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Of Vulnerabilities (Notes from Rangshankara Cafe and my home …)

February 24th, 2008

So,

How do you kill time?

How do you appear busy?

How do you pretend you know when you do not know?

What are these vulnerabilities?

My current experience of Bangalore oscillates between vulnerability and feeling in control. The perception of immobility makes me feel disempowered, vulnerable.

How does one become mobile in a city? As I ponder over my own experiences in Bangalore, I recognize that mobility is not merely a matter of having a good public transport infrastructure. Surely, having a good public transport system matters. And it matters most when autofares are so exorbitant. But what also matters, as a woman, is whether you feel secure in a city. That sense of security is what enables mobility.

What provides a sense of security? Immediately what comes to my mind is the provision of adequate street lighting. The other night, when I was walking on Hosur Road, the patches where there were street lights seemed a relief to walk on. Where there was no street lighting, I felt a tremendous sense of fear that someone would stick his hand out from the Army Military School compound and grab me. Moreover, the movement of traffic on Hosur Road provided me with a sense of comfort. The fact that there were so many vehicles moving on the road, besides me, was a feeling of reassurance. At the same time, when bicycles and motorcycles moved too close to me, I would have to move away from the edges of the footpath and walk a bit inside. This is because of the fear that some of the riders would want to touch me, grab me.

The lack of vibrancy on the streets is somewhat discomforting and irritating. It feels like this city is absolutely flat. But coming back to the experience of vulnerability, I feel another factor that produces this feeling is the inability to trust people and constantly having to ask auto drivers, vegetable vendors, paanwallahs, etc. to explain how they arrived at the figure that they are quoting. It is this feeling that everybody is out to cheat you and that you have to have your defenses on, all the time. It gives this feeling of tiredness if I have to keep my defenses on me all the time. It is as if I am defending myself, instead of living.

I was writing these words in the cafe of Rangshankara auditorium . I was alone there, waiting for the gong to go so that I would move into the theater. I did not know anyone in the cafe. As I stepped into the cafe, I felt vulnerable.

How am I going to kill time?

What am I going to do that appears as if I am doing something meaningful and not occupying space without eating or drinking anything other than a cup of tea?

At that moment, what struck me was that the city is the experience of encounters, encounters of all kinds. Until now, I encountered the director of a play that was a visceral experience. I encountered a man sitting next to me in the auditorium who had a synopsis of the play which I asked him if I could borrow to see. I encountered another man sitting next to me who was being hit by the severe lighting and was covering himself to prevent the glare. I encountered people in the audiences who I never spoke to, but who spoke to the director, many of them stating that they did not understand the play. I encountered the director saying that his play was open for audiences to interpret. I encountered an auto driver who allowed me to take photos of the advertising on his auto. I encountered a man at the bus stop who I thought was trying to make a pass at me, but who probably was as much waiting for the bus as I was. I encountered the bus, the bus driver, the passengers in the bus, the man and woman sitting behind me who wanted to travel to the next stop without paying the extra fare. I encountered the grocer from who I buy vegetables. I encountered the shop keeper from who I purchase provisions and who was angry with a bunch of North Indian men who seemed like labour class. These men were agitating about the shopkeeper not giving a receipt for the purchases. Another one of them was fighting with the shopkeeper for not giving back the change money and the shopkeeper in turn irritatedly saying he had given the money and now if he does not give then what happens?

I guess it is the search for the extraordinary that prevents me from noticing these absolutely mundane encounters. Perhaps, I have to have an encounter with myself in order to understand myself in this city …

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