Disclaimer: I haven’t read the book yet, but when I read about the book the concept intrigued me because it was something I identified so strongly with, as I guess most women living in the city would.
We don’t loiter as women. We rush through the city with our destination firmly in mind, our eyes glazed and distant, wary of making eye contact unwittingly, our stances defensive and protective of our body space being invaded by unwanted brushings, touchings, gropings. We don’t dare loiter for being mistaken to be what we are not, for fear of seeming approachable, available.
Why Loiter? Women and Risk on Mumbai Streets has been co-authored by an ex-colleague from my TOI days, Sameera Khan. Yes, that was way back in the distant past. Another co-author is Shilpa Phadke, someone I have not met personally but is the wife of an old college pal and a good friend. Ergo, the curiousity about the book when the release came to me.
The premise stung. It was something one had always known at the back of one’s mind but had never quite articulated. That one hated waiting in public, for anyone or anything. One would rather push through into overcrowded trains rather than wait at railway station platforms and let trains go by until one that was comfortably empty came our way.
One still hesitates to wait at street corners for friends, one would rather sit at a coffee shop and order a cappuccino to kill time if one is early. One would rather not be early and have to wait. I would have assumed that things had changed since I was a young girl, and today’s young woman is brave and fearless and had no compunctions about waiting in public spaces but apparently, things haven’t changed that much in almost two decades.
The authors researched this book for three years, and according to the release, Shilpa Phadke, Sameera Khan and Shilpa Ranade argue that though women’s access to urban public space has increased, they still do not have an equal claim to public space in the city. And they raise the question: can women’s access to public space be viewed in isolation from that of other marginal groups?
What about you? Do you loiter in your city, or would you rather not? The bottomline I guess is how safe one feels in one’s city. And despite the proclamations of Mumbai being the supposedly safest amongst cities in the country, women in Mumbai still dare not loiter.