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The stare case

Her name means “civility”. Born and raised in the U.S. in an immigrant Indian family, she has impeccable manners. In India to attend a cousin’s wedding, she says “Thank you” as a waiter offers her a glass of water. Her Indian cousins are surprised at this “formality”. She is surprised at their surprise. But ruder shocks await her. Wherever she goes, people stare at her; total strangers stop to give her a once over.

Unused to such ocular hostility and confused about how to react, she tries her open society reaction – she smiles back. To her astonishment, the staring species skulks back, trying to merge into the crowd as if caught in a guilty act. Her mom was brought up in India, so she consults her, “Mom, when somebody stares at you, is it all right to smile?” The mother is caught between concern for her safety and fear of putting her off India. She replies diplomatically, “One should avoid it because it may be misunderstood.” Unknown to her, mom is reliving her college days in India, so full of stare-cases.

The moment she would step out of her home to walk to the bus stop, the usual hanger-ons at the paan shop will give her the benefit of undivided attention. And she had been coached by her mother to look straight ahead. It felt as if she had made a narrow tunnel for herself in the open road. She felt so closed in. And it did not stop there. In college, in bookshops – wherever a girl went she had to learn to live with restricted vision and a lurking feeling of eyes staring at her. So she just hopes her daughter doesn’t notice it too much.

Meanwhile, the intrigued daughter is asking a few girls she has befriended. By the time she gets the full measure of the problem, she is aghast. From her fresh perspective pops up a simple question: “Why don’t you have a law against it?”

Well, why don’t we?

ravindraanand@yahoo.co.in


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Printable version | Jun 14, 2021 6:57:09 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/the-stare-case/article26757910.ece

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