Year 1996, Venue: Small Town
I am done with my standard X board exams. My friends from school and I decide to go for an early morning walk. We walk, have fun and each one goes in different directions to their respective homes. I am a minute away from entering my apartment complex when a scooter stops in front of me.
A man in his early 20’s, moderately good-looking, asks me politely with a smile, still sitting on the scooter, “Do you know where Col. Chaudhary lives?”
I reply negatively. Then he introduces himself, “I am Captain Anil Kumar. What’s your name?”
I tell him my name, smiling.
“Do you go to college?”
“No, I go to school”
“Do you live here?”
I point to my apartment, “Yeah, right there”
“Do you go for a walk every day?”
“No, just sometimes. Okay, I need to go. Bye”
I come home smiling with all the attention I got. My Dad asks me, ‘Who were you talking to?’ He obviously saw me through the window.
“Captain Anil Kumar”
“Who is he? Do you know him?”
“No, he was looking for someone’s house”
“Don’t talk to strangers. If you see him again, don’t talk to him”.
I nod. I am scared I will see him again and if he happens to talk to me, my parents would curb my freedom. I am allowed to see my friends whenever I like, eat out as much as I like, watch any number of movies with my friends. It’s too much to lose. I stop going for morning walks with the fear of running into him again.
Year 2000, Venue: Small Town
Same scenario. Engineering exams over. Morning walk. On my way home.
I get stopped by a guy 2 years my senior. I know him; he was in my school and my best friend’s brother’s roommate going to a top Engineering college in another city. He calls me by my name and introduces himself. I am not even remotely attracted to him. In fact, I am scared of him because he’s too big and hefty, looks like a goon. I tell him my best friend’s brother’s reference in order to indicate we have a common friend and eve-teasing is not an option. (In my opinion then, Eve-teasers do not eve-tease their friends’ acquaintances).
He says, “I was wondering if you would like to be friends with me. No pressure. We can meet several times and then decide whether we want to be serious.”
This was totally unwelcome though I could tell it was coming. ‘I am not interested in any kind of friendship’.
‘No pressure, think for a few days and then tell me. Bye’
I go home. Same thoughts. What if my parents think boys follow me? Will I lose my freedom? What if this guy declares his “interest” to his friends and all boys start yelling his name every time I pass them? I am mortified. Totally unwelcome annoying proposal.
Morning walks stop again.
I see this guy around on his bike when I am on my scooty a couple of times in the evenings. I hesitantly, uncomfortably smile. One day, when I am parked, he comes to me and says, ‘Hey, forget about that day. I don’t want you to be scared of me. I am not going to harm you in any way. I noticed you get very serious when you see me”. All I say is “Okay”.
Year 2008, Venue: United States
I am heating up my food in the microwave. I am married and have a kid by now.
A creepy coworker in his 50’s introduces himself to me and asks me if I take a walk in my breaks. I reply negatively saying I am too busy. He explains that though everybody is busy, walks are extremely important and that I should let him know if and when I would like to take a walk with him. I say “okay”.
Again, I am mortified. I avoid him. I change my direction in the hallway every time I suspect coming face to face with him.
Then I wonder, “what for?” Who is controlling my freedom now? No one. Who is going to tease me? No one. Getting scared and avoiding this situation had become a habit, a habit formed over the years. A second nature.
I wish things were different. I wish I had been more comfortable getting “such” requests, politely declining them and not letting them change the occurrence or direction of my “walks” in any way. The countless introductions and random friendship requests I have declined have always made me queasy. I knew they would complicate my life. My parents wouldn’t approve of me getting attention from boys. And I felt accountable to nip them in the bud.
I felt my freedom was a privilege, not a right. And I needed to do everything possible to retain it. That is how we are led to believe.
And mind you, I have always had male friends, believed in genderless friendships and have proposed to someone whom I am now married to. This is something that wasn’t mainstream in that small town, and I attribute this to my feminist thoughts. But my small-town mentality sometimes competes with my feminist confidence and gets the better of me, though.