FREEDOM AT MIDNIGHT
We have just seen a play that spills over with laughter,
The actors are easy with their bodies and I am jealous,
I dream of a life where I can skip on the street.
Later in the taxi, it is 1 AM and I peer out the windows.
In these lengthening hours, my city is a city of men.
Men eating, men talking, men just lingering,
Men relaxed and easy–too easy–with their bodies.
The few women, they clench and steel themselves
They form tight little groups and walk quietly
They step aside, they jump back, they walk away.
Their bodies betray them as they navigate the night.
"There's so much sex there", an uncle said of Europe,
"People kiss and do all kinds of things on the streets."
— Oh uncle, but sex is here. It is here, it is here.
Come walk like a woman once in your India.
When I was 12, I was cycling home from school
A man followed me close, making kissing noises.
When my neighbor was 16, a man at the saree shop
Groped her as he spread sarees for her grandmother.
When my aunt was 40, a man unzipped, exposed himself,
In the lane just next to her daughter's school.
And I remember as clear as day, walking with my mother
And hearing a man singing dirty songs at her.
Once a man whispered to me, "Read Kamasutra?"
I was 19, on a train, with my father next to me
"But he's an executive!", my father said when I told him,
My face burned with a shame that I cannot explain.
Talk is cheap for those who say, "She wears short skirts"
I was in my school uniform, my neighbor in her salwar
My aunt and my mother were in sarees with flowers.
"Oh, it's just hormones. Let boys be boys!"
Those men were 16, and 25, and 45, and 60.
One was a 14-year old whistling at the bride,
Learning even then that music was a weapon.
"This is what happens in Westernised cities.
These things happen in India, not in Bharat."
– It happened in Madras, and it happened in Bombay,
It happened to my cousin in a little town,
At our village, it happened in the temple street.
And these are only the stories I remember.
It happened so often that we forgot to keep count.
So many men on the bus with their fingers poised
Too many men with their erections poised.
Men taunt us on the streets open and unashamed
Like we are dogs straying into sacred places.
1947, you say? "India awoke to life and freedom."
Indian women are wide-eyed, awake, and still waiting.
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