“There are many ways of getting strong; sometimes talking is the best way.”
If you, like me, have a local beauty parlour to cater to your fortnightly/monthly beauty needs, you will understand when I say, we never have and never will need therapy. Forget your shrink; forget counseling and the big bills attached to it. We have a medium through which we can vent, share secrets without any inhibition, curse and cuss, and offload thoughts and feelings, and what do we get in return? We get good advice, good gossip and a great ego boost! Who can compete with that?
Recently, I read a piece on some interesting opinions of a couple of beauticians and hairstylists. For the sake of simplicity, let’s call them PGs. These girls work in one of the many South Delhi beauty parlours. This particular discussion happened on New Year’s Day 2013. The topic of the hour was the Delhi rape, the media rush around it, and a personal take to such (and other) gruesome acts of violence against women.
According to Akanksha Joshi, who authored this particular write-up, her PGs, given the opportunity, could strike up a conversation about anything (in her own words) "from M.I.Ls to Mrs. G", and in a varied pool like that, the topic of violence and women was inevitable.
"Kaun khushiyan manayega aaj? (Who will celebrate today?) If something like this were to happen to their daughters, then action would've been taken. Now it’s just us, common women," said one.
I wondered if I could initiate a debate like that in my own local beauty parlour in Mumbai; and so went one afternoon, all set for a pedicure and a head massage. As the firm hands massaged away, I managed to start the topic, asking them where they lived. Both mentioned, nearby. You must be leaving late in the night, I mentioned, don’t you feel scared? I was pretty surprised when both said, yes, we do feel scared. Sometimes if I am alone past 10 on the streets, I get a bad feeling that I am being watched, Shilpa, the senior beautician said.
Strange, I thought. Don’t we Mumbai women pride ourselves in living in one of the safest cities in India? So I prodded further. Koi bhi shahar aurat-o ke liye safe nahi hai. Haan, Mumbai kaafi safe hai, par ek time ke baad hum ekele ghar se kabhi nahi nikalte. (No city is safe for women. Yes, Mumbai is pretty safe, but after a point, none of us leave home alone.)
According to Akanksha's story, most PGs come from West Delhi to South Delhi every single day. They travel close to an hour by bus, both morning and night. The parlour closes around 9 pm. “Raat mein toh jaan nikal jaati hai. (In the night I am terrified for my life) If the bus is empty it feels like every man is going to eat me up. I tell you, I've become scared of all men.”
Back in Mumbai, I did realise as well how much these women are influenced by the media, they own families and society in general. “Kaise kaise kapde pehenke bahar nikalte hai, sexy-sexy types. Issi liye toh yeh sab itna bad gaya hai” (These women wear such “sexy” clothes and leave home. No wonder such atrocities against women have become so common), said Rita, my pedicurist. Aghast, I wanted to mention about the 2-year-olds and even younger babies being raped in broad daylight; but before I could, Shilpa corrected her. “Nahi nahi, kapda se kuchh nahi hota. Mard jaat hai waisa sochta hai, aur waisa hi karta hai” (No, no, this is not about the clothes, men folk think like that and do like that).
So what is a fitting punishment for this kind of atrocity, I ask. “Phasi!” (Hanging), shouted Rita, who then looked at Shilpa and prodded her to say something too. “Uus din kya bol rahi thi bata madam-ko” (Tell her what you told me the other day). Embarrassed, Shilpa said, “Phasi se kuchh nahi hota. Aaj kal ke mard, kuch sochte nahi hai, kya hoga. Phasi toh ek pal mein khatam. In logo-kon jeena chahiye zindagi, par uske bina. Usko kaat dalo, phir woh samjhenge aur durso ko bhi samjhanyenge.“ What she was trying to say is; to hang a perpetrator is an act that happens in a matter of seconds. In a fleeting moment, he is dead. What we need is for the perpetrator to live and live long, but without his male organs. Only then will he understand what he has done, and prevent others from doing it too.
In south Delhi, Akanksha mentions Geeta, the girl who gives the most loving facial. During their talk, Geeta exclaimed, "Ladki jaat hi nahi honi chahiye, sab aadmion se bhar do!" (There should be no women. Only men.) Another girl then quipped, "Then how will the kids be born?!"
Back in Mumbai, I ask my PGs what they think is the problem with women? Shilpa, who I now see has the strongest opinion in the gang, has found a voice and is not afraid to flaunt it. “Sau ladies mein se ninyanve ladies pichhe hat jaate hai, sirf ek, aage badti hai. Aisa toh nahi chalega na. Hum sab mein ek darr hai, ki hamare saath kuch bura ho jayega. Toh hum samne nahi aate.” (In every 100 women, there is only one who will take a step or voice her opinion; the other 99 immediately take a step back. We all have fear in our minds; a fear that the same thing will happen to us too. That is why we don’t step forward to make a change.)
I guess that is the inherent problem with our women everywhere. Maybe deep deep inside, there is still that fear; the fear of the same happening to us, the fear of going too close to the person (or issue) involved, and the fear of rising up to make a change. If someone got raped, that is her problem, as long as it does not happen to us. We feel sadness, anger, pain, but only for a moment or two. We go the extra mile to make sure we stay safe. But, we don’t understand that as we take cover and retreat, we have already fallen prey to abuse.
Maybe the first step to overcoming this problem is to talk about it. Like the line I quoted in the beginning of my article by the great Andre Agassi, maybe that is the first step to gaining inner strength. This is no time to be ashamed, or embarrassed, or meek, or fearful. It’s time to speak out, to speak your mind.
As Akanksha wrapped up her story, she mentioned about a certain Meenu. After listening to the conversation all this while, she finally spoke up. "Look, all men on the road are not bad," she said. "You know, after I heard about this incident I didn't feel like taking the bus, so I took an auto. I had just bought an iphone, the one with the touch screen! When I reached home, I realized I had left the phone in the auto. My hard earned money, madam. All gone! But after two whole days, this autowala comes home to return my iphone. He said was sorry he couldn't come earlier. I was so happy! But i was also a little angry. He could have called me. You know what he said, he said, he tried. He looked all over the phone but could not find a single button! See, madam, our streets have men like this also!"
I thanked my PGs and paid at the counter. As I was wearing my shoes and got up to leave; Shilpa called out, “Madam!” I looked back at her. She said, “Madam, har aadmi kharab nahi hota. Hum jo bhi boley mard jaati ke baare mein, duniya mein ache log bhi hai” (All men are not bad. No matter what we say about the men folk, there are still good people in this world).
I walked out with a smile.