This was the first time I was going to travel to my college on my own. I was supposed to do my graduation in Kerala. Ma had accompanied me for a week as a familiarization programme for me since I wasn’t used to travelling alone in public transport buses.
The algorithm was simple. That’s what I summed up from what Ma taught me. One, you wait there in the bus stop( easy way to spot the bus stop was, go right there where you find a gathering with a range of expressions on their faces, some in hurry and hence the tension, some blank and lost, and some just chirping happily). Two, you look for the boards on the arriving buses, especially the red and yellow buses, since they belonged to the state transport. The colourful ones with songs blaring inside were the private transport buses. I had mastered reading enough malayalam by then, to guess the stop names on the boards by staring at the moving buses.The apt bus arrives. Now, third and the final step: ladies hop on from the front door while men, from the back door. (What!?!?) I remember myself asking, Is it written anywhere Ma? Ma would never care to answer. People do it this way here. Just do as I say. Would be her aggressive body language. And I would be like, how can you even think that I would accomodate quietly? What is the problem in my asking? Can’t you give me a proper logic to this? But I did follow her like a good daughter. I pacified myself that when I am by myself, I ll find out on my own. But still, all the way I would wonder with all the good education I have, am I supposed to behave like a dumb ass? And hense, the determined me did find out. And the revelation was a shocker.
My ordeal began when I deliberately got into the bus from the back side door. To my surprise I found myself in a sea of lecherous men! I clenched my bag tightly over my chest. And as I swam ahead, to be with my clan, which was my only escape from this hell now, I somehow had to make it. It was a 10minute drill. Hardened penises. Bum groping. I had the worst (and first)experience of my life. When I could not stand the abuse anymore I turned back to yell at whoever was behind me, and to my utter surprise, I found an old man who could hardly bear his own weight, was among one of the perpetrators. I yelled at him with all my frustration, Old uncle why can’t you men stay away??? In all my bewilderment.
The reaction of the others inside the bus was even more alarming. No one spoke up for me. Many laughed it off. Many didn’t even bother.And I literally scurried inside the crowded bus. And wriggled myself upto the bars behind the driver seat. There, near the ‘front door’, I felt safe.
It was hard to come out if it. Because the experience was something really scary. I was filled with thoughts of self hatred. How could they even touch me like that?
Only if my Ma had openly discussed the reality and the significance of the ‘front door’ of a bus in a woman commuter’s life. Only if I understood earlier, the way society ‘protects’ it’s women by allowing men to loom large and expecting women to be content in their restricted spaces.
Or will it be right to expect things this way…that only if the women, young and old would have been together in this. Only if the mothers would have taught their daughters to be wary but not accomodating. Only if the men were taught to respect women from their childhood. Then, the other witnesses would have probably reacted when I shouted. Then , the conductor and the driver would have probably taken the bus dutifully to the nearest police station to file an FIR,then, this, would never been one of the continuing stories of accepted crimes on women for generations.