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This article is in reference to my five-month research stay in Germany and to my various travels in and around Europe.
I’m writing this letter to you because it’s time to bid you farewell now. It has been a wonderful time with you as my company and I think I owe you at least a farewell note. I hope when you read it, you are inspired to accompany me further. Right now, you are leaving me stranded. I don’t blame you, but I hope to see you again not where you are right now, but at my home, in my city and in my country.
I was away from home, in a far-off land. I roamed the streets alone with my camera and a book in my hand. I wandered day and night with no sign of fear in sight. I walked, ran and danced, without carrying a pepper spray in my hand. I wore a bikini at the beach and a coat when it was cold. The weather decided my clothes and not age-old customs or poking noses.
I sat in my room and read the news back home. Their voices made my heart gloomy, but I still enjoyed my foreign ride. I slowly forgot to look behind my shoulder from the corner of my eyes or to make an angry face while walking past a group of men. Not once did I feel why it is so difficult to be a woman.
I went to bars and clubs for a drink or two and returned home drunk yet safe. I have waited for night buses at wee hours or early mornings. I have traveled in empty metros after a night full of fun and frolic. I had keys to my front door and could walk in and out whenever I wanted. I sat down under a tree or at a bench for hours, without encountering any weird gestures or awkward questions.
Nobody asked me where I was going, with whom I was going and when will I be back. I had no one to answer to except myself. I didn’t have to plan my outings before sunset or ask a trustworthy friend to drop me home. I made friends with men and women alike. I was alone with strangers at a lot of occasions without fearing the outcome. I asked for directions and help from different kinds of people. Not once did I fear that they would misdirect or misuse me. I talked with strangers on buses and trains during my various travels and shared a joke or two with them or ate lunch together. I did not avoid meeting anyone’s eyes as those eyes didn’t seek my flesh.
Sometimes I felt, I’m another person living a distant dream and the things I experience don’t belong to me. It tasted bittersweet. I swam in the Mediterranean and climbed up the Alps. I did adventure sports from bungee jumping to scuba diving to sky diving. Nobody said how could a girl do this. I spent an entire night at a railway station in a country whose language I did not speak. I woke up the next morning untouched and unscathed.
I did the simple act of walking back to my home at night. I felt so ecstatic while doing this. I felt as if I have some sort of power which I can finally use. I have been brought up in a relatively free-r environment than I many of my fellow citizens. But I would still never forget the time I spent with you, with zero incidences of sexual harassment or something even close to it. I used to talk of freedom well before that, but I never would’ve imagined what freedom really is if I hadn’t lived outside of my country. Even now, I sometimes cannot believe that I have lived the better part of my life with a lack of basic freedom.
I have to go now, it is my time. It will take some time getting used to do things without you, to be careful again, to not trust strangers so easily, to dress cautiously, to not wander alone, to come home before it gets dark and to many other things I’m not looking forward to. But I’m inviting you over; will you come, Freedom? Will you visit me in my home? And will you stay with me forever? Will you?
I smash the patriarchy for a living! Founder & Editor-in-chief of Feminism in India.
I admire you, and like your research work. Let us hope for the best to equate the genders.,
Dr Mrs Sushma Joiya Pandit
Thank you Dr. Sushma for your kind words 🙂
I can’t agree anymore… I live in the UK and I have daughter and wouldn’t mind her growing up till she gets old though at the bottom of my heart though would love my daughter to learn all the lovely things about India.
Japleeen, agree with you. When I travel abroad, the clothes I wear are so different. The change is apparent in the choice of clothes that I change into when i am traveling back, as the milieu change starts from the airport itself. The attitude, body language, the eye contact, timings, etc. all follow subconsciously.
So true. Having lived in Europe, completely agree with you. In India even being a middle aged woman I don’t feel that safe and free as I used to feel in Europe even being in early twenties. Yes in
India and many other countries we do live without basic freedom of safety whether it is on roads or any place else. A lot of awareness, strong laws, progressive culture, and freedom of speeches required to get that.
Brilliant article, Japleen. I can completely relate to this, living outside India for the past 6 years.
Thank you Shivangi! I’m back now and miss all of this.
What a piece of writing !!! I never realized i spent almost half of my life in my own birth land without basic freedom..Yes now i can feel , those coming early before sunset , wearing proper dress they are part of my slave status.
I hate and curse myself to be born in India.
Thank you Rashmi! I can understand how you feel, it is very sad.
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“The weather decided my clothes and not age-old customs or poking noses.”
That line says everything that needs to be said about everything that is wrong and right. :’)
You are a wonderful writer. Your writing style in this article is refreshingly different and the content couldn’t be any more poignant. I felt a lump in my throat reading it because of the way you’ve almost personified the value of freedom so beautifully.
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