Rosalyn D'Mello: Men, stop hogging all the space
Will there ever come a day when women in India can inhabit public spaces with the same audacious freedom that most men do?
Travel has taken on fresh urgency this December. The pace has gotten accelerated because of a rush in deadlines. Having just about recovered from home improvements in my Delhi apartment, last Sunday, I woke up at 4.30 am to take a train to Jaipur. I got in and was taken immediately to a rather incredible private space called The Gyan Museum, after which I headed on down to The Museum of Legacies, where an ex-colleague now works, and which opened formally just the day before. After dumping my bags in my hotel room, I rushed on over to the Nahargarh Fort to witness the inauguration of the sculpture park within the Mahavendra Palace, curated by my ex-colleague, Peter Nagy, and supported in large part by my other ex-colleague Aparajita Jain. It was rather incredible to witness what Peter had managed to do, with the government's collaboration. The idea of all of those amazing examples of Contemporary art so easily accessible to an immense visiting audience is amazing. As I traipsed through narrow corridors and up and down flights of stairs, I felt as though I was lost in a maze. The artworks appeared to have belonged to the palace, their existence there seemed almost seamless.
The next morning, I woke up at 4.30 once again to catch a train back to Delhi, got off at Delhi Cantonment railway station around 10.30 am, and decided to proceed directly to the domestic airport to catch my afternoon flight to Goa. As I write this, I'm preparing to leave my home in South Goa to head up to Panjim, where I will spend the next four days at the second edition of the Serendipity Arts Festival. You see, I wasn't lying when I last spoke about the originality with which I live my life and the total absence of any routine. I've lost track of emails that are still begging responses, including queries from my publisher about the paperback edition of my book, not to mention messages from editors about pending deadlines, even as new pieces are being commissioned. I'd even forgotten what day of the week it was. My sister said it was Thursday as we sped away on a bike to buy lamps and I shrieked when it dawned on me my column was due.
I'm certain you don't envy me any longer, if ever you did before. How things got so out of hand, I'm unsure. I seem to dash from moment to moment and somehow manage to keep my head on my shoulder and not go totally insane. Can you imagine, in-between this hectic, erratic schedule that, as a woman, I also have to be constantly guarded about my sense of space? Let me explain. On the train to Jaipur, the Ajmer Shatabdi, I had ensconced myself in my window seat and tried hard, at first, to ignore the man to my left, as his elbow kept jutting onto my side. It was 6 or 6.30 am, I was much too sleepy to get confrontational, I said nothing at first, but tried to use my own elbow to assert the boundaries of my body, its periphery, so to speak. He clearly didn't get the hint. I then moved myself towards the window, so I could fall asleep and not have to deal with this infringement. But when the server came with tea, the man to my side decided it was appropriate to wake me up by nudging his elbow into my midriff. I finally lost it and ate his head for breakfast.
The incident impelled me to write a status update on FB, asking women on my timeline if they had faced similar instances of what we call 'manspreading', and the response was overwhelming, across regions and continents. It made me feel less alone, but it also made me angry. One friend mentioned that women do this too, on flights, take over another's elbow space, but that kind of behaviour still doesn't leave me feeling violated. Last night, my sister and I gathered the energy to go to the beach for a late-night drink and to watch the geminids. By midnight, we just had to leave because at least three creepy men had tried to come by our shoreside table to make small talk.
Sometimes, when your week is already exhausting, it is tiresome to have to stand up for yourself and assert your right to space. We hated that we were made to feel less entitled to being at the beach in our own hometown at night, like that was solely a male prerogative. It made me wonder if there will ever come a day when women in India don't have to risk safety for pleasure, and can inhabit public spaces with the same audacious freedom that most men do.
Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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