Yesterday I hated men. Today I feel much better. But I keep imaging violent scenarios where I have the powers of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and kick the shit out of that fucking mob. Even though I've been taught that the best thing to do when attacked is run.
New Year's Eve in Bombay, Sasha and I went to Leopold's in Colaba, a 50/50 mix of backpackers and locals, and hung out with some hilarious and sweet Brits, one of whom (a gangly 6'4 baby-faced dreadlocked 22 year-old man-boy) kept going up to tables of locals and saying: "India is fucking amazing. I love you!!" We met a sweet young Scottish couple who wanted to try to get production work on Bollywood sets and already had a few leads. I was so happy to be there, with those people, with the first taste of real freedom for a while. We got tipsy, danced to rock anthems and around 1:30 we piled out of the bar with our British friends, bubbling over with drunken good will.
Outside the bar, it initially looked like a street party. Except without any women. People shook our hands: Happy New Year!!! Yeah. Then someone grabbed my breast. WTF? I was stunned. Then it happened again, but hard. And again. I started kicking and thrashing my arms out and mostly missing (note: I throw the lamest punches). I caught up with Duncs, one of Brit guys who, in his drunken state, had only just caught on to what was happening.
I saw Sasha emerge from the crowd with her arms crossed and a disbelieving look on her face. Then we heard Abby, the blonde Scottish girl screaming. Her boyfriend and I ran back. He got to her first. The were pushing up her skirt while pulling down her underwear and she was completely surrounded. He pulled her away and we walked away in a group, with this fucking mob following us closely, shouting shit, and reaching for us.
The image I can't shake from this? They looked so happy. The angrier and firmer we got, the more it fed their desire to "play" this violent game.They were having the time of their lives. I remember a professor told me once that if you're ever surrounded by a pack of wolves about to make you their dinner, they don't look savage or angry, but engaged and happy.
I thumped one guy hard on the shoulder as he passed me with his arm extended for a grope and said: "You fucking touch me, I kill you," in my most threatening action movie voice. Where did I learn to speak like that? I felt that we were on the precipice of real violence, but what would be the tipping point that would make this mob gel and act as one? All this time, my brain was pelting me with questions: Was I going to be raped? Would I be killed? How were we going to get out of here?
We turned the corner and to our relief saw a posh hotel party going on. The guards were on one side of some parked cars and the mob on the other. They motioned us towards to mob and away from the hotel. "No fucking way." I said, adrenaline spiking in my body, as my small group moved closer to the guards. "You make them go away. You call the police now." For a full minute we stood on one side of a row of parked cars, with the mob gathering on the other.
"Let us in!" pleaded Duncs. The security guard shook his head. I gave the finger to the crowd. They roared with pleasure. The guard looked at me like I was insane and let us in. Everyone inside was in their posh clothes eating at an outdoor buffet and dancing to Summer of '69 (they love that song here). Abby tucked her knees up and sat in a corner and began to shake violently, as her boyfriend tried to calm her. Then the police arrived, and the guards came back, telling us it was time to leave.We did not have tickets. Fucking India, man.
We told the police what had happened. One translated for the others (police here speak very little English compared to the rest of the population). Catch this: The policemen were smiling. I think they thought it was all very funny.
I am not sure how it happened, but we all ended up in a car with these men who were somehow friends with the officers. We were all squished into the car, sitting on top of each other. I was dying to go back to our hotel and pee and cry or whatever it was that I had to do to be safe again and breathe. But the guys who owned the car -- who thought they were being all heroic and shit -- they started being creepy too!
While the British guys were in agony, repeating "What the fuck! That is the craziest thing I have ever seen! Are you girls OK? Omigod, I am sooo sorry, on behalf of all men," the Indian guy whose lap I was sitting on (in retrospect, who sat me on his lap???) said: "Where is your boyfriend?" and fondled my bum. He even had the clueless gall to ask for a kiss on the lips for thanks and tell to us shop in his store the next day. I moved his hand away each time but said nothing because the British guys were looking for someone to fight and I did not want to incite it. Fucking men.
On the train to Hyderabad last night I could not sleep. (Maybe it was all the Chikki I bought after Pune) Which is really, really rare for me. I was imagining clobbering the guys, breaking their noses, twisting their testicles knots, then kicking them into their throats. It was awful to have my mind go there so obsessively and violently. Around midnight I went and stood near the bathrooms and had a long, pukey cry and a cigarette and would have slept after that but for the crying baby in the berth below.
Today I am fine. Tired. Better. So lucky to be in Hyderabad. Surrounded by friends and kind people. Excited by the conference at Nizam U (The South Asian Social Forum which promises to be an unruly, awesome affair with a truly eclectic crowd).
The local men I have told this story to have had the following baffling responses:
1. I am very embarrassed. There are some bad men in this country.
2. Shit. I should have told you to stay indoors on New Year's.
3. Indian men do not know how to drink
4. You know, this is a new thing in our country.
5. It was because they were uneducated.
I will be working for a women's rights group in India. this makes me very happy today. I do not feel more scared to be here, just a bit more enlightened about certain realities. I do think/know that there are some wonderful, enlightened Indian men.
This country is more complicated and frightening than I had anticipated. Today I think that working on the gender issue could lay the groundwork for solving the others.