All it took was moving from one city to another, to experience another, uneasy India, writes Akanksha Pandey
Moving to Delhi in 2015 felt like a much-needed shift. Having lived in Bombay all my life, I wanted to experience things beyond my comfort zone. I knew my idea of “Bharat” was lopsided. I knew the sanitised South-Bombay version of Bharat. And after 21 years of having lived in that lovely sanctuary, I felt I wanted to know more. Somehow, the little version of Bharat I knew started feeling too manufactured. Almost unreal.
So, Delhi it was. This was a different Bharat. Specially, north campus. A lot more noisy, a lot more colourful, a lot more wholesome in many ways. Exciting at first. Securing admission in DU, looking for hostels and PGs, learning to navigate the metro, all seems like a blur. Those bits were easy.
What was difficult (and admittedly, after six years of being here, it still is) is learning how to respond to the feeling of being watched. Being watched on the road if I wear a sleeveless top, being watched because I’m in a relatively empty metro while coming back from work post 9 pm. I can’t always tell who is watching me. But there is a sense of being watched, a sense of lingering fear whenever it’s slightly late, I have to book an Uber and I share my ride details with at least two other people so they can track me. You know, just in case.
The reality of adapting to this feeling of fear was new in 2015. I remember one day very clearly. This must be my first week in Delhi. I went to buy a few things from a local kirana shop – tea bags, some milk, butter. On my way back, a bunch of boys started yelling at me. “Cat-calling.” I remember hurriedly walking back. It wasn’t like I was on an empty road. It was a jam-packed market. And yet, I was scared. I sat in an auto and realised I was crying. I felt a bunch of emotions – unsafe, embarrassed at “overreacting”, scared.
I don’t even remember when the same market streets, voices, cat-calls all merely started feeling like background noise. I convinced myself of my indifference towards it and just learnt how to put on a brave face. Well intentioned people told me, “They sense fear. Look strong and they won’t do anything.” The onus was on me, to look strong. And I did. But I knew then and I know now that it’s mostly just pretence. I still feel unsafe and watched.
Delhi taught me to live and accept the realities of my country beyond the limited reach of a protected and sheltered existence of the limited Bharat I knew and idolised. Over the years, I’ve learnt to not let cynicism overshadow my belief in the power of change, however gradual that change may seem. Mera Bharat isn’t mahaan. It would be delusional to think it is. Mera Bharat is in-the-making. I’m hoping that by the time I’m a mother of a teenage daughter who moves away from home to grow and explore endless possibilities, she won’t have to experience fear if she wants to go on a walk post sunset on a lovely winter evening.