, only once, while walking back from the juice and salad place after dinner, I had noticed a man on a scooter pass me by, turn to look at me, and stop where he probably knew I would turn the corner. He waited for me there turning back to make sure I was walking towards him. Should I take another route? I had a better idea. I walked on, approaching him and when he was five steps ahead of me, I began running full speed, noisily, past him and stopped running when I knew he was far behind.
I still amuse myself with the idea of how I must have startled him! Ha ha... and how simple it is to outsmart these fellas...

Come summer, I would pack my bags, go to Himalayas, a different part of it every year. It never bothered me to be a lone traveller. The Pahadi’s were safe and extra helpful when you were a single woman.

And then Delhi happened. That girl. And the monsters with an iron rod.

I had been impervious to all news of crime. But not this one. Don’t know why.

I didn’t even know I was shaken until one day, when I was walking to Adigas and found myself turning behind every now and then at the sound of footsteps. Was I being followed? No, it was an innocent woman, it was a boy, it was even a dog. But I kept looking behind anyway.

It’s been a long time since I went to Adigas. Because I don’t like to walk that way.
There is only one way I want to walk. Without fear.

I do go to movies alone. But not for the 8 PM shows, only the shows that close before 8.

I don’t mind if it takes longer to cross the road. But I like the company of traffic in the night.

My feet know the stairs; the key, the keyhole. And my hand knows the light switch.

When I think of the man on the scooter lying in wait at the corner, I see an iron rod in his hand though I know he never had one.

If I am shaken, I know the other hundred crore in this country are.

And that, is the bigger tragedy.

The brutal killing of the girl was very tragic.
But the tragedy of all of us who survive her is bigger. A hundred crore people will live in fear, suspicion and mistrust every day.

The night and its silence which once contained moonlight, stars, silhouettes and poetry will now contain dark corners, footsteps, lurking monsters with iron rods.
A hundred crore people entitled to peaceful, free, fearless living will go through life carrying the burden of perpetual fear in their heart.
And that is the bigger tragedy. For there is only one way to live.
And that is to live without fear.

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