Run, to stay in the same place

Run, to stay in the same place Loading

I am a member of a running group in my neighborhood.  It’s a very organized body, offering structured program for those who already are passionate runners or want to become one.  We meet thrice a week at a large playground at 5 am, commence with core exercises, then stretches and by 5.30 we start the run. We even have our own app and the day’s distance and route are broadcast five minutes before the run begins.

 

A couple of days ago, I woke up late and missed the session. But I saw the broadcast on the app and decided I will go for a run on my own, later. I waited for day break and at 6.40 am, I left home for the run.

 

Already there was plenty of traffic on the roads. The shops and restaurants were being opened. There were children and their parents milling around in groups to catch the school bus. The  IT guys with their signature ear phones, ugly laptop bags and bored expressions were hanging around at various points, waiting for their pick-up.

 

The first two kilometers were fairly uneventful. I ran and was very conscious of the hustle-bustle of a city that was just waking up. I am one of those who runs focusing only on the run, so you will never catch me listening to music as I run.

 

The catcalling began as soon as I hit a main road. The first set of guys were in an auto. Then came a couple of guys on bikes. Even the guys vending milk decided that I was easy picking, so they came straight at me. A car whizzed by, and obscenities were hurled at me.

 

The native Bangaloreans have always maintained that it is the influx of outsiders that has ruined this pensioner’s paradise. Let me dispel this myth once and for all. All the abuses were in Kannada and because I happen to be a Kannadiga myself, I understood every sordid word of them.

 

Let me share a sample. Why do you want to exercise woman, come to me, I will give you lots of exercise. Believe me, in Kannada it sounds much worse.

 

I was wearing shorts and a halter top. I was running, sweating, and keeping to the side of the road. And I am a 57-year old woman.

 

Why am I telling you all this? Since I was dressed for running, I obviously was not demurely covered from head to toe. So I must have been asking for it, right?

 

And I know I am a 57-year old woman, but because I don’t look it, I was as much a target as a 20-year old. But even if I didn’t look 57, I definitely can’t pass off for spring chicken. But respect for me as a woman, respect for my age, – no no, these things are alien to the men of our city.

 

I cringe at the sexual innuendos even as they are pelted at me but I continue to run. At one point, I thought may be they were misbehaving with me because they thought I didn’t know Kannada. So, it occurred to me that maybe I should stop and hurl abuses back at them in Kannada. I thought may be that would stop them in their tracks.

 

But I didn’t because I was scared. There were people and vehicles and noise all around me, but no one came to my help. In fact they all looked away as if I didn’t exist. Not the parents. Not the bored IT guys. No one.

 

I continued to run. And, just when I rounded up a corner, I caught sight of a policeman bumming a cigarette from a security guard at a multi-specialty hospital.

 

I went up to him and told him what had happened. I said I had memorized the last digits of the bike and car numbers, so can I make a complaint? He gave me a full body scan with his eyes and said, Madam, if you dress like this, that is bound to happen, no?  So I asked him: do you expect me to run wearing a burkha?

 

And then this is how the rest of the conversation panned out in Kannada.

 

Policeman: Not burkha, but proper clothes.

Me: Isn’t it your job Sir to keep the city safe for its people?

Policemen: If you want safety, sit at home, no.

Me: Can I have your name and badge number please?

Policeman: Madam, just go home. You don’t want more trouble.

 

And that is exactly what I did. Feeling sick in my stomach, fuming with helplessness. Wishing I had a taser in my hand to incapacitate them all, even if only momentarily.

 

I am a firm believer that each one of us is responsible for our safety. That is why I waited till day break before I left home for my run. That is why I stuck to busy roads. That is why I didn’t lose awareness of my surrounding. I wasn’t listening to music, talking on the phone or obstructing traffic. I was simply running because that is what I left home for.

 

I don’t know what else to say. I don’t know how to end this piece. I have left it in a limbo, exactly the way I feel right now.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nandini Vaidyanathan is the founder of Carma Connect (www.CarmaConnect.in) which mentors entrepreneurs, teaches entrepreneurship in ivy league business schools across the world, writes on entrepreneurship (has written two best sellers), climbs and treks. She loves to live life on her terms, using her discretion and not someone else’s.

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