bought a glass of cold coffee at a small coffee shop in Bangkok and
walked to the bus stop on the road. There was nobody about and I sat
on the bench. I am not a huge coffee drinker but for the next forty
minutes I sat there and sipped my cold beverage like it was an elixir
and watched the Thai world pass me by. Many would find nothing
remarkable in this. But for me it was extended exhilaration. I was in
a hot air balloon that gaily floated about for much longer than
expected. Not many things matched up to my feeling during the next
few days of my stay and travel within the country. Because if the
intention of travelling was to see a new world, mine was unfolding
within my body right then, right there. To wear a dress and have
leisurely coffee on the road and not to be stared at or bothered in
any way was as much of a New-Man as any Paul could become for me.
body’s flashcard stored no such memory it had relished back “home”
in the city of Delhi where I lived. As a college student, I had once
heckled by a stranger in a twisted combination of outrage and mock
politeness: “Button your shirt, ma’am.” The sense of
entitlement with which the man had expressed anger over the clothes I
wore had in turn created an anger in me white hot enough to make
blurry the memory of what had happened after. What I do remember is
reporting the incident to my friends, and I had probably added that
in the confrontation that followed I had ended up hitting him. I
don’t think that had actually happened, and in later years when I
looked back on the incident I felt surprise and guilt at my own lie.
It was not something I usually did. Probably the sense of violation
in me had been so steep and the desire to retaliate so strong that I
had started believing in it myself. Without that bit of fiction,
possibly, there would have reigned in me a helplessness that would
have been too humiliating to live with.
a history like this, to be in Thailand with a girlfriend spending
with pride and caution our nest eggs, and not to be constantly
reminded of my gender while being outside, was the best kind of
tripping I could ask for. Encouraged by my friend and finding the
place a haven for first-time try-outs, I wore a two-piece swimsuit on
the island of Koh Samed and for the first time as a grown up, that
much of my skin rendezvoused with sun, wind and water.
heart warmed up when at night in Ayutthaya, the old capital, we saw a
bunch of women going around on motorbikes much after the markets had
closed. They didn’t become handicapped at dusk; the streets
belonged to them and they were the lights.
returning from Ayutthaya to Bangkok on a train, my friend had a can
of beer in her hand. She initiated a conversation about the country
with the guy sitting next to her and at no point did she have to face
judgmental remarks or fend off unsolicited invites from him.
lot of this can appear laughable or naive to people depending on
their gender or context. But living in a world where I get reminded
of my gender before, and sometimes without, it being acknowledged
that I am a person, I do not have the luxury of taking these things
for granted. Women in Thailand have their own struggles and it is not
as if gender hierarchies, or crimes, for that matter, do not exist.
World Nomads, a popular website for travellers, has this piece of
advice, or rather, admonition,
to dispense about
being in the streets or back lanes late at night in Thailand: “That’s
as silly here as it is in your home town . . .” But just like Maya
Angelou had surmised about people (“At
the end of the day people
won't remember what yousaid
they will remember how youmade
them feel”), with places too, what I end up remembering is how they
made me feel. This was a place that had its priorities right, that
helped me feel like a person again, without constantly tagging my
For some Homecoming is a path paved with lights; For others, A suspended sentence, after passing a trial by fire.*
*In Ramayana, there was a huge celebration and Ayodhya was decorated with lights when Rama returned from exile to take his place as the king. Sita, ont he other hand, had to take a fire test after she was rescued from demon king Ravana’s captivity, before she was accepted as the faithful wife and the rightful queen. First published in Hakara, 15 Jan 2018.
Kaikeyi could ask as she had been granted two vouchers to redeem, Otherwise the palace women had no voice or wish, or so it seemed.
So when Surpanakha spoke boldly and upset the apple cart, To cover up their nervousness, the men called her a tart.
A woman’s outspoken desires cause consternation, The flustered listeners resorted to mutilation.
Ravana wasn’t the chestbeater to whine that his venerable nose had been obliterated by his sister’s act, But the princes proceeded to destroy Surpanakha’s, one with violence, the other being complicit in the pact.
While the justice league smirked and thought that they had served an ace, Posterity wonders if by cutting off Surpanakha’s nose, they did not spite their own face.
How sad To be so poor That you can’t afford Your own laughter, To insist That it must be At another’s expense, To beg That you be allowed Only a joke Except it never is Enough It won’t be Not one, not any, not many Would be enough To fill Your emptiness. First published in Hakara, 15 Jan 2018.