10X12. The size of my studio apartment. Neat, compact, well built. I hear a clutter and open my eyes. Bang opposite the bed the door stands. It is the main entrance to the apartment. I narrow my eyes to check if the lock is broken. Assured, I look up from my bed, the decorative ceiling stares back to me. They don’t speak much; I look left – the faint slice of the sun tells me another day has kicked off. Like the news flash of breakfast bulletin, the first thought hitting my grey cells – I am safe!
A regular, average day it is, one of many already gone, one of many more yet to come. As I stir the tea spoon in my warm golden Darjeeling, the door bell rings. My door does not have magic eye; neither there is a lock chain that can act as a jammer, nor do I have a collapsible gate beyond it. So if anyone is to barge in, my attempt at limited release of the entrance would not help. Nevertheless, I try. In fact, to give myself bit of assurance, I run my eyes quickly through the kitchen knives and finally unbolt the door to open it for few inches – just to peep. It’s the paperwalla. A tiny young boy with bunch of bills.
It’s 10 a.m., I am all set to leave for work. Wallet – check, phone – check, lunch-box – check, pepper spray – check. Thankfully, my apartment is well-connected, auto rickshaws are in plenty right opposite the building. As I cross the road to get inside one of them, I know four sets of eyes also follow me – four men standing at the chai-corner; they are the regulars there. I sit on the auto, call my dad, tell him I am on my way to work – safe.
Once at work, there is no time to think. The clock knocks 6 in a jiffy – time to get back to the apartment. A new girl has joined our team today; she is not from the city. I volunteer to drop her before heading home. I assure her she will be home – safe. A vibrant young woman with dimples, I can’t help but spot the paper knife peeping out of her side bag.
By the time I get home, it is almost 8. My phone is ringing; I know it is my mother – checking if I am back home – safe. As I reach for my door, she has already called thrice. Before she can press the panic button, I call her, assure her that I am home, and – safe.
It is 8.30 in the evening. I sit in front of my laptop for a Skype chat with my friend in Berlin. “What are you doing home at 8.30 in the evening! It’s Friday night, shouldn’t you go out?” She exclaims. I explain that I don’t have a car and traveling in buses or autos late in the evening all alone is not safe.
I prepare dinner, eat my pasta over ‘breaking news’ on national television – “Yet another gang rape in Delhi…..”. Before sleep I call my mother, tell her I have locked the entrance properly and I am going to bed – safe.
In my dream, I see myself walking down a busy street, fearless, uninhibited, care-free. I smile at a stranger, he smiles back to me. I open my purse to buy popcorn; this time it’s a tiny purse – no pepper spray, no paper knife. I keep walking till I reach the river-side, I sit there and soak myself in the sun. In the evening, I meet my friends for a drink and before I know, it’s 2 a.m. in the morning. I take a train to get home. I doze off in the train but thankfully don’t miss my station. And, suddenly there is a screeching sound. It’s my morning alarm, I remember, It was just a dream!
Another day has begun; another day of challenging vulnerability and being safe. As I make my morning tea, I wonder – may be today will be like yesterday when I get home end of the day – safe. But, at the same time, today will be like yesterday when I start my day in fear and sign it off the same way. May be I will never be raped, molested or assaulted. Or may be I will be. Who knows! But what I know for certain is I live with this fear every single day – what if I am next. One can never measure this fear, a physical experience that brings down the chill only in its sheer potentiality. Even if I never experience rape, I experience the anticipation under my skin all the time. As a woman, I feel no safe in my own country, in my own society. Who is to blame? The government? The society? The people? Or myself? As my tea gets cold, I keep brooding..
About the Author
I am a Doctoral Candidate at Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. My academic research area is International Migration of Labour. I love to observe people, cook and write on anything and everything that excites, inspires, bothers and unnerves me.
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