A CITY DYING

Take a train from Lower Parel to Mahalaxmi. Gaze out of a west-facing window. You will spot the tall black chimney with ‘Shakti Mills’ painted down its edifice. It towers over the picturesque ruins of my city’s industrial history.

You will wonder what the crumbling columns look like from within. One monsoon evening, when their overgrowth appears irresistibly lush, you will want to enter.

Last week, a twenty-two year old boy and a twenty-two year old girl, did.

For years, I’ve wanted to take my photographer friends there. We are all twenty-two years old. One of them is a girl.

*

 We were walking back from New Delhi Metro station to our hotel nearby. On a whim I still cannot explain, I walked behind my friend, instead of beside her.

In the next twenty minutes, I observed her being ogled by seventeen men. Including two policemen.

To describe what she was wearing would defeat the purpose of this post. Fortunately, we were part of a group, and reached our rooms quite safely. I remember thinking then – this won’t happen in my city.

*

Our Fresher’s Party ended late that night. In a bout of chivalry, I volunteered to accompany my friend in her train back across the city to Vasai.

She had a first-class pass for the entire route; I didn’t. To avoid the crowd, she boarded a ladies’ first class compartment. I boarded a second-class general one.

Gradually, the train emptied out. And for fifty minutes, I, her supposed protector, twiddled my thumbs in my compartment, completely unaware of how she was faring in hers.

When we alighted at Vasai, I felt very silly. We laughed about it then, and we’ve laughed about it ever since.

It doesn’t seem laughable anymore.

 *

As usual, we worked on the project in college until eleven. Usually, we’d take one of the last trains home, and her parents would pick her up at Parle station.

That night, her parents were not in the city. Her brother came to pick her up instead.

No one found it absurd that the person deputed to escort her home was of school-going age. He was male, and that was security enough.

 *

Another night. Another train. Through a window in the partition, my gaze meandered to a young woman seated in the ladies’ first class.

There was no one else in her compartment. Why is she travelling alone so late? Doesn’t she know enough to be careful about certain kinds of men?

She noticed me. Her expression changed. A strange man is staring at me. There is no one nearby.

She shifted herself out of view. For her, I’m no different from the men I wished she’d be wary of.

*

Don’t take that route. Don’t enter that area. Don’t wear that dress. Don’t come back that late.

Don’t.

One half of my city’s people – locals and migrants, old and young, rich and poor – don’t feel safe here. This is not my city anymore.

Reclaim my city. Take back the night.

* * *

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13 thoughts on “A CITY DYING

  1. Amazingly different style of writing! Captivating as it leaves a lot for imagination.
    And as for the issue, I think I fight daily against it. Sometimes, I think I am lucky to have protective male friends around me. But then I am unlucky that I need protection in the first place. 😦

    • Have to agree with you there Lakshmi, although am happy for you that you have protective male friends, the fact that we have reached a situation where women need ‘protection’ is very sad and deplorable…

  2. two things. First “to describe what she was wearing would defeat the purpose of this post” if you think telling people about her figure hugging dress would get them thinking serves her right/ what was she thinking/ no moral compass/ outrageously dressed/ no wonder. Well to all those people she could damn well be wearing a bikini, that gives noone the right to molest her. You want gender equality it begins with putting a stop to all those DONTS. One word DISGUSTED.
    Also I have a rule: keep an arms distance from any unkown(sometimes known) male at all times. He is a potential rapist. Die walking in the midlle of a highway but don’t break that rule. Its sad that I have to do that. Or carry pepper spray. Just because god created men with no morals.

  3. It’s sad that MLAs keep increasing their pensions secretly, while our safety is hardly spent on. Why couldn’t they train the police better, pay them better, so that they do their jobs right? Because women as second class citizens aren’t really important enough for that.

  4. Thank you.
    I work at Shakti Mill. A couple of days before the incident – Raksha Bandhan to be precise, my little sister (she’s 19) came along later in the evening to pick me up. A girl who has never been afraid of consequences, and left the worrying to be done by her elder sister, who couldn’t sleep a wink after December 16. She wanted to get into the compound that looks like one of the most beautiful places to be in – a ruin of a mill made of stone, filled with wilderness. I whacked her on the shoulder and we drove off home on a scooter.
    Then this.
    Every day now, we make it a point to leave in groups. The bosses are worried – one of them have handed all of us (boys included) pepper sprays.
    There’s a cop van in the lane that otherwise has a couple of chai stalls, a score of taxis parked and a garage. It’s a 300 meter walk which I have been instructed to be on the phone throughout while passing. There’s a construction site on the other side of the lane with a 20 foot-high metal barricade. I don’t know what happens there. I don’t want to know.
    Now, I feel unsafe unless there’s a cop around me – believe it or not, I still feel less vulnerable with them around.
    Now I practically stalk my sister. I have the phone numbers of her friends, who I haven’t met, just in case she spends longer than the time she promised at wherever she is without calling home first.
    Sometimes this place is not Mumbai any more.

  5. Loved your writeup.. Am a dilli ki kudi n when i shifted base to mumbai my folks sighed a relief… However now i m supposed to call everytime i leave home till i reach my target place … Wish majority of men ( unlike present minority) were good hearted … Life would have been soo much simpler 🙂

  6. Mrigank! I am an architect and for 2 consecutive years, I was working on the documentation of green open spaces in Mumbai- Island city, Eastern and Western Suburbs. I worked in groups of two. Me and usually(most times) another girl (an architecture student in her 2nd or 3rd year). We’ve been to decrepit places, construction sites which are marked as open spaces in the DP sheets, and to so many Shakti Mill-ish places too. Lush green, surrounded by trees, high compound walls and not a soul. Never did I or my companion ever feel anything to worry about.

    August 23- and for 2 weeks(14 days), I refused to step out of my home. Cancelled watching plays because they would start at 7pm till 9pm, and my company would only include a guy friend. I felt so uncomfortable even with the thought of being with a boy, out at night at 9pm! My God! I shivered the day I was out to meet a friend at Colaba(date: September 5th, 2013)…my reflexes were unusual- not me! WHY does this happen? I am a 25 year old girl and I was so scared to move out of my house post the shakti mill incident. When the Dec 16, Nirbhaya incident happened, I was in Delhi and for the next 7 days, I saw newspapers splashed with news, first not taking the incident seriously, however it gained attention after 2 days. I encountered collegians protesting on the metro platforms and at India Gate. I thought, THIS would never happen in my city- Mumbai. NEVER! How wrong I was or I am still.

    My confidence to move across the city has suffered a setback. It’ll take time. AND, meanwhile, I just can HOPE to see girls/women be able to feel safe!. How long must we endure this?

    -Sharayu.

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