Shreya is a 26-year-old software professional.
I was bored. It was a beautiful Saturday, most of which I had spent being lazy or cribbing about wanting to do something interesting. I had been contemplating whether to step out but as it was turning dark my brain told me to stay within the safe zone of my hostel.
At around 9 pm, I saw my hostel mate Pallavi ready with a purse, telling the warden that she was going to step out. She saw me and offered, 'We are going to see a film at the cinema hall which is a short walk away. There are four of us, want to come?'
Scared... but excited!
I confess, I had never gone for a night show at a cinema hall. The thought excited me as it reminded me of Enid Blyton heroines who would go out in search of little adventures. But the paranoid part of my brain again got into action.
'Shreya, this is Delhi. Going out at night is dangerous'.
It is just one of those unwritten rules most girls in Delhi adhere to. But the other, free-spirited, part of me wanted to just have fun. Pallavi saw the indecision in my eyes. She tempted me further by saying that she had seen a lot of films in that theatre at night and that this particular film had got good reviews.
Watching a film at night might hardly qualify as a daring act but the realities of life in Indian cities often make it one. Then without letting my brain come up with more reasons of why it was not wise for me to go, I said yes. I was excited but a little scared too. However, I was not the only one with such feelings. The group consisted of a veteran late night film buff, but the three other girls - just like me - had recently moved to Delhi.
And then we stepped out of the hostel. The air smelt of freedom. I began to enjoy the experience of just being out, on that starry night, but at the back of our minds, we were constantly praying that nothing would go wrong – no cat calls, no lewd comments, no attempts to touch or grope. One of the girls then nudged me and handed over a bottle – it was a chilli spray. She had bought one for everyone, just in case.
Unaware of the risk?
We reached the theatre and queued for tickets. I saw a young foreigner buy tickets for the crowded front stall section even as were we were buying balcony. It struck me that I would never do that – the dreaded possibility of being physically or sexually harassed always ruled that out. This fear had simply taken over our lives. She however was either unaware of the risk or had just decided that she wouldn’t let it prevent her from experiencing the simple pleasures of India – watching a Bollywood film at a no-frills theatre being one .
We really enjoyed the film but through the show I kept fidgeting with my watch. At around 11:50 pm when the film ended, we decided to walk towards our hostel as no auto-rickshaws were in sight.
Searching for the chilli spray
It was then that our fears started making their presences felt and strongly so. We started talking about random things to keep the negative thoughts away. I just wanted to rush to the safe confines of my room where fear would not haunt me. Just then a hoot (wooo hooo) broke my reverie. I froze on the spot, assuming the worst. It was almost as if the hammer that I had been holding at bay had fallen. Fearing a group of rowdy men, my mind and heart started racing – thinking of quick getaways – even as my fingers desperately searched for the chilli spray.
But all is not what it appears to be. On turning, I saw a car with an open sunroof drive past us. A young woman was standing tall through the sunroof cheering at us. It was almost as if she was saying, "Yay... go girls do it!"
All of us broke into an instant giggle and waved back at the girl. We returned to our hostel safe and sound. I felt very happy about having enjoyed a lovely movie in the company of friends on an amazing night. But it struck me how nerve racking the whole experience was. Our fears had engulfed us and how I had almost decided not to go for the movie. I also realized how this is fairly common experience. Many other women would probably not even take a chance – and just miss out some of the simple pleasures of life.