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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A bus journey in New Delhi

My recent trip to Delhi has triggered off memories of my life there all those years ago. Those were the early 1980s (so almost 30 years ago) and I had gone from small-town India to one of its biggest cities, the country’s capital.

As could be expected, I had many experiences – some good, some not-so-good at that time - but they were all wonderful from a learning point of view. Later on, I would live in other parts of India, and each place added its share of learning experiences for me.

I've had the good fortune of living in various places in India - the north, west, east and south. I have therefore never really identified with one particular region. My family is originally from, and now lives mainly, in the south. I grew up and did my schooling in the east.I went for higher studies to the north and, before leaving India, was living and working in the western part of the country.

I think I can safely say that although they are all technically parts of the same country - and obviously there is a lot binding them together – they are also very different in their culture, food habits and importantly when it comes to day-to-day interaction, in the attitude and mindsets of the people.

I remember one particular incident in Delhi that highlights this to some extent.

This was during my early days of living in  Delhi. I'd been there for just two or three months and was slowly beginning to get used to the place, to get to know the bus-routes, the places to visit, places to eat and so on. Nothing strange, just what anybody in a new place does when he or she goes to live there for the first time.

One day I was travelling by bus from Connaught Place to Janakpuri in the west of the city. It was a weekday and that meant that the journey would easily take an hour, if not more. Anyway, as soon as I got into the bus at Regal Cinema, I surprisingly got a seat and was pretty comfortable.

The crowd in the bus began growing as it moved on and though the bus was not jam-packed, there were soon plenty of people standing in the aisle.

I noticed that there was a lady standing next to me. I didn't quite notice whether she was elderly, or middle-aged or young,  What I could make out that she didn't seem like a school or college student.

Now, where I'd been born and brought up in eastern India, I'd been used to offering my seat to ladies in buses. It was a very normal thing to do – men would do it quite often out of courtesy to ladies. Ok, maybe some women consider this an insult to their sense of being equal to men, but anyway it was considered gentlemanly behaviour and common courtesy where I grew up.

So I offered my seat to this lady. She initially hesitated, but then accepted. And I just stood next to her in the aisle.

At the next stop, a few people got down. I obviously did not - I still had a long way to go. When the bus started, I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was one of my fellow passengers, a man standing behind me.

He : “Oye, utarna nahin hai kya?” (Don’t you have to get down ?)

I : "Nahin”.(No.)

He : “Kyon bhai, kahan jaana hai aapko?” (Why, where do you have to go ?”)

I : “Janakpuri”.

He : “Kya? Janakpuri? Abhi to bahut door hai. Kam se kam ek ghanta lagega” (What ? Janakpuri ? That is very far off. It will take at least another hour).

I : "Pata hai." (I know).

He : “To phir seat se uthne ka matlab?” (Then why did you get up from your seat ?)

I did not bother to reply. His tone was aggressive, as if wanting to pick a fight.

He : “Achha, samjha…ladies ko dekhte hi ho gaye shuru…” (Oh, I understand… as soon as you see ladies, you start off with all this).

He let out a scornful laugh and some of the guys around him joined too.

I did not say anything. I was beginning to feel embarrassed and was most certainly not interested in conversation.

He continued “Lagey raho is chakkar mein…khoob tarakki karoge betey” (Keep going at it..you will make a lot of progress).

I just ignored him, hoping he would stop by himself. Although he looked an educated person, I saw no point in engaging in a discussion with him. I did not need to explain my actions to him, I thought.

He kept on saying something or the other - “I know guys like you” and stuff like that.

Finally his bus-stop arrived, he got down and I had peace for the rest of the journey.

This incident did make me think though. In situations when something isn't right, I tend to first blame myself. I know that oesn't make sense but I always tend to first think that I must be in the wrong. So I began thinking “Did I do something wrong? All I did was to offer my seat to a lady. Was that wrong? Maybe they don't do that in Delhi.”

Later on, as I got to know Delhi better, I couldn't help feeling that it was very much a male-dominated society. Men definitely considered themselves superior to women. In fact, I'd even go to the extent of saying that many men saw women as nothing more than objects.

That explained to some extent the sexual abuse that used to be a subject of concern in society in those days. When there is such a barrier between men and women, where there is no respect, this is hardly surprising.

Ironically this was at a time when the Prime Minister of India, living in the heart of Delhi, was Indira Gandhi, a very strong woman.

I know that by narrating this story I am treading on dangerous ground here. This was an experience I had in Delhi almost 30 years ago. Things may well be very different now. Also, it is not fair to give Delhi a bad name based on one isolated experience. I certainly do not want to generalize.

But I must also say that I've never had this in any of the other places I have lived. Offering my seat in a bus has been a very common practice for me – I still do it in Bangalore. I have done it in Bombay (Mumbai),in Hyderabad - no problem. I see it as just common courtesy and something that I grew up with. I see nothing wrong with it, unless it offends the lady of course.

So, what happened in Delhi? Maybe what was common for me in eastern India was not such a common practice in Delhi after all. I do not recall whether I offered my seat after that in Delhi though, in hindsight, maybe I should have. To see whether it was really just an isolated experience or whether there was more to it.

Anyway, pleasant or unpleasant, it made for an interesting experience, if nothing else.

And has remained somewhere at the back of my mind all these years.

And finally found a mention here on my blog. :-)


Nandini Vishwanath said...

I think you did the right thing. And doing the right thing always evokes laughter from others, doesn't it?

I wonder why. Why not just make rude remarks? Or, leave it even? Why laugh at us? Is that the way human mind works?

memsaab said...

Women who would be offended by such a courtesy are probably easily offended by everything. Such people aren't worth worrying about. You probably made that woman's day and the men laughing about it are also not worth worrying about.

Occasionally on the train or bus here someone will offer a seat, and I will usually decline it if I don't need to sit but I am not at all offended---just want to be fair :)

Ravi said...

I have experienced the same thing when in Delhi. I got up to offer my seat to an older lady. She hesitated and promptly a young man with a smirk and an annoying smile grabbed my seat.

Both the woman and I looked in bewilderment. And while I stood, this guy traveled all the way to his stop with the smirk firmly pasted on his face.

No wonder Delhi is considered the most unsafe place for women among the metros. I love Delhi. But such behavior makes me sad.