One week since this happened. The media has its baby for the fortnight or so. TV is gruesome entertainment with politico-types competing, reality-show like to see who can say the most outrageous/stupid/TRP-generating things. How has real life been for the regular Mumbaiker? I can tell you how mine has been.
Friday: I was to meet an acquaintance that I had spoken to before, but not actually met. Facebook showed me our common friends. The references made sense. I thought about cancelling. Because of his gender, because how well did I know him after all?
I compromised by changing venue. I dropped the cafe I usually favour for such conversations. Why? Because getting in and out of that area involves a narrow bylane or two, that’s sometimes quiet. Also, the last time I went there, I waited for an auto for 20 minutes before giving up, walking down that ‘quiet’ bylane till I found an auto. Best avoided now.
Saturday: I had a morning meeting in an office building. I was halfway up the staircase to the first floor before I realized that 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning would mean not too many people would be about. I walked out and stood on the road till my partner turned up. I also made sure to keep my phone handy with an emergency number of quick dial, while taking the stairs. Staircases in buildings with lifts are often deserted. This one seemed dingier than I remembered it.
Later, I had a literary circle meet in the house of a community member, but one I hadn’t met. I got there about 15 minutes early. But I waited downstairs till other people turned up and I went in.
We finished later than usual and it was only when I was stepping out that I thought of it. So, on the ride back, I called a friend and stayed on the phone till I got home. This was around 9pm.
Monday: Group meeting, scheduled as usual for a regular cafe on a busy street. It would involve cutting through a narrow bylane or surviving rush hour traffic next to the station. I know which one I usually choose. This time I picked a third alternative and suggested an alternate venue, one easier for me to reach.
We ended up meeting at a (woman) member’s house where I’ve been before. End of the meeting, I hurried out with two others so I wouldn’t walk down the lane to the main road alone. They waited in the car for me till I found and got into an autorickshaw. 10:30 p.m.
Tuesday: Market day. Told myself I better get used to crowds. My solitary haunts and explorations into old buildings better be a thing of the past now.
Wednesday: Landmark evening event. I wore a saree. Because I’m trying a new look. Also because, I wonder, I do, whether looking like ‘hi-fi type’ makes me more prominent to would-be attackers. The looks didn’t differ from usual. Lesson learnt but worry not diminished.
Paused on the station overbridge when I noticed a clean view. Took a picture before I realised clean view = not enough people around to block it. Hurried off the bridge immediately.
Return journey, coupon punching machines tucked away in an unlit, dingy room sheltering homeless people. Stood in the crowd, took out my coupons, rushed in, punched in and bolted out all the while ready to scream.
Thursday: It’s Janmashtami and the streets must be marked with dahi-ka-handi events. Normally, the hooliganism festival is Holi. But now, who knows? Scores of young men gathered in clusters, shouting & laughing – this doesn’t make me think festival anymore. It makes me think, gangrape.
As I write this post, I think about how prudent it is to advertise my schedule on the internet. I go back and delete names of places and other specifics.
A friend shrugged impatiently and yelled at me, “Not everyone is a rapist, you know!” I know…I guess. The trouble, is, I know rapists, brutal human violators walk among us. And I don’t know what they look like. I also know that the city does not protect me or care for what happens. I have a new visitor in my head. Fear, welcome to my world.