Yesterday was one of those days. My mind was a web of cluttered thoughts as messy as my room, and although the right thing to do was to get to work at cleaning both up, I found myself reaching for my keys. A lonely ride around town at night seemed like a great idea. I did not know where to, but then, the beach and the streets of White Town are all that Pondicherry really has to offer at night. So I rode slowly in that direction, gathering my thoughts.
I had never been to the beach alone before, and it felt rather strange. More disconcerting than soothing. Among all those people around me, armed with friends, lovers or families, I felt I must make a sorry picture, alone at the beach close to midnight, with not even a bottle or a puff to keep me company. I perched on a rock and began to stare at the sea, seeking tranquility. The waves crashed much like my ruminations – anticlimactic, recurring brilliant pieces of frothy white light that dissipated just on the verge of formation.
Suddenly I heard a call behind me. Two young men stood precariously close, and I started, as any average Indian woman would.
“Don’t be afraid”, one said. “It’s our friend’s birthday.. he’s rather shy.. so, here you go”.
One of them extended a piece of Black-forest cake (incidentally, my favourite) as the other stood by, sheepishly. I was not quite sure of what to do. If this were to happen in the Western world, and if I am to believe what I’ve seen on television, the ideal response would be a beaming smile and to extend a hand, or a hug perhaps, wishing the ‘birthday person’ warm greetings from your part. As a cautious female, I did nothing of the sort. After choosing to pinch off the tiniest fraction of the cake I could manage (lest it be poisoned with the date rape drug) and muttering a hurried thank you, I went back to staring at the sea with even more determination. Sure, I was currently in apparently one of the safest cities in for women, and was surrounded by more than a hundred people, but one doesn’t want to take chances. To quote a poem I recently came across on YouTube, “we don’t want to be another of India’s daughters, do we??”
So I sat there with my back to the world till it occurred to me that perhaps I had been rude. They had not really seemed like trouble. I decided to walk up to them and say a proper birthday wish. As I stood up and turned around, I realized they were gone.
I remembered his first words. Don’t be afraid.. And then it hit me. Perhaps, like any average Indian, my response was exactly what he expected anyway.