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I: Idiots on the road

April 11, 2016

‘Idiots on the road’ will probably remind you of this great ad if you’ve watched it before. But in this post, I want to talk about the other kind. The kinds you encounter everyday on the roads in India, the kinds you’ve had bad encounters with right from the time you were probably six. The kinds you think about when you look at the mirror before you step out. ‘Will I get stared at/cat-called/groped if I walk on the road wearing this?’ Of course, it doesn’t matter what you’re wearing. It’s likely to happen anyway. 

Recently I came across this great article titled ‘What women don’t talk about when we talk about running.’ The author talks about being harassed on the street while she runs, and yes, this is in India. The strange thing is that, when I read the part where she talks about someone who followed her on a bike while she was running and grabbed her breasts, I wasn’t surprised that this happened. I only wondered how he managed to do this while she was running. So ingrained is the reality of sexual harassment in the streets in India. 

I began running when I was living in Singapore. I used to see students running in the campus as midnight. When I started running, I began to enjoy the sense of freedom it gave me. I got used to running on the streets of Singapore at 8pm, 10pm, even. Even secluded lanes leading up the beach. I was harassed only once. And this was by an Indian guy who wanted to become friends. I wondered if I was being stupid in running alone at night, but I decided that a one-off incident shouldn’t spoil the fun of running. So I continued running at night, running on the roads. But when I moved back to Bangalore, I bore no illusions that I would do the same. I’ve lived there long enough and faced enough shit on the roads while just walking, to know what that would be like. Also, I did not want to become roadkill for frustrated motorists. So I mostly stuck to Lalbagh and Cubbon park, or small parks closer home with colleagues. 

Once we moved to Hyderabad, I was delighted to find that the apartment complex had a beautiful jogging track. Bamboo-tree lined, mud track. I could go running at night again, if I wanted to. But the idiots, the men who believe they own the road they walk on and the world they live in, they are everywhere. So last Sunday morning, while I was out running, I found myself getting frustrated when five men were walking shoulder to shoulder, blocking the entire width of the track. Where does this sense of entitlement come from? On my first round, I just shrugged my shoulders, tried to make myself smaller and nudged past them. The second round, there was no space. So I muttered ‘Excuse me’ a couple of times. The group was too busy bantering to hear me. And then I lost it. 

The guys seemed to think it was no big deal – they didn’t hear me the first time. Isn’t it common courtesy to make some space for others on a common track? Isn’t it common sense to not take up the entire path? For people who might be walking or running a little faster than you? The rest of the run was awkward and I was mad. So many thoughts in my head. I was sure to see them a few more times before I finished the run. Should I look them in the eye and say no hard feeling? But why? Should I stop running and go home? Should I have kept quiet? What if I see them at the gym? And I decided to stop caring so much – they were at fault, and I finished my run. 

In the article she talks about so many questions we face while we want to go for a run. I feel like there’s already a bunch of obstacles to get over before we get out there and run. And once we’re actually there, the idiots on the road seem to think, ‘Hey look you’ve made it this far. Here, can you handle one more obstacle, me acting like a moron?”

Running gives you a high, it makes you feel invincible. Until you encounter these idiots creep on the road. I dream of a day, maybe by the time A grows up, when women reclaim the roads, running in short shorts, track pants and whatever the hell we want to, without anyone staring at them with anything but admiration.

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