9th August 2022
Bengaluru, Karnataka, IND
I used to think that there was safety in numbers.
At Namma Pride in November 2019, some of us wore black, others took turns holding up the blue, pink and white striped flag while we marched, in protest against the Indian government’s Trans Bill. Amidst the sombre mood, there were still blips of celebration: of dancing, chanting, hand-holding, kissing that we don’t otherwise get to do in public spaces. Cops watched as hundreds of us briefly stopped Bangalore’s infamous traffic to cross the roads. Somehow, it still felt safe. It was the first parade with actual state-sanctioned “protection,” or at least indifference, after the annulment of Article 377 (Unnatural Offences) in 2018.
Namma in Kannada means “our,” “ours,” or “us.” What makes an event ours? Is it how many of “us” there are? Who holds the power? It is the law?
A few weeks later, it became impossible to sit at home, go to work, carry on as “normal,” knowing what was going on in Assam, in Delhi, seeing agents of “law enforcement” violate the sanctity of bodies, of protest, university spaces. We were out on the streets again, flags traded in for banners, sequins and face paint making way for candles and bandanas. I saw so many of the same faces I’d seen at Namma Pride right at the front. I bought one of them a megaphone. Another familiar face caught mine (not for a glittery selfie this time), noticed I was walking alone and came to join me. He asked if he could text my number to his partner. I’m with Megha. Here’s our live location. Here’s her number. We hadn’t texted our locations to anyone while we were at Pride (other than to the queers who are always running late and wanted to come find those of us who are always exactly-on-time, ie. absurdly early in gay time). Cops watched as hundreds of us briefly stopped Bangalore’s high-achieving, high-urgency traffic. We were fine that afternoon. In the days to come, we began tying our hair, practically ball-point tattooing lawyers’ phone numbers onto our arms, familiarising ourselves with detention and bail protocols.
Who is the hum in hum dekhenge? Is it anyone raising their voices or anyone being silenced? Who holds the power? The ones being watched?
Laazim hai ki hum bhi dekhenge…
Sharon’s 18th birthday party was at Portland Steakhouse, a super-nice and super-central old restaurant in Bangalore. Sadhana, Rhia and I commuted together. And by “commuted,” I mean “we were in a parentally-monitored carpool that dropped us at the door of the restaurant.” They both had new dresses and freshly waxed arms and legs for the occasion. I could never compete with that, and by 18, I wasn’t sure I wanted to anymore. I wore my teal blazer over a white cartoon t-shirt and jeans. Some hours, a good meal and many photos later, the three of us left together. We needed to walk around a bit to find the car again, but none of us knew the area at all.
My two best friends made frantic phone calls, paced around me on the street, became aware of their heels on the tarred roads, stopped pacing, looked at each other, looked away from each other, looked at me, held my hands, walked some more, got out Google Maps even though we knew there was no “Find My Ride Home” search, paced around some more, ignored texts from parents, looked at me, looked at each other, walked in circles, thought in circles. I stood, waited. Then walked, walked further, found nothing, walked back, walked the other way. Stood somewhere else, waited.
Suddenly that I was “wearing the pants” that evening began to feel figuratively true. Cities change in the dark, I know that now. At the time, I hadn’t had the opportunity to learn that yet. We only fear the things we have been taught to fear, that we have learnt to fear. I had missed the lesson.
Many slow minutes later, the car found us. Many years, ebbs and flows later, they are still two of my best friends. I’ve never told them that that night with them was the first time I saw what fear of the nighttime looked like.
What makes a city safe? Is it learning how to be on your own before learning how to worry about not getting home? Who holds the power? Our minds, the streetlights, whoever happens to be on the road at night?
Dad’s 58th birthday party was this Monday at Suzy Q, a super-nice and super-central new restaurant in Bangalore. Dad and I arrived together earlier than all his friends, to the first social event that I could call a “party” that I’d been to in 20 months. He wore a pink polo shirt I bought him in a supermarket in Assam in December when he needed more clothes because we stayed longer than expected after his father passed away. I felt awkward being overdressed. I decided against the funky new dhoti jumpsuit and put on jeans and an ikat shirt instead. Almost a decade after Sharon’s party, I’ve grown comfortable in some heels. Mine are Crocs.
His best friend Nattu cut the cake with him. They fed each other first. Nattu’s friends and niece came too. It wasn’t just dad’s birthday, it was a one-stop-event for all their friends to celebrate them being back in Bangalore after so many months. And to see Nattu alive. Alive, walking, laughing, eating, drinking.
In February, dad and Nattu were taking a break in Uttarakhand. A few days in, they went on a trek and Nattu fell. 50 feet down a hill in the middle-of-the-gorgeous-hills-with-very-little-network-and-no-hospital-anywhere-near. Dad found signal somehow somewhere, called for help, helped carry an unconscious Nattu down the hill, took an emergency ambulance across states, oversaw his spine operation, and looked after him for six months until he was well enough to move back to Bangalore.
What makes a trek dangerous? Is it the place, the conditions or coincidence? Who holds the power? The grip on your boots or no one at all?
I wonder where safety lives if not in numbers. Everywhere and nowhere? Sometimes within, sometimes without, in deciding when to fight and when to gracefully surrender?