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Lindsay Pereira |
January 17, 2005 11:16 IST
It wasn't my fault; I was paid to do it. Grow my hair way below my shoulders, that is. Paid to grow it long so I could wear make-up, don a pair of silver-tinted glasses and gyrate on stage for the amusement of little children (a whole other story). The rest of Mumbai, however, seemed to think it was incredibly funny.
First came the stares. From all quarters. At bus-stops. On the street. At department stores. From men, women, schoolchildren, cleaning maids, municipal workers, some of my aunts, pretty women, ugly men, men who thought they were funny, boys on motorbikes, and a whole lot of others. They simply had to stare.
The bold ones would comment: 'Kidhar chal rahi hai?', 'Aati hai kya?', 'Hai hai' (all roughly translated into: I'm barely literate. I was born desperate. Would you go out with me? Would you? Would you?) They assumed I was female because, let's face it, when you have a 21-inch waist and hair that almost reaches down to it (I did), most people under the sun would assume you weren't exactly Sylvester Stallone in a wig.
When they did turn to look, my excuse for a French beard would catch them off guard ('Saala, aadmi hai'). It took me a while, but I managed to get thick-skinned enough to ignore it. The groping in trains was another thing; that took me months to handle.
I remember once stepping out of a swimming pool, where I was, well, swimming, with a female cousin. Me: slim, tall, with long, straight black hair. She: short, fat, with hair cropped close to her forehead. Most men sitting around almost fell into the pool that morning. The thought of a topless woman walking around 5 feet away from them was too much to handle. When they finally figured I was male (no breasts, idiot), the disappointment was acute. Again, that morning, an aunt I had never met thought I was my uncle's daughter, assuming my cousin was my father's son. Sigh.
It was a confusing time. I knew I was male, of course, but here I was, for six years, with access to what a woman on the streets of Mumbai felt. I came away more than a little scarred by the experience. I couldn't understand how, for every waking day of their lives, women of all ages could walk down the street, get to work, go shopping and get back home, all while being at the mercy of the kind of men that stared, leered, sneered or groped me.
I came away with a tremendous sense of respect for the kind of strength it takes to live your life in the face of such blatant hostility (sexual advances can, after all, take on overtones of hostility in an environment of overwhelming repression). I also came away with a lot of anger, at the people who assumed it was their god-given right to behave the way they did.
I remember chanting every morning, at school, with thousands across the country, the national pledge: ' India is my country. All Indians are my brothers and sisters of brothers...' Remember?
I'd like to have most of the brothers of my sisters castrated.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh