Catcalling a lone wolf

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What's the oddest thing you can find at a restaurant? Take three guesses. A loch-ness monster? A unicorn? A casteless society? Nah. A woman dining alone.

I was flanked by two pan-chewing men in a too-cold cinema theatre, waiting for Chauranga to start. This little gem of a movie was critically acclaimed for its bold subject on castes in India and its impact on young love. As predicted, the movie had a lot of explicit scenes: it is, after all, about a 14-year-old boy realising his ‘love’ for a girl of an upper caste.



There were scenes of the boy learning about the anatomy of a woman’s body, learning about the formation of breasts et al (all in the guise of reading from a school science book). Crass comments flew freely from my neighbours; they kept giving me furtive glances every minute a ‘womanly’ thing appeared on screen. At one point, there was a reference to a man’s private parts and voila, the two were aghast. The movie’s point — the stark discrimination of the lower-caste people, the language they have to endure in pockets of the country — was seemingly lost on them.

It was during the interval that they spoke to me. “Came alone? For THIS movie?” What happened next is for another day, but this is not a lone instance. Cut to 2013, when the famed Her released. The film is about how a man has a physical and emotional relationship with an interactive computer program like Siri. It’s not without reason that it got an A certification. Catcalls and inane remarks apart, it was obvious that not many were in the theatre to watch Joaquin Phoenix’s exceptional performance.



As usual, there were not many lone women in the theatre and every time a wolf-whistle sounded off at a particularly tense moment (this is the kind of whistle that is usually heard during the Simbu movies in Tamil Cinema) my over-friendly neighbour would laugh out loud and peer into my face. No, fellow-movie-watcher, I have not shrivelled into a blubbering blushing mass! After one too many glances, I quickly changed my seat to watch the movie in peace.



There is a refreshing sense of accomplishment that one can achieve if one can learn to be content.



Being the movie buff that I am, I usually don’t wait for company to watch films. For someone who enjoys watching films, anything more than a ticket might seem redundant. Popcorn, notwithstanding, of course! But, for a woman, watching a movie alone can be a totally different experience to a man's. Apart from the ‘subtle’ constant looks; a few will seem like they want to say something to you but would just continue to stare; and most irritatingly, every time they make a ‘joke’ (mostly innuendo) they might just ‘casually’ glance in your direction to see your reaction.





And it is not just cinema halls. Say, you ask for a table for one at a restaurant, it would be hard to miss the quizzical glance that is thrown your way. Maybe a woman wanting to eat solo is just not the ‘cool thing’. A waiter might surreptitiously ask you: ‘Madam, is sir going to be late.” I wonder if the presence of the ‘sir’ would make the food any tastier. And if the 'sir' is present, what are the odds that the bearer will wave the bill at you rather than at the man seated at the table? Pretty low, I would say.



Source: Wikipedia

Pierre Auguste Renoir's 1881 painting Le déjeuner des canotiers (Luncheon of the Boating Party) is set in the Parisian museum-restaurant Maison Fournaisse. It features a bunch of people out to lunch by the pier. Imagine if this portrait contained just one person eating lunch by themselves. Would it feel as festive and lively? Probably not.

But isn't all festivity and liveliness happening only within one person's head at any given time? #Solipsism



Let’s get something clear. I am in no way stating or asking people not to have company to enjoy the tiny little things in life. Granted, we are not islands, and some company would soften the blows and make life a lot easier to deal with. But I am talking about the part when you ENJOY doing things by yourself and for yourself. There is a refreshing sense of accomplishment that one can achieve if one can learn to be content. Learning to shrug away the catcalls and the peering eyebrows, to just enjoy the moment, is quite exhilarating. LIKING to be alone teaches you that.





Be it eating out or going to places, a woman doing these simple activities alone is usually greeted with surprise and then, after the initial ‘creepy’ responses, pity. Every time I travel in a mofussil bus from Chennai as a lone woman, I am faced with one perplexing issue: the bus driver refuses to stop the bus at a decent motel (one that basically has a covered toilet) because, “Madam, if there were at least two people, I could stop.”



Why is it that these simple experiences become difficult for women who choose to enjoy them alone? Is it because of the stereotyped notion that the ladies would probably enjoy only rom-coms and that they might not register well-placed explicit scenes? Liking one’s own space is not the unique right of people of any gender.



It is not frowned upon for girls to have fun as a group, in the movies, restaurants or during travel. But the moment you are alone, the judging creeps in. The idea of being alone has become so much of an oddity to both men and women that it immediately instigates judgement and of course a well-wisher’s ‘you will find someone soon’.

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