Home-office-home. This has been my schedule for the past six years in Chennai. Being a migrant in the Southern metro of Chennai, I was intimidated at first. Intimidated by the speed and the size of everything around me. The excessive pollution, noise, a casual indifference among the people rushing to get to their workplaces and homes, the various modes of transport. All this scared the shit out of me. Of course, this was almost seven years back. I dug in, quite well, to be honest. Since then, Chennai has been my home. My very own Madras.
And then came the time, when I had to get to classes as early as six in the morning, after which I had office. Then I had classes again. I used to reach my room, my humble abode, which I shared with three other people, at 9:30 pm. I depended solely on the MTC buses and shared autos.
Apart from being subjected to pick-pocketing and groping once, nothing else happened. I considered myself lucky when I got a seat, luckier when I wasn’t at the receiving end of the conductor’s jibes and the luckiest when the bus actually stopped at my bus stop. Gradually, I started becoming tired after a whole day’s work and classes. The bus journey was killing me. Combine this pain with the changes in the location of the client and menstruation. I was living the life of a nomad.
That was when my parents got the lovely idea of gifting me with a two wheeler. A TVS Scooty Pep+. My life became easier. I thought I was safe and my spirit was sane. I took my scooty everywhere. The shop nearby, the classes, the location of the client. I would be there everywhere with my reliable companion. It gave my wings back to me with the assurance that only motherly hugs could give.
Peak hours are a curse. This is not confined to just Bangalore or Mumbai. Chennai chokes during peak hours. No amount of strategic planning could actually save me from those peak hour signals and the crazy driving that comes along with it. I was pushed to negotiate the roads alongside the experts like the MTC buses and trucks. What chance does a minuscule scooty stand against such behemoths?
The first enemy for anybody riding a scooter is the window of the bus. You never know who would end up choosing the exact same time to spit out of the window, as you bask in the glory of overtaking the bus. What are the odds, you ask? Oh! Trust me when I say, ‘too many’. People seem to be happily oblivious to the fact that the bus is not the only vehicle cruising on the roads and there are others, who are less fortunate, who drive alongside and would really not like being spat on.
The second enemy is obviously the door of the bus. Chennai buses are crowded. We have a pathetically small fleet when compared to the size of the population that uses these buses. Invariably, all the buses that I am pushed to share the space with, at the signals, would be overflowing with people. With guys hanging on the footboard, the possibility of being cat-called and leered at are high.
An incident took place about a week back. It was no different from other days, but still, let me give you a description of how it was. As I left from my workplace, my first stop was the Gemini signal, which is notorious for its traffic. Beside me was a bus, which held more people than its designated capacity. The signal lasts typically for about a minute and one has to wait, no matter what. I felt numerous pairs of eyes on me, violating me all through the 60 seconds. It was gross to such an extent that I had to cover myself up with my dupatta. And no! My attire was not asking for this to happen. I felt bad. I felt disgusted.
Trust me when I say this is a very normal thing to happen to women who opt to ride a scooter. They are being violated with their eyes.
Personally, I hold very less tolerance towards such transgressions. Creating a ruckus in a long distance SETC bus to Madurai during Pongal season years back due to molestation and poking a guy who groped me in a 17M bus, with a safety pin in Chennai on a fine morning stands to my credit. I am thankful that my parents have taught me how to shout and make a mayhem when someone exploits my private space. I consider myself fortunate. But it shudders me to think of hundreds of other women, who are not as fortunate as I am. What about them?
I have no qualms with the cops of Chennai, for I have always found them to be courteous and helpful. One just needs to approach them in a kind and respectful manner and trust me they will help for sure. I have experienced this at the Mylapore Police station even after 8:30 pm when I had gone to lodge a complaint about my missing wallet.
I would say that the general mentality must change. Bus drivers and conductors need to be educated to take complaints seriously and not dust it off by saying, “It is peak hours and we cannot help it.” No. If you can’t who else will??
People, at large, must be made more aware. Safety is not about one man or one woman. It is about the community as a whole. One should feel safe to venture out. One should feel safe that even if something unfavourable happens, there are people to help out. That is where actual success lies.
Let us spread awareness about this to each and everyone, personally. Forget about what the society can do and focus on what one can do. Each of us doing our part would help the society achieve something substantial.
Let us make Chennai safe!