Night Encounter

I respect women

The tourist industry also got hurt badly by the international news – here’s a desperate move by one tour agency in front of Qutub Minar.

When I rode my bicycle home at around midnight, a young couple on a motorcycle took notice of me. After they overtook me, they slowed down and waited till I had catched up.

Then the young woman – in her early twenties, with a muslim headscarf and  beautiful make-up – shouted at me: “It’s not safe in Delhi!” When I replied that I do feel safe (despite me being more cautious when I see groups of men in the streets, I have to admit), she said: “No, it really isn’t.” Then she advised: “You should go home.”

That is exactly what I fear: The whole media coverage of rapes and the discussion about women’s safety in India is not leading to a safer environment where men rape less women and get conscious of the misogynic society, but to an environment where women hardly dare to go out of the house alone, let alone at night.

Only yesterday I heard of an employer who lost most of his women employees because they sometimes had to work long hours. Now when he is having a job interview, he explains that under no circumstances do they have to stay longer in the office than 5pm – otherwise they won’t take up the job.

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When the gridlock eases

Traffic in Delhi often is bumper to bumper, bullock carts are negotiated between huge imported SUVs and reckless driven buses, lane driving is seen as an odd, foreign practice, and the air is black with fumes from the growing amount of the new middle classes’ cars.

That changes after midnight. Then the constant flow of people rushing somewhere eases, the gridlock opens, and even most of the trucks – honking, overloaded, low-geared, multicoloured road behemoths –  that cross the city during the night have passed.

But even though the roads empties in the small hours, this is the time when most fatal accidents happen. I have already seen a share of badly looking ones: A truck driven against a tree, a severe hit into the driver’s side at a crossing, and now an overturned taxi.

overturned taxi

Out at Night

a danger?I so often get asked if I’m scared to go out of the house after dusk. Also people make sure via text message I got home safe when I walked the last 100 meters from their car to my front door. And everybody kind of declares me being crazy when I mount my bicycle to get home after the night has fallen.

But honestly: Not a single man in this city of 17 or so million people is waiting the whole night at the side of the road, prepared to leap forward, if a lonely woman on a bicycle is passing by. If he was, he would wait a very long time, as I have never seen another woman on a bicycle.

The same logic applies to parks, forests or in this case for any quiet corner in the city: I don’t believe in the theory of a lone stranger lurking behind some bushes or corner, waiting for a victim.

As in all other countries in the world, most attacks on women in India happen at home. Most sexual assaults are carried out by relatives and friends. Or by neigbours, parent’s friends, accaintances.

Having said that, there obviously is a factual risk of getting attacked on the street, and quite possible this risk in North India is higher than in other places around the globe. So I wouldn’t advise anybody to stroll the whole night through all of Delhi’s neighbourhoods.

One should use common sense. If I, for example, ride my bicycle, I won’t be stopping anywhere at night, because traffic is low and traffic lights are not working. So even if there are rogue people around: When they finally come to realize that I could be a possible target for them, I am long gone.

This weekend I found myself being alone in the taxi from Jaipur to Delhi, as the other three in the group stayed back for one more night. The journey went on for hours, and I only got home at 3:30am. This, I think, could have been a far more risky situation than my bike rides, as the taxi driver could have driven anywhere with me. But I had assured that my friend trusted the driver as he already knew him for a long time and he lived in his neighbourhood.

One party, three locations

Ghost Tales and Shadows Walk

The ghosts I grew up with were the souls or spirits of deceased persons and they would often appear in form of a translucent shapes and also, sometimes, as life-like visions – but they would definitely scare the living . It turns out the stories I heard and read and watched are not so different from the traditonal beliefs in India.

But: Whereas I see the spine-chillers more lighthearted, the people I walked with through the Delhi night around Qutub Minar seemed to have a quite firm believe. Every time they told me about a paranormal phenomena, I didn’t hear any doubt in their voice. It might be true, that in India, mystery, fact & fiction intermingle more than in the society I had been brought up.

Seeing Dal Lake from a Shikara

How we finally got back home

First, the air condition stopped working. Then the bus went kaput.

Not because it was old or we rolled onto nails or someone ran his car into it – but because the drivers forgot to stop at a petrol station.

At this point of time, we had already been sitting ten hours in the bus. It was supposed to bring us from Escape Festival at Naukuchiatal back to Delhi – a distance of mere 300 kilometers, which my german, autobahn-thinking mind calculated at 3 hours.

But the roads more often than not were either congested, too small for the bus to pass through, in repair, detoured, or very hilly. So most of the time we only crawled along.

escape

Initially the bus was supposed to leave the festival at 8am, so that everybody could dance through the night, pack the tent and then stumble into the vehicle. But when I woke up at 8 in the morning, no one else was to be seen around the camping site. And the few figures I could make out somewhere in the distance didn’t seem to be keen on dismantling tents (only by falling into them, maybe).

So I went back to sleep. At 9am, Franzi and I stepped out to have some breakfast. At 10am we saw other living creatures. At 11am, some news about a bus leaving soon arrived. At 12pm we hopped onto a bus. Not the one we were supposed to be in (for festival goers), but the one for the organisers and musicians. But at this point of time, we didn’t mind anymore.

All went well then, we had lots of breaks for food and chai and smoke, even though we were allowed to smoke in the bus – so to say. If it was allowed, I have no idea, but you know: artists.

But hen, suddenly, the bus rolled onto the side stripe. The road was already wide here, only 35 kilometers before Delhi, with two heavily trafficked lanes in both directions.

One of the three (!) drivers set out to fetch petrol. With a plastic bucket. When he came back, he had already lost some of the liquid on his way. More was spilled as the men tried to fill it into the tank without having a funnel. One of the musicians helped by halving a huge plastic bottle with his swiss army knife.

It turned out we still couldn’t start. Because it wasn’t petrol but diesel that the bus was swallowing – and driving a diesel engine to the last drop isn’t a good idea. So the three bus drivers opened the cover lid and pottered about the motor. To no avail.

Then they came up with the idea of push starting. So the 50 or so musicians and painters and “project” people went out into the night to test their muscles. We got the bus rolling – but the engine wouldn’t start. We tried again. And again.

When we pushed the huge bus for the fourth time or so, someone called: “Wait, there’s no driver!” But it was too late. The bus crashed into the guard rail, and Franzi could only safe herself by leaping backwards over this very rail.

We had enough. Luckily, the second bus (in which we actually were supposed to be) had arrived by this time and stopped behind us. Frantically we fished for our luggage in the belly of the bus and tried to get away from the cursed machine as fast as possible.

As the second bus was also filled up with people, plus all their luggage, it became a little cramped. But we didn’t mind, smoked some more, got the guitar out and sang.

 

Parrots on the Catwalk

smoking“Do you guys want to walk the ramp?”, he asked. Franzi and I looked at each other – and laughed. We’re no models, that’s for sure. But apparently we didn’t say “no” decisively enough to the catwalk idea, because half an hour later he came back with the fashion designer in tow. So we ended up being listed for the show at the Escape Festival.

We presented clothes from the Indian label Bhootsavaar – “cool, funky and very edgy”, as the designer describes his dresses, jackets, shrugs and tunics himself, for “youth who are energetic, rebellious and free”. Prominent feature of all his designs: colours. At least under UV light.

Among all the rebellious looking tags and quirky shirts that were lying on a bed in one of the houses at the lakeside, everyone of us chose two sets. Then we got painted and sprayed and dabbed to match the energetic clothing. Glowing mascara, shining lip gloss and bright hairspray definitely were our most important utensils this night.

The show was postponed over and over again and our tensions rose sky-high. Finally the last puff of hairspray was administered, another head gear with wild horns distributed, and more and more instructions given on how to line up, how to move, how to look. Finally the music set in and we started walking.

coloursLuckily the catwalk that was announced never was built. So we made our way through the people on the dancefloor, moved eccentric to the beat and enjoyed the space between the colourful lit sail above our heads and the grass under our feet.

Food for thought by designer Nitin Bal Chauhan:

“There are some who spend hours cracking a riff,

while others who can’t stop their feet when they listen

to a beat, a few who can spend days locked up watching

flics, while others who wait for hours to capture a perfect

click. There is one who ponders for days to write a line

that can release and another who practices endlessly to

paint a stroke that helps him express what he feels.

Each individual has a passion, which helps him express

himself, touch freedom & experience madness.”

under UV light

Someone moving somewhere?

dowry

No.

This is a case of dowry, my driver explains. The fridge, the chairs, the mattresses – all presents from the bride’s parents for the groom’s family, where the daughter is traditionally moving at the day itself. Even though this practise has long been forbidden, dowry is still a common thing in India. If the family is not able or willing to pay, women sometimes get attacked with acid or they “accidentaly” burn to death.

When you go dancing…

…and  a photographer is around, better turn your back at him/her. Otherwise chances are high you find yourself in the papers the next day.

journo in the newspaper

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