Fearless in Delhi
The hanging of the Nirbhaya gangrape convicts brought back memories of my life in Delhi in the early 1990s and one incident in particular.
My brother who was studying in a Pune college decided to pay me a short visit during a vacation. His train was expected to arrive by 9.30 pm and I was preparing to go receive him when my roommate Krushna heard about my plans. She told me it was not safe to go alone at night and that I take her cousin brother Happy along. I had no such fears about travelling by public transport in Delhi late in the night - or at least till 10 p.m. Anyway, I heeded her advice and her kid brother (he was around 20-21 then I guess, like my brother) accompanied me. We did not talk much - he was not very talkative and I had my own parochial reservations about people from other Indian states. But we waited patiently, even as announcements came at intervals about the train being delayed. An hour became one, two, three and when it finally arrived it was 1.30 am.
There were only a few autos when we went out of the platform. Our destination Katwaria Sarai was at least half an hour away. The young auto driver got one of his friends to join him on the front seat while I had two young college-going boys for protection. Somewhere along the trip, on an empty stretch of Lutyens Delhi, the driver stopped just like that. Happy gruffly asked him in Hindi, "What happened?" A couple of guys stood talking beside a car on the other side of the four-lane (or was it six-lane) road. The fella started again and we reached home safely.
Looking back, I shudder to think what peril I subjected myself to in the capital city known for its crimes against women. A good many of the drivers, conductors and helpers in the Blue/Red Line buses are uncouth, criminal characters from neighbouring States and the city slums. If anything untoward happened, people would only blame a woman for being out so late in the night.
Happy, whose presence gave me strength that night, died of a heart attack years later, I learnt recently. I still remember him with gratitude whenever images of Delhi night life come before me.
While recounting the incident to Mira yesterday, in the context of the Nirbhaya rape and women's safety, she asked me: "Are you really very brave?" As a young teen, she is still struggling to cope with ogling and the (south Asian) male gaze, which is in fact very furtive here unlike in India.
"No, I am not," I told her. "I have fear inside but I do not show it outside". I have feet of clay, she should know.