By Pragya Khanna
Our story is a rare culmination of rare choices when it comes to love and marriage in India. At the hypothetically stable age of 25,like any regular girl, I made an existential choice- choosing a life partner. Calculations followed suit- with possibilities and consequences, resting on the individual’s commitment,friendship, commonalities in beliefs and values and a shared outlook in career sets.
But the facts, that we stood at extreme parallels-regionally; that our features were diagrammatically dissimilar, our cultures unmatched, our supposed societal positions flung and categorized on the extreme ends of mid-level ‘status ladder’, despite deterring me time and again, were not starkly vital. My existential grid of risk assessment did not include the embedded ‘identity question’- never for a moment I thought it would affect ‘our’ lives.
And so, well, I took it- “the plunge”. A girl from Delhi, whose perspective does not ‘belong’to Assam, who can only recognise and provide alienated opinions to the identity crisis that North Eastern’s face- who perhaps would never directly face it, is in a committed relation with a guy from Assam.Now is that remotely of concern to people, other than my closest? I beg to opine- I don’t think so!
Oblivious to how people perceive us, the only thing that affected me was my parent’s approval- and lo behold!They agreed! So then what comes between us, to pry on our relation or pry on either of our identities?
Well the answer is and will always remain- the larger society, which in order to uphold its moral order, questions integrity in ways seemingly having undertones that make you think- that make you question.
This little story is un-seemingly regular, a passé debate which has occurred off and on, whenever an ‘incident of indecency’ occurs- stirring up a hornet’s nest now and then- but always demanding a debate and an advisory from the who is who! I have dealt with this before, but this was different. For the first time, it left me disturbed and in amazement of the reality- the perverseness people possess towards those having Mongolian features.
It was 9.30 at night, and like any chivalrous man, my ‘Mongolian featured’ beau decided to drop me back home. The first question that raced through my independent egoistic will was- “I can take an auto…”…A swift reply- “No! It’s unsafe! ”
A second try-“I shall take the metro, it’s just four stops away, it’s the safest…”
“Ok fine! But I shall accompany you. But ask your brother to pick you up from the point I leave”…
(Why do I have to be guarded at all possible points of time? Can I not just go unbridled, the way you or any manwould travel?!!)
So finally we boarded the metro- together! And well I was safe with “him” around me…or so to say…
There were quite a number of people in the metro, unlike how he believed, so I was busy glorifying how I could have come alone; and that he could get off on the next station and leave for his place. The seemingly commonsilent glare of his (urging to echo that he has decided to drop me) and the prying stare of the people, (urging to understand the relation between a Delhite and North Eastern) were oblivious to my conscious, well, after all I was safe and comfortable in my world.
But the myth of this safe world and the normal relation, shattered. Just two stops away from the final destination, a man getting off smiled at me. I thought he was smiling at someone else, but saw no one around. I turned to see whether my beau had noticed- yes he had and the silent glare had turned into a livid one. As the metro door closed, the man, stopped in his tracks turned and teased his way, this time waving and making offensive movements through his lips. I had by then vocalized my shock and threatened him to come inside and do it again… (my voice drowned with the closing of the metro door). I turned again to my beau and saw him take a step forth and direct his glare further at him, his hand clutched.
Yes! Just another incident of indecency, raising a furore inside me, burning me up, wishful of getting a knock-out punch on his jaws or perhaps a knee in his groin and I silently remarked at the cheek of the man to act in such a manner despite my beau being with me.
I looked for some kind reaction and recognition of this violation from my boyfriend and what I noticed was a far-away look pinioning me- pain, anguish, anger, hatred, guilty for not being able to do anything? I was unable to read his mind and then suddenly it clicked.
Was this episode a one-off event wecommonly go through in our lives or was it an event that got triggered because it was late in the night, because I was with a man with Mongolian features.The quizzical look on him, caught me off my guards- for the first time, I was forced to look beyond me myself as a woman and gather a fleeting glance at what it is to be a North Eastern living in the capital, which is said to assimilate one and all. For the first time, I sensed a question at my identity- not as a woman, but as a companion to a North Eastern. A thousand wars waged through my mind- is it a common event for a man to pass lewd remarks or gestures, just because I am a woman or was it that he chose to ignore my boyfriend’s livid self because he was not considered competition enough? Further does that extend to judging my character and integrity because I was travelling with a North Eastern late in the night? Are those looks given by people around me, a suggestion that I am evading the ‘natural norms’ of society? Or are the looks a part of the moral policing that our conservative society is habituated to.
This, thus became the first incident wherein, the ‘Delhi girl’ who was comfortable with her identity and with her identity of committing to a North Eastern, came almost close to reality- of what it is to feel being judged, to not be able to protect your own in your own country, to be mocked at, questioned, looked at with suspicion! The question being can the dream that I have woven, be ruptured by popular vote of the society? Despite my parents’ consent, our consent- the identity of our relation is questioned by the society! Is the society such powerful a force that it can flaw our relation; in turn is our relation that weak to not be able to withstand such assaults? This is something which only the both of us can seek answers to. This might be a very minute example for what perhaps we would have to face together later on in our lives. Here I remember the lines in Robert Frost’s poem- The Road Not Taken:
“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference…..”