Note: This was written for The Vagina Monologues, Sonipat. It is a spoken-word poem and is most effective when performed or read aloud. Go ahead, anger is knocking at the door.
“Do You Feel Safe In Your City”–
I see a content campaign
“Share your story with us!”, they say,
But I find the question absurd.
As I think, to myself, of course I don’t feel under direct threat all the time
And I manage to navigate,
More or less,
Get from here to there,
Without getting raped or killed or stalk—oh wait, the last one’s a lie
But apart from that,
It’s okay. It’s safe.
I feel distanced from the Brigade Road incident,
Like it happened to “them” and it happened “there” and “then”
And like that can’t be the same city I head to Blossoms by myself in
So yeah, safe,
more or less.
A male friend I was having a conversation with
Had a revelation.
He just couldn’t wrap his head around
When I pointed out how the roads
Never felt like mine
And how I never belonged in public spaces
which were by default meant for men.
How women are just people in transit.
Leaving from somewhere “safe, more or less,”
To somewhere “safe, more or less,”
The loitering the waiting the leisure walk the chai sutta
Never come without a throbbing in the stomach
And 7pm meant the voices in my head taking over– time to head back,
As nice penis-people would promise me a cab, tell me it was okay,
that I could stay a little longer, and that they understand the danger,
ask me to text them when I reached
somewhere “safe, more or less”.
He realised he had never felt it in his skin,
never known what it was like to cross the road and feel like you don’t own the traffic.
And it was so alien, to me, to not shrink oh-so-slightly
Cringe about getting those groceries,
There’s something so goosebumps and smog and a thousand headlights eerie
How differently we occupy the city
that you’re so nostalgic about when you write that Indiatimes piece
And say women’s institutions are the problem
oh what a fuckwad you are,
And you don’t realise that ‘do you feel safe in your city’
makes no sense because
safe means different things to us.
And I’m fighting the patriarchy in my own head to look you in the face,
and the patriarchy in my mom to wear the clothes you see me in,
and the patriarchy in the mirror to nod me an approval,
and the patriarchy in my father’s narrow eyed looks to
get out of home.
And YES not all men will know how closely we hug our little freedoms
that are “offered” to us, like a separate bathroom and bed and a chair and pillow and a
plate to eat in
At least i’m not walking to the well to bathe.
YES not all men will ever know why we’re always in a hurry–
maybe that’s why we take so much time dressing up– it’s the only place the only time we
can stretch for ourselves before we have to contemplate
how best to serve misogyny’s needs.
YES not all men will ever know how I sit in a corner and smile
at racist sexist homophobic casteist fascist mental-illness gossip–
the patriarchy in men and women and kitty parties and office cabins and tea cups
and YES not all men–
HELL, NO MAN will ever know how we gulp down stories like medicine.
Stories that tell us oh it’s so much better now
that me studying in a different city has meant resisting an army of fears with
that going from marrying at 18 to doing a BA Hons has taken decades,
and that in your imaginative laziness in saying “not all men”,
I’ve realised that my internal GPS of calm has