A RUNNING WOMAN
“I am committed to making this change and won’t let dark skies, thick canopies, jeeps, bikes, or untamed beasts hinder my path.
Don’t you let them hinder yours”
Dear readers, apart from dark skies, jeeps, and the rest, we also have a great bunch of narrow minds to fight..
Paraphrasing one of my favourite fictional characters, I’d like to begin this story with a piece of advice to the world reading this –
“Relax people and open your minds. We all fear the things we know nothing about. We fear the uncommon and unfamiliar. Open your minds”
Remember the last time you played on the street, girl? When you danced in the rain without fearing how your top stuck to your body? When you stood and not gave two hoots about how your t-shirt had folded up? When you ran with complete joy and peace?
It’s been two months running and I can’t remember one day when I wasn’t looked at like a foolish specimen. My clothes, shoes, or red face aren’t the factors that grasp people’s attention because being a woman (a running one, for that matter) suffices.
Becoming regulars, my friend and I have been getting better with our pace and timing, although I’d have to admit that she beats me at this sport very easily. Sometimes when our day’s calendar permits, we go to the NCBS Canteen and treat ourselves to crispy Dosas, hot Idlis, crunchy Vadas and the all-satisfying Poori Saagu.
One such morning, we stepped into the canteen giggling over something, totally unaware of the misfortune awaiting us.
We walked to the ordering counter and smiled at each other with a telepathic nod — Idli with Green Chutney for me and Vada with piping hot Sambhar for her.
“Hey Sans, why don’t you give our order while I just wash the sweat off my face?” she said.
“Anything for you, darling”, I teased. Playfully hitting me on the back, she strode towards the common washbasin.
Someone’s eyes had been on us from the moment we had walked in. The person was looking at us disapprovingly, watching our every move. It was our oppressor. This time, it was a woman. Seeing my friend move away, she (who was in her mid-forties) walked in my direction and placed her palm on my shoulder (which was backing her), intending to seek my attention.
Sensing a stranger’s hand on my back, I turned around anxiously.
“How may I help you”, I said in a polite yet unaffectionate manner.
“Do you understand Kannada?” she asked in a hush tone with her face looking extremely concerned.
“Yes I do, please tell me” I said immediately switching from English.
“That friend of yours.. Ask her to cover herself. There are men here and it isn’t good to wear that”
I took a little longer than I should have to reply. Completely taken aback by the woman’s audacity and backward mindset, I looked at my friend for a brief moment to understand what had offended her.
Walking nonchalantly as she returned, my friend who was wearing a sleeveless sports top with a knee-height running pant (I find it pointless to even state what she was wearing, but it may help highlight the dangers of a sexist mentality), began wondering what this stranger was doing conversing with me.
“It is none of your business what she wears and doesn’t”, I snapped back in a firm manner.
“What happened Sans!? What did she say?”, my surprised friend asked me.
“Nothing, she’s a stupid person”.
Now, the stranger was already angered by my reply and hearing me call her stupid, lit her up in flames.
“HOW DARE YOU CALL ME STUPID?” she yelled bringing everyone’s attention to where we stood.
“You youngsters have no sense how to dress up. Look, look how everyone is staring at you! Shameless girls!”.
Her screaming voice and slut-shaming sentences, had begun to boil my blood.
“YOU ARE NOBODY TO TELL US WHAT TO DO AND WHAT TO WEAR, GO BACK TO YOUR SEAT BEFORE YOU REGRET IT”, I said equating her aggression.
“Sans, please step back. Let me talk to her”, said my friend pushing me to the side, as she stepped forward to talk to her in the most respectful tone.
“Ma’am, please don’t scream. Tell me what the issue is. What’s wrong?”
“You cannot wear such things and roam around! Have some maana-mariyaada!” (self-respect)
“But Ma’am, I don’t think there is anything wrong with my clothes”
“Are you blind? Look at how much skin you’re displaying”
“Ma’am, there are so many wearing the same kind of clothes”
“Who? Who is wearing dirty clothes like you?”
“If you look around, you’ll find plenty of boys weari..”
“BOYS! You are comparing yourself to a boy?! Don’t you know that there is a difference between a boy and a girl? Or has your mother not taught you that along with not dressing decently?”
“Please don’t say such things, am I not like your daughter?” (Still maintaining a humble tone)
“Nanna magalu nin thara dagaar illa” (My daughter isn’t a slut like you)
“Ma’am? What are you saa..” she was almost going to cry.
Pulling her back, I came face to face with the woman. If anger could kill, either she or I would not have been alive today.
Gritting my teeth I said, “We’ll walk around naked if we want to. You must learn how to mind your bee’s wax and watch that tongue”.
“YOU WANT TO GO AROUND NAKED? GREAT! WHY DON’T YOU TAKE ALL YOUR CLOTHES OFF RIGHT NOW? GO ON, TAKE THEM OFF! WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?” she began howling again. Now people outside the canteen came in, listening to her words.
Stunned momentarily into silence, I wasn’t angry anymore. I wasn’t angry anymore, but hurt. Hurt and let down miserably by a member of my own gender. I hung my head low in disbelief.
“I am going to complain to the authorities that girls like you and her come here, dress like this and ruin the culture. I’ll make sure they don’t let you in ever again”, she said challenging us.
Raising my head I pierced my rigid gaze into eyes. Taking a step closer, my face a few inches away from hers, I said, “Complain to whoever you want, you won’t stop us. We’ll come and run like the roads belong to us”.
“WAIT AND WATCH YOU FOOL, I WILL TAKE YO…”
Before she could complete her sentence, my friend took me by my arm and dragged us away from the spot.
Our breakfast had arrived, but neither of us was in the mood to eat.
With the canteen still staring in our direction, she untied the jacket around her waist and began to lifelessly put it on.
“NO!”, I grabbed her elbow. “You will not wear this!”
“But Sans..”, she said almost choking.
“No, you won’t. For me, for all the women slut-shamed, for your self-respect, and for humanity, you will not put on that jacket”.
Not wishing to involve herself in another fight, she put her jacket away, exasperated.
We didn’t speak at the table, that morning. Our usual candid laughter was replaced with dead silence as we reluctantly cleared our plates. Walking out of the canteen, I placed my arm around her shoulders and weakly smiled as though nothing had happened.
Unable to control herself any longer, she cupped her face in her palms and cried till we reached the exit gates.
“Will the world ever change?” she murmured.
I was almost about to reply with a confused answer when I realised that she hadn’t asked me the question at all. She had directed it at herself.
The next morning, I met her at the gate. She was stretching her hamstrings for the 4 mile dash. I had expected to see a change in her dressing style as a post-public-fight symptom, but to my surprise she was in her regular sportswear.
“What’s up!” I said cheerfully as we hi-fived.
“Nothing, just a little sleepy”
“Great to see that you’re okay after what happened”, I said pointing at her clothes.
“I am not going to let people like her change who I am. Although I just feel bad about one thing”
“What!?” I exclaimed creasing my forehead.
“That the woman from yesterday is really missing out on good clothes”.
The creases on my forehead smoothened themselves as my lips curved into a broad smile. “I am proud of you”, I thought.
Looking at my amused expression, she grinned from ear to ear and took off.
Her athletic figure was sprinting in front of me, adorning the garments she’d chosen for that morning’s exercise.
Realizing that I’d been staring at her with unusual contentment, I answered her in my mind, “Yes my love! With people as amazing and determined as you, the world will soon change”.
“Hurry up slow-poh!”, she screamed nearing the road’s turn.
“I’ll be right with you!”, I cried out in a voice shaky with emotions as I sprang into action.