Less than 50 metres outside the gate of our housing complex, manned by several watchmen, a young man stood by the side of the road, masturbating as he watched Dhanno and me walk by. For some reason, I did not notice him. But Dhanno did.
She whispered, “Mom, that guy is playing with his ..”
I stopped in my tracks. “We should report him.”
We stood for some moments, hesitantly. I started walking back a little, towards the watchmen. Half way across, I began to call out to the watchmen. They looked at me curiously. I waved out to the rickshaw-walas to come ahead, to call the watchmen. It took a few moments before they responded.
In the meanwhile, the young man began to talk on his cellphone, and walk away nonchalantly. By then, the rickshaw-walas had come ahead, so had a couple of watchmen.
They yelled out to the crowd near the tea stall on the other end of the road to stop the man. Everyone looked at us curiously, but did not move. The young man started running, they watched him pass by, and continued to look at us, without moving to stop him.
We reached the crowd. Everyone wanted to know what had happened.
They seemed a little shocked that I mentioned what the man was doing.
Perhaps a little shame on my part would have been more appropriate. But then, a few of them, did get into action.
A rickshaw-wala started his rickshaw, some men piled in. A couple of men set out on a motor bike, another man on his bicycle. They asked Dhanno and me to wait there.
More people came to ask us what had happened. People looked at Dhanno and me, and whispered amongst themselves. Maybe they were looking at Dhanno’s shorts and t-shirt, maybe they were shocked at the fuss we had made, maybe it was only my own imagination.
The search parties came back without success. The young man had entered some other premises, and disappeared.
Dhanno and I left.
I felt bad that I had taken a couple of minutes to react. That I did not go and get a hold of the man myself, at the very beginning, before calling out for help.
Dhanno said I had done right. What if the man had hit me?
She asked, “What if he comes back?” She comes alone, at all odd hours of the night, parks her car in the lane, and then walks into the gate. It’s a dark lane.
I said, “Don’t be afraid. You must never be afraid of guys like these. You must shout, complain, fight back.”
But a part of me was wondering if that was sensible advice. Haven’t we all read of enough cases where people protesting teasing or molestation are attacked?
Somewhere inside me, I wanted to tell Dhanno, stop being friendly with boys, don’t go out for New Year, cover up more, don’t come home alone. But I shut myself up.
Later Dhanno, Shy and I were discussing men. Shy and Dhanno were telling me about the boys they know, their ideas about girls, their expectations. It was tempting to say “Most Indian men are like this.” We did say it a few times, and felt better.
But then, I remembered a dear friend who I hero-worshipped and crushed on for many, many years while I grew up, saying to me, “Don’t generalise. How many men do you know? 10, 25, 50?”
So over the next few days, I am going to try making a list of all the men I know, have met, have heard of, have read, or read about. And a list also of the women I know and know of, because we are a part of the situation. And maybe that will help me to understand better why things are so.
To begin my man-woman series, let me talk of Yashpal. I came across a translation of his famous novel on Partition at the roadside second hand bookshop around the corner. ‘Jhootha Sach’ translated into ‘This is not that Dawn’. I had never heard of Yashpal before that, and I picked up the book only because it was satisfyingly large.
After I had lived through Yashpal’s magnum opus for several days at a stretch, I picked up a collection of his work in Hindi. 4 volumes of short stories.
What has hooked me to Yashpal more than anything else, is his view of women, and their sexuality. I don’t know of any other Indian male writer of the period, (not that I am an expert on Indian literature) who looks at women just as they are. They are not goddesses or whores with golden hearts, or mothers, or tormented creatures of destiny. Yes, they do have their roles, and functions in the world they live in. But Yashpal manages to see them beyond their roles, as individuals looking for the same things men look for. They choose, even if circumstances may overthrow their intentions, and then, they make more choices, surviving as we all do.
So, Yashpal is Man 1. (1903-1976)
Woman 1 is Kanak, (circa. 1942 – 1952, the span in which we know the character) one of the protagonists of ‘This is not that Dawn’. Kanak loves a man below her social status, Jaidev, and chooses to commit herself to him, despite family opposition. Her journey to find her lover and be reunited with him and then marry him, spans across pre-Independence to Partition and after. In the meanwhile, she is attracted to a colleague, and almost becomes his lover.
Later, she is disillusioned with her husband, over his loss of ideals, and his treatment of his sister, Tara, particularly when she realises that he was happy enough to have an affair himself, but did not want his sister to marry her Muslim lover, that he now does not want to acknowledge his sister as she may have been raped during the Partition, that his idealism is only a matter of his professional image, but not to be carried over into real life.
She seeks divorce, and gets it, despite the malevolence of her husband. While she fights for her divorce, she also gets back with her colleague, and starts living with him.
Kanak is particularly appealing because her decisions come from who she is, and what she believes in, and not from some attempt to portray her as a bold character. So she remains rooted, and believable, and someone like any one of us.
Please watch out for more in the aadam-hawwa series. I think I am going to speak only of Indian men and women here. Though I have worked with several men and women from Europe, watched hundreds of European and American films and TV shows, read many novels, I cannot claim to understand the nuances of the man-woman relationships in other societies in a direct way.
Please feel free to add to the list, or make your own. Even if it is not Indian!