Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Somewhere over the rainbow.

This is my itty-bitty contribution for the Blank Noise Project's blog-athon and is dedicated to Hemangini. The courage that you showed was 15 years too late for me, but perhaps 15 years in time for my daughter.

I was raised in a fairly liberal community where your race, gender, religion or sexuality was never a barrier to anything you wanted to do in life. In high school I was woefully average but I had a good group of friends whom I held close to my heart. I spent 10 months in India in-between high school and university. This move was equal parts of finding more about the place I came from as well as taking a break. However, the day I touched down in Kerala, I regretted my decision for coming. I'm not sure if it was my clothes or hair or demeanor but people, mainly men, leered and stared. I cried when my dad dropped me off at the hostel which would be my home away from home for the next year. Luckily, my older sister was with me and I have never felt so grateful for the company. She quickly made friends with some people and I just enjoyed spending time with my journal and my music. (U2 and New Order helped me through those first few weeks). Within a few months we were in 2 distinct groups. My sister was with a sweet group that listened to every rule and spent a lot of time studying whereas I was with a group of girls identified as rabble-rousers. This clearly had more to do with how they dressed then anything else. They were all girls who received high marks but happened to be raised in Kuwait and dressed in jeans. I quickly became known as "the American" and had a great time with my friends. The funny thing was that our reputation was far-more outlandish than what we were actually doing. We were hardly ever late for our curfew and if we were, it was because we waited too long to decide that we must go get some food to to sustain us for the night (the hostel food was pretty bad). Most times, the watchman would let us through if we gave him a meatpuff or a package of cookies. However, some nights the mean administrator lady would be waiting for us and lecture us about how proper young women do not walk in the street alone once the sun sets. One time, this same woman pulled me aside and said that I seemed like a sweet girl and I shouldn't let my reputation be ruined by my association with these other girls. I was stunned. There was NOTHING in these girl's behavior that warranted such comments. I thanked her for her concern and ran and told my friends. They laughed off the comment and said their marks spoke themselves and I shouldn't take stock in what she said. About a week later, 4 of us were making our usual bakery run when my friend and I turned around to find a man exposing himself to us. I still dry-heave when I think of his face as he stroked himself. My friend and I were too stunned to talk but when our friend Nina turned and saw what was happening she started yelling at the top of her lungs. She made quite a scene and someone identified the man as a tailor who had a shop down the street. The 4 of us ran back to the hostel and quickly told the head lady. She asked what we expected when we ran around in jeans and t-shirts.

There are other incidents such as being "accidentally" groped while on a bus or being verbally accousted when my friend wore a sundress. Back then I didn't have the courage to say anything. However, the birth of my children has assured that a stranger's wayward hand or sexual innuendo will never again pass unanswered.


Blogger The Box says...

This, dear Mint, is why I love you blog.

Tue Mar 07, 09:22:00 PM CST  
Blogger D says...

there was this entry on one of the blogs as a part of this mint and i am going to look for it again for you. very to the point writing about how to be with your kids as far as such harassment is concerned... but then i guess as parents you are always vigilant anyway - yes?

Wed Mar 08, 02:04:00 AM CST  
Blogger Wandernut says...

I wish I knew you much earlier :)

Wed Mar 08, 03:16:00 AM CST  
Blogger freespirit says...

Mint, thank you for writing this and helping so many other women realise that its NOT thier fault!

Wed Mar 08, 03:56:00 AM CST  
Blogger Mangs says...

Her-mangini :)
Like a pun?

That story brought back a similar memory that I'd COMPLETELY forgotten about though. Darn.

(The box is back?!)

Wed Mar 08, 05:16:00 AM CST  
Blogger Anurag says...

Man, reading all these posts over the last few days makes me realize that we, as a nation, are quite deplorable.

Depressinger and depressinger...

Wed Mar 08, 05:58:00 AM CST  
Blogger AB says...

I wonder if any female has ever not been molested and been able to do much about it. I have always talked about how molesters should be castrated...Seriously, I wish I could actually do the same.

Wed Mar 08, 06:29:00 AM CST  
Blogger Grafxgurl says...

sadly this is every hostelite's story.. and this happens in every single hostel all over india....whast sadder is people have become numb to this.. its like " whatever"

i didnt have a good time at hostel here in Chennai.... fake crowd... and because of the strict dress code...hte hostelites would wait to get back to the hostel to "undress".. and walk around in "something lighter"....with the windows wide open ofcourse.. Shihan Hussain ( a Karate instructor)'s boys were our security guards.. and they just had a field day every single day of the year watching the girls through the windows...

one fine day one of the seniors ended up pregnant and was never heard of again...dunno what happened.. those nuns are infamous for hiding things they dont want others to know.

Wed Mar 08, 07:39:00 AM CST  
Blogger Mint Chutney says...

Boxie: You love me or my blog? Either way, thanks babe.

D: The moment I became parent my perspective completely changed. It's pretty amazing.

Wandernut: I'm just glad we know each other now. : )

Freespirit: We didn't go out in the evening for some time after that but then realized that we can't put our lives on hold for some pervert.

Mangs!! A million apologies. It's corrected now. And yes, Box is back and better than ever.

Anurag: Depressing yes, but look at how we're all (men and women) drawing strength from each other.

Ab: It's sad how many of us this happened to.

Grrl: Hopefully the word will spread that such behavior is unacceptable and more women will stand up when it happens.

Wed Mar 08, 08:56:00 AM CST  
Blogger Madame Mahima says...

lovely post minty...
this sorta thing has never happened to me, but i do know many friends who've been molested and sexually harassed...its sickening and it was thru no fault of theirs.
i don't know about india or the US, but here offenders are dealt with very strictly and this definitely has helped to curb the number of offenses..
from what i read on ure post, in india it's often seen as the girls fault? she got flashed/harassed/molested because of the things she wore?

to those people i say a big 'screw you'.
We are more than our clothes.
rape occurs even when you're fully covered so don't go blaming the women.

Wed Mar 08, 08:31:00 PM CST  

"Strong" isn't something we're born, it's something we become ...

Kudos to you for becoming a very strong woman! :D

Thu Mar 09, 07:29:00 AM CST  
Blogger Tartrazina says...

your story could've been about the street outside our college too. thanx for linking to Hemangini's blog.

Thu Mar 09, 07:50:00 AM CST  
Blogger Beks says...

wow, great post. I've always hated the assumption that what you wear makes who you are and I esp hate it when people just sit back and say what did you expect?

Thu Mar 09, 10:00:00 PM CST  
Blogger Spot says...

I'm in awe of the Blank Noise Project and the daughters of India who participate in it.

Thank you, Mint.

Fri Mar 10, 12:36:00 AM CST  

Post a Comment

<< Home