To Be or Not To Be

A little kingdom I possess,
Where thoughts and feelings dwell;
And very hard the task I find
Of governing it well.
-- Louisa May Alcott.
...........hmmm....that more or less describes my situation !!

~A Wise Man Said~

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
-- Aristotle

Sunday, March 11, 2018

I have been in Mumbai since the past two months or so to collect data for my research. I have had occasion to use the Uber ridesharing service quite often in this time. Not so much occasion perhaps as much as an excuse to avoid the crowded local trains in the sweltering heat.
I have always been an extremely cautious person since as long as I can remember. There must have been a lot of things going into how I came to be so but it always seemed to stand me in good stead, this overly guarded nature of mine. The fact that I lived in a country where anything could happen to anyone anywhere be it the local train or the bus or taxi or Uber, in Delhi or Mumbai, only served to reinforce my cautious nature which was never very reckless to begin with.
Now, the process to book an Uber is pretty simple as such. The app throws up the pic of the driver, his name (mostly male), number of the car and so on. I have this habit of checking the number plate and also asking the driver for his name before I get in, which may seem a bit over-cautious but somehow it came naturally to me to take this precaution. The photo of the driver was no use to me because I couldn’t identify the man from the pic but it did make me comfortable to hear the name from the person to make double-sure I wasn’t getting into the wrong car.
Once, when I asked a driver for his name, he seemed offended, and asked my name. As if even he could be mistaken about me. I have noticed other riders just confirm the name with the driver rather than asking for the name but my thought was that a person can always affirm a name if they have a malicious intent. Nothing stops them from misleading me. Today again when I asked a driver for his name he looked at me in a hurt manner even though he did give it to me. He questioned if I hadn’t seen his name on the app. He then asked if I hadn’t seen his car number on the app. I realised that to the drivers it must appear as if I didn’t bother to notice their name or that I was plain rude. They have no way of knowing or imagining that as a woman in this country I had just grown to be very careful in situations that could expose me to any kind of risk especially involving strangers or strange places and a ride in an Uber somehow seems to involve both. It’s not like I have ever had a bad experience so far but that doesn’t mean anything because bad luck doesn’t need to come announced or set a precedence.
There is always a raging debate about whether women “ask for it” in the way they dress, or what time they go out, or how much they drink, and so on. I strongly believe that none of the things a woman (or man) does that has to do with their own body or space may be interpreted as “asking for it”. In principle, in a free country, I should even be able to walk naked if I choose to do so without asking for anything unless I specifically and verbally ask for it. But that is how it would be in an ideal country where everyone respects everyone else’s rights and freedoms, respects the fact that each person’s life is their own, and lets people live their lives as they wish to. I would love to be a citizen of such a country but I am not naïve enough to believe that I am.
The hard truth is that the ideal world is possible only if everyone around you shares the same worldview. For example, I may personally believe that people should not rob other people’s goods, but if everyone in the town does not agree with this principle, I cannot really leave the shop open or unguarded. I would need to protect it irrespective of whether I believe stealing is okay or not because nothing stops the others who don’t agree with me from stealing. Unless everyone agrees and abides by the same code, the onus is on me to protect myself and what is mine knowing what the consequences could be. At least when it comes to external goods the law of the land could help retrieve them for you or you could earn them again, but your body and life are things you cannot retrieve once they are gone. So, if I do want to live by my own principles without caring how the world around me operates, I have do so knowing the cost. Which is why even though I resent having to be too careful, having to be guarded, having to be suspicious, having to second guess people as if my life depended on it, having to mistrust strangers when they have given me no cause, having to always look over my shoulder—I still do. Because the cost of not being those things is too high…
If there is another way to live, I don’t know what it is, at least in the environment that I am in. But coming back to today’s interaction with the Uber driver, I feel sad that he might have thought that I was looking down on him when all I was doing was looking out for me. When I was getting out of the car at my destination, he said, “Have a nice day” in English, probably to impress on me that he wasn’t exactly a lowlife (not that knowing English means you are above being one, but in this culture it does suggest education, exposure, and better opportunities). I responded to him and smiled embarrassedly.
I have now decided to check the Uber car number carefully and then just confirm the driver’s name rather than asking for it. While I can’t stop being cautious, I would like to be more conscious about balancing it with empathy and kindness because it is important to spread more of the latter into the world if we want to not let suspicion and mistrust thrive around us… and if we want to ultimately create a better world where we are not afraid to let our finest instincts show.
I am posting this a little late for women’s day… but wish you all a very Happy Women’s Day nonetheless… 

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Words jostling within me
Some murmurs, some flutters, some growls
Struggle to find a way out
Gentle, kind, listening, patient ears
Don’t seem anywhere about
I look and search and scan
Familiar faces, strange names, remote possibilities
All give me a distant, questioning, sharp look
As if to say—
“You really don’t get it, do you?”
Why do I feel like a sore thumb?
Like something forgotten, something outliving its welcome
What if I did find kindred spirits?
What would I say?
What would these murmurs, flutters, growls amount to?
Maybe nothing much…
Maybe nothing…