Thursday, January 17, 2008

Mumbai new year and the thought association game

photo - jasmeen patheja, 2007.

Street sexual harassment

I get that by dressing a certain way, you're not asking for it. i get it because it must be true: the only two times i have filed an FIR for harassment i was dressed most "modestly". i get it because what kind of regressive thinking would you have to be indulging in, to blame the harassed, not the harasser. it's hard to protect yourself without knowing what part of you will cause umbrage and invite violence, or cause (apparently) irresistible titillation and invite violence. i get the larger picture, the ethical implication of suggesting someone asked for it and yet... what story (of globalisation, of transition, of woman's body, of disjuncture, of private-public) are the details telling us....?

young women - glamour district - JW Marriott - black dress, jeans - teasing - mob of 40-50 - swear - growing mob - sexual violence.

From the HT - Jan 01, 2008

I'm thinking globalisation- societies in transition - female body as site for battles over "owning" and "belonging" - women relatively safe in private spaces of... home? (hardly!), malls, money=safety - private images coming out in the public - middle class women's huge variance in lifestyle as they negotiate a large difference between private liberated and public 'respectable' persona...

This is Arjun Appadurai on the "pains of cultural reproduction in a disjunctive global world" -

...young men (in particular) come to be torn between the macho politics of self-assertion in contexts where they are frequently denied real agency, and women are forced to enter the labour force in new ways on the one hand, and continue the maintenance of familial heritage on the other. Thus the honor of women becomes not just an armature of stable (if inhuman) systems of cultural reproduction, but a new arena for the formation of sexual identity and family politics as men and women face new pressures at work and new fantasies of leisure...

And then here we are at Majestic bus stand, for many days in the week, the centre of my little universe. All the buses seem to lead there and buses from there lead to everywhere. The journeys are pleasant enough (although it is tiring to stand and play this-is-the-two seater-i'm-next-in-line-for games with the aggressive elbow joints of tired looking tiny women). Many buses have a small semi-open sun roof. Glass windows are shut unlike the dust-caked auto rides. Distances hurtle past; views are more engaging from this vantage point - you can look over the tops of heads all crowded around to see a little girl holding a long stick between her teeth and riding a unicycle along a taut wire near the Malleswaram circle.

And then suddenly the joyride ends. The bus does a giant sweep into the Majestic bus stand, people have begun edging to the doors to jump out, already many are on their cell phones explaining, "Sorry, my bus got delayed, I'm at Majestic, I am just reaching..." and then suddenly it's a free-for-all.

Hands brush you, fingers knead you, eyes lust, mouths curve, entire bodies come up suddenly, unstoppably, rushingly against you. It's all in rush hour traffic: no time to stop to say, "Hey!" or to see anything beyond the backs of receding heads, the disappearing ends of fingers.

And on every bus bay that tiny, new fangled little flat screened (it is, isn't it? I can't see so well...) TV, shouting out, reminding us that we are in Bangalore! A super star region, characterised by “a new economic landscape comprising high level, internationally-oriented financial and business services” (Perrons). Whoo hoo! So what can we expect from the tiny, shiny TVs at the central bus stand? Bus timings? Delays? Emergency contact numbers?

It's a streaming video of Bollywood songs. Women gyrate, men rub their hands over them lustfully, women close their eyes, gasp and shudder in prolonged enjoyment.

And so in that surge of sexuality radiating so unapologetically from every tiny TV screen in every tiny bus bay, in that surge the men get caught up, reaching out, groping, discovering. A microcosmic experience of the Bollywood original, encouraging them from the pillar tops and emanating signals that whisper approval at reaching out and living (even a watered down version) of the Great Indian Sex Dream.

Modern, modern Bangalore with its Hard Rock Cafe which is dutifully signposted "Hard Rock Cafe Bengalooru", where bartenders flirt with you and ask you whom you're looking for; utter whoops of joy every now and then to keep the pace upbeat and frenetic; offer you more than one kind of beer... in this modern Bengalooru where women work for Google and test product design for Nokia, work and live in shiny enclosures on the city outskirts in high surveillance buildings, how do women schizophrenically negotiate dealing with the difference between public and private space? How do they become modern citizens?

Even as they adopt professional avatars of modernity based on ideas of scientific progress, presumably meant to be accompanied by the assumption of similarly progressive notions of modern citizenship, how do they negotiate the realities of class, caste and regional politics that inflect their actual functioning as citizens outside of the rarefied work environment?

Or, do they never leave their private spaces at all?
When, and if they do, are they 'asking for it'?