Saturday, 5 March 2011

A Brave Woman on the Bus

The Story Behind the Post: The Women's Web has announced a contest called FemInspiration to commemorate the 100th anniversary of celebrating the International Women's Day. This is my entry to that contest. This is a true story and it happened to me.

A Brave Woman on the Bus

I walked back and forth along the length of the Pondy Bazaar bus stop, kicking stones listlessly, as I waited for the bus to show up. The bus stop was mostly deserted. I was tired, famished and could barely move around. The straps of the backpack were digging into my shoulders from the weight of the books.  I had spent a whole three hours on my feet repeating my Physics experiment at college. My thoughts drifted back to my Mechanics Professor. 

I couldn't help but resent the note of satisfaction in her voice when she said "Nobody likes a repeat!" and wrote,"Repeat", on my lab notebook. She had earned a name for making students repeat their experiments until their results were within acceptable range of the expected values. Acceptable to her, that is. In fact, the whole department and consequently the whole college had gained the reputation for being a stickler for perfection because of this woman! I groaned inwardly, but gave her a brave smile. I certainly wasn't going to give her the satisfaction of seeing my misery. A repeat meant having to stay back in college beyond the last lecture, for an indefinite period of time, on a mostly empty stomach, to complete my experiment. It meant having to take two buses to get home, instead of the single "Ladies' Special" that I would normally take. Two buses that were not Ladies' Specials. Sigh!

Thankfully the experiment went well, I did get the answer that I was supposed to get and I was elated despite the hunger that was beginning to gnaw at my stomach. I manged to catch the first of the two buses that I had to take and here I was, at Pondy Bazaar, on time. My stomach began to nag insistently and I dug through my bag to see what I might find by way of cash. Luckily I had enough change to get myself an ice-cream. I had just finished eating my ice-cream and was wiping my hands in my handkerchief, when I noticed him looking at me. He looked older, perhaps in his forties. I was too young to know for sure. He was giving me the sleaziest smile I had ever seen and lumbering directly towards me. He was large and menacing. I instinctively looked about me and drew comfort in the fact that the bus-stop had filled up with people. Surely he wouldn't dare to do anything in this crowd?

Just to be safe, I weaved my way through to the most crowded part of the bus-stop. To my horror, he followed. He was just standing at the fringe of the knot of people I had inserted myself into. When he saw me look at him, he gave me an all knowing, lecherous smile. My stomach turned. I looked at the road, desperate for the bus just pulling in, to be mine. It was not! But I ran towards it, thinking I would take any bus, to anywhere, rather than stand here. As soon as I jostled my way into the bus, I had a thought. What if he followed me on to the bus?! I ran quickly to the front of the bus and watched out of the window to see if this man would get on. Sure enough, he did. As soon as he was on the second stair, I used the cover of the crowd to get out of the bus, back on to the bus-stop and mingled quickly into the crowd. I waited until the bus left the stop and checked to see if he had followed me out. He had not. I heaved a sigh of relief, I was in no physical shape to even run. 

I took a drink of water out of my bottle, took a deep breath and looked around. And I froze! He was back at the bus-stop, standing much closer to me now, with a determined grin that left me in no doubt about the predator that he was. He had just cornered his prey and he got a kick out of the fact that his prey was trying to put up a fight. He must have realized what I had done and must have gotten off at the next bus-stop to find me again! Just at this moment, the bus I needed, pulled up. I rushed to be one of the first ones to get in. I was going to ask the conductor for help. There was no other way out. Once in, I pushed through the crowd thrusting my bus pass out and screamed at the top of my voice. "Conductor, conductor, this man is following me!", I said pointing to the man who had already got on the bus.

The reaction was nothing like what I had expected. Incredibly, the conductor continued nonchalantly dispensing tickets. Not a muscle on his face moved. Not a spasm of movement indicated that he had heard what I had just screamed out loud. I was barely arms length from him and it was as if I had not even whispered anything. I panicked. I screamed louder, "This man is following me. Getting him off the bus." Not one person on the bus responded. Tears were stinging my eyes as I stared incredulously at him and then at everyone else. Not one person met my stare. Suddenly, her voice rang out, brave and loud. 
"Which man?" she said authoritatively. I pointed him out, wordlessly.
"Him?" she said incredulously. 
"You are so old! Don't you have any shame? Don't you have any sisters? Don't you have any women folk at home?", she thundered in Tamil. The conductor whistled for the bus to stop and to my relief, the man got off the bus. I was shaking from relief. I wanted to thank her, the lone woman who stood up to help me when not one of the men or women would even acknowledge the event. Words wouldn't come out of my parched throat. My eyes streamed their thanks instead. She gave me her seat to sit, which I gratefully accepted. As I moved towards the seat, she said to me, "Why do you encourage this?".

I was flabbergasted. Back in those days, in my teens, I was a very articulate woman, but this last denouement came as a shock to me. It left me speechless. I did not understand it then. But now I do. This brave woman had done what she could for me. But, she had to get home too. It was the time when women were being attacked with bottles of acid for every imagined slight and sometimes just to assert the male dominion over the streets. In this milieu, she had risked her neck for me. For some kid that was a complete stranger to her.

So, I thank you, brave woman on the bus! I am not sure what would have happened that day, if you hadn't stood up for me. And I do hope you reached home safe!

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Dibakar Sarkar said...

I don't know what to say and how to say. This experience is still gone through by many girls. It shows the brutal gluttony of man.

Keep blogging. I wish you win the contest. More I wish ~ you have a safe journey.

Hip Grandma said...

Nice narrative. Yes timely help comes from unexpected quarters and God bless the woman!

varsha said...

Speaking up and getting heard is not an easy lesson for most of us women-but as that woman on the bus showed we can lead by example.Girls learn to speak up when they know that it can make all the difference.The predator always seeks an easy prey.

p.s I hope you take up Boxing -its useful :))

Agnija said...

Thanks everyone, for stopping by and taking the time to comment.
@Dibakar: Thanks for your kind words. What is worse is the apathy of the people around!
@HipGrandma: Thanks. Yes, I had almost given up at the point when she spoke up.
@Varsha: You're so right about setting a good example by speaking up. And yes, I do kick-boxing on a regular basis now! :)) Being physically strong makes you feel so much more in charge of your own life!

womensweb said...

Incredible post, Agnija! Thank you for sharing.

Agnija said...

@WomensWeb: Thank you.

Dew said...

Indeed a brave woman!

Agnija said...

@Dew: Yep! Considering no one spoke even after she did!

Shail said...

One brave woman I must say. Well written
Congrats on the win. Well deserved! :)

Lavanya said...

A similar incident happened to me once when this sleazebag followed me from Mount Road to my bus stop in Ashok Pillar, chased me all the way home. I lived inside a compound with 8 blocks of flats and I ran inside a random block and hid for over 30 minutes before fleeing to my block. I still can remember the bone-numbing terror I felt.
Kudos to you for asking for help. And yes, to the woman who stood up for you.
And well done, for winning the contest!

Ugich Konitari said...

Great post , and congratulations on the wonderful contest win !

But something worries me. I am 61, and i recall having such an experience returning home from school in the public bus. I must have been 10 or 11. So many years have passed and these type of predators still exist on our public transports......Can society never change ?

Agnija said...

@Shail: Thanks you.
@Lavanya: That must have been harrowing! It is strange that our first impulse is to trust only ourselves in this situation, isn't it? It's a pity that society has made us think that its each woman for herself. Time to change that, I think.

Agnija said...

Thanks Ugich. In fact, I was thinking along the same lines that it has been nearly 20 years since the incident and there are kids who still go through the same thing. May be we need to organize ourselves to do something about this? I am thinking of somethings, I hope to write a post about it and sort of issue out a "call for action". Hoping for your support.

Uma said...

Came over from womensweb - congrats on winning!
very well narrated...

Agnija said...

Thanks, Uma.

Pippa said...

A well told and moving story, thank you. Reading from Cornwall, UK, it also gave me a unique perspective into life as a woman in your world, and despite many differences, how similar it can be to life here.

Agnija said...

@Pippa: Thank you. I did not expect that this would strike a chord so far away. Thanks for stopping by to comment!

S G V Mani said...

Very good story, real life story. But there is no need to wonder about whether incidents that happened 20 or 50 years ago continue to happen still, even now, and whether society will ever change or not. It is said nothing, no incident, takes place today that has not been covered by some story in the Mahabharatha. History continues to repeat itself, so that more cowards get exposed everyday and more heros/heroines are born everyday.

Anonymous said...

Very well written. I am not going to comment on the bravery of the woman, at this point it would be superflous. Wish I could do something actively to change the situation back home.

On the other hand, I think you should slowly start moving into short stories. You are good with the narrative.


Agnija said...

@Anonymous: Yes, I am planning on writing a sort of call to action post. May be we can do something together. And, yes, it would be nice to start writing creatively again.

Shail said...

One brave woman I must say. Well written
Congrats on the win. Well deserved! :)