Friday, January 12, 2007

Interview: Do Delhi Women Have Horns Coming Out of Their Heads?

A Delhi Wali muses on how harrowing, outrageous, and funny it is for a girl to work, walk, and drive in this city.

As one of 6,212,086 women of Delhi, Ms Manika Dhama is a young working professional. She lives with her parents in Noida, a Delhi suburb. She sat down with Mayank Austen Soofi to talk things over.

I’m pleased to welcome Manika Dhama for this interview. Ms. Dhama, are you proud to be a citizen of New Delhi?

Am I proud to be a Delhite? Let me think… umm… Delhi… polluted, unsafe, dirty, crowded, too cold, too hot, and HOME.

This city can drive you crazy, leave you breathless and keep you asking for more… all in a day's work. Of course if you're a woman, the everyday experiences can be quite a heady mix of the good, the bad and the very ugly.

Ugly? For a woman? Pray why?

For women like us who venture out to work, study, shop, play, etc, you find that commuting to and fro across the city can a harrowing experience.

You’re exaggerating.

I'll explain. I’ve had the opportunity to travel by all means of transport available in this city. When commuting I’ve recognized a unique sense of class equality with respect to women. You may be rich or poor, you can be sitting in a fancy car, a dilapidated bus, an auto-rickshaw or you can be on your two feet…if you're a woman, rest assured that you’ll be stared at, leered at, and be the subject of anything else that can be done with a pair of eyes. Sometimes it's hard to not be seriously convinced that you have horns coming out of your head.

Are you accusing men of indecency?

I find it intriguing that some men can burst into a song, always out of tune, at the sight of a woman. The term “Roadside Romeos”, often used to describe such people, is actually derogatory to the spirit with which Romeo sang under Juliet's balcony. I’ve seen groups of men, busy in conversation, suddenly falling silent and then sing or say not-nice things when a woman passes by. Tell me, Mr.Soofi, do we not have enough reason to believe that there are indeed horns on the top of our heads?

No, you don’t have horns. In fact, Ms Dhama, you’re a smart and modern woman. You can even drive! I can't.

Sorry, Mr. Soofi, I fear the driving doesn't mean much. If you're a woman, you are always learning how to drive. The other day a parking attendant outside the British Council library in Connaught Place could not restrain himself from advising a friend who drives extremely well - she has driving experience of over six years! But the man didn't let her go without giving instructions. He also had the cheek to add, "Beti, if you don't practice, how will you ever learn?”

That's regrettable. Now to another important subject. Delhi is often referred as the “Rape Capital of India." Do you feel safe in the city streets? Are you happy with the Delhi Police?

Delhi Police! Okay, they do have a nice motto (With you, For You, Always.) One could always trust them to be more concerned about the so-called obscene behavior of couples, than about eve-teasing, murders, rapes and other such trivial matters. Do you get my point?

Not clearly.

Recently, at a restaurant in the city, I overheard a conversation between a mother and her not-more-than 3-year-old daughter. The mother was telling her never to take anything from strangers. That she must not talk to or listen to anybody she does not know. The daughter was nodding in acquiescence, perhaps little understanding how serious her mother was. Somehow that exchange said a lot about the times we live in, where children must learn to stay safe even before they learn the alphabet.

Yes, it’s sad. Let's talk more pleasant things. Everyone says Delhi girls are good looking. Do you agree?

Some years ago I came across a newspaper survey conducted among men asking who they thought were better: the Bombay Babes or the Delhi Gals. Most said that Delhi women are "very beautiful and quite dumb". So I fear if one is not very beautiful and is not sure of one's dumb-quotient, it’s advisable to move to another city.

But you are a Delhi girl, you are beautiful and you are not dumb.

I'm overwhelmed by your compliments. Can we move to the next question please?

Please share some city experience unique to a young woman like you?

The winter is the time for thousands of people across the city to tie the knot. Now, if one is invited to any of these weddings, it is advisable to say nothing and smile at everything - till your jaw threatens to dislocate! If, like me, you’re on the wrong side of 22, you better brace yourself for some serious questions about future plans. The future plans of course means marriage. The prescribed procedure is to smile embarrassedly…and a blush would really complete the picture. However, if you're looking for some excitement – let´s face it, my cheeks don't turn red under any provocation - you ought to answer by saying "I want to focus on my career right now."…What follows is the sound of silence…followed by an abrupt change of topic.

Interesting observation indeed. Ms Dhama, after reaching the end of our conversations I feel Delhi is not a great city for women to live in…

Well, Mr.Soofi, let truth tumble out… Delhi is all this, and then more…it’s family, friends, love, work, books, coffee, spicy chaat, brand new subway, college, rain, music…it’s life as I know it.

Thank you for talking with me, Ms Dhama.

You’re certainly welcome!


Carol in Melbourne said...

hi was looking for a blog about my home town...found it! keep blogging!

arpita,hauzkhas said...

Bravo ms dhama.

Anonymous said...

Being agirl I can understand manika’s difficulties. It is our society!

Brett said...

Wonderful interview!

Rohit Malik said...

Wonderful! It will be nice to meet you if possible. ; - )

Cheers, Rohit

Gaurav said...

Wonderful article and being a male who has lived most of his life in Australia, i see this often in Delhi.

Adi said...

Great interview. I don't want to agree or disagree with Manika (because I'm a guy, haven't experienced the same things), but I get a feeling it is too one-sided. For instance, Delhi guys are decent enough to offer you a seat in the bus (you = Manika or any female, guys = any male, irrespective of age or class), even if the seat being offered is not really reserved for "ladies". In so many cities that I've seen in this country (and a few abroad), this respect is much more pronounced in Delhi. Either you missed the good bit, or take it for granted.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that the experiences Ms. Dhama described are quite universal. Women throughout the world, despite class, culture and ethnic differences, have much in common. - EMC

Taveeshi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Adi said...

Taveeshi, I agree with the second part, even one of my cousins has experienced "pinching" etc and what not (I guess that's what you mean by molestation). I'm certainly not going to defend this. As far as standing in a bus is concerned, your experiences have been quite different from mine. I've never sat or let any of my friends sit in a bus if a woman is standing, and then many people take cue and get up (excuse my not so modest statement). Probably needs one or two guys to take the initiative. I'm really sorry we never traveled in the same bus! :-)

Anonymous said...

nicely written, i enjoyed this chit-chat: the interview, a brother of two sisters, surely my pair of eyes are always under my control and if not then i close them.
delhi is extreme in all regards, whether it is weather, social apathy or mass hysteria or awareness of issues. a delhi student is chalta firta encyclopaedia and by default posseses master in psychology, literature and other alied sciences.

sunita said...

The interview was quite good..i stayed in Delhi.. it`s home now ..the city is really not very safe..we can`t say all men or boys are indecent..that`ll be too much but yes there r people like this..did my college& working here so quite experienced abt the things disscussed in the interview.yes,we are offered seats in the bus.Situation is a mix of good&bad..