Author: Priyanka Charan
Do you remember that day when we waltzed down the village market nibbling on chocolate? There was a hailstorm in the forest that night as we shivered in the shade of a concrete lined tree. We stood staring for hours, our memories jogging back to that disconcerting amble down the familiar dirt track hidden in the lap of the mountain. You stood there in all your elaborations, tattered trousers with the seams giving way, browning at the edges after the sweat and toil in the dump yard where we planted fond saplings.
They broke through toxic lines of waste germinating with the hope of new life. You sucked deeply at the end of your local ‘bidi’ and remarked, “I’ve been working in this village for over a month now. The locals sometimes look at me in amusement, sometimes with familiarity. Some eyes welcome me quietly while others question my presence.” No matter how much you tried to fit in you always stood out, with your grey brown dreadlocks, your white tan that is our coffee brown one.
What you didn’t know was you were as much a stranger to this place as I was. You felt the need to keep your guard, wander with watchful eyes as curiosity singed your skin with sterile stares. I have always felt like a foreigner in my own country because I’m a woman. Maybe that’s why you haven’t yet been enamored with stories of female solo travellers singing praises alone of our hospitality.
Yesterday I called up a dear friend to tell her of my unplanned travel. She was livid and mortified at once as she warned me against spending too much time in the capital. “But you’re a woman! From Mumbai. You don’t understand how terrible the situation there is. I smiled, where is my neighbourhood then? Where do I belong if not on this planet. This poor ecstatic girl was unaware of how she sounded like a verbatim quote from some moronic media report, if not from experience.
I feel loved, cared for listening to her worry for my well being. I’m blessed that way you see. I’ve had the comforting cocoon of your wisdom equally matched by friends in Delhi who are at daggers drawn to keep me in the warmth of their hearth and their heart. I don’t even know how long I’ll look around in the ill reputed city that was once home to me in my formative three years. Maybe my feet won’t stop within the limits of this cemented skyline and I’ll gallop to the mountains immediately. Maybe I’ll stay, just to test waters, to sense how much this city can hate a free spirit trapped in a woman’s body. I don’t wish to accomplish anything at the risk of my safety, I just want to find one more place to call my own. A place where I won’t need a chaperone in broad daylight, where I don’t feel violated for being the person my parents cradled into this world, where I can walk like a man without ever looking over my shoulder or plugging the noise out with my cell phone. Maybe I will find home here to long for once I’m tired from trudging the hills. Be happy for me, my dear Qi, I know Delhi will be kind.
Your anxious story bearer,