Last night, I went for a walk pretty late; it was midnight when I started out.
The roads were almost deserted, as is natural in a residential neighbourhood which is also a dead-end (in the sense that no one needs to pass through it on the way to somewhere else). A couple of people walking dogs, the occasional autorickshaw ferrying some poor sod home from a late night at work, the odd food-app delivery person whizzing by on a motorbike, small groups standing around cars in a stretch where there are two restaurants and a bar. A few more folks further from home, in a designated walking/skating/cycling area, but just a scattering.
And I saw three women who I see often at night; I first noticed them because of the way they dress: one is always in one of those kaftan-style nightgowns, one usually wears saris but now and then a salwar kameez, and one is always in the tight-jeans-and-T-shirt ensemble that is common among younger people today. I’ve never looked closely at them for decorum reasons, but I get the impression they’re in their thirties. They walk side by side, taking up space on the road so that I have to walk around them when I pass them, and the stray words that drift to me as I do are in Marathi.
Further along, at a brightly-lit I-❤️-Navi-Mumbai selfie point, two young women, mid-twenties, perhaps, had parked a scooter and were taking pictures. Not of themselves with the sign in the background, but using the raised letters to stand their phone on, while they made — I’m assuming — Instagram Reels. I’m assuming this because there was much hair swishing and hand gesturing and general hamming. These women looked to be from the north-east, and they were in short shorts and T-shirts. They were talking loud and laughing loud and generally having a good time.
On the way back, on a stretch of road which had a few non-functioning streetlights and so was a bit dark, three girls, who seemed to be of college age, were hanging around a bus-stop. One was standing next to the raised road divider making a dramatic hands-reaching-out gesture, a second, facing her, at the bus-stop, mirrored the first, and the third had her phone raised to record them and was calling out instructions. Two wore jeans and T-shirts, the third wore a T and a track suit bottom, or maybe they were pajamas. They stopped their shoot, waiting for a couple of vehicles to pass between them, and were about to resume, when they saw me approaching, and they paused again waiting for me to pass.
I wanted to smile at all three sets of women, because it made me happy to live in a neighbourhood where women feel safe enough to be out at night with no purpose other than to be out at night, dressed however they like. What Sameera and her co-authors call loitering, what Jasmeen and the Blank Noise movement call unapologetic walking, with the second and third sets, what I like to think of as as innocent shenanigans.
Of course I didn’t, partly because I mask when I go out for a walk, but also because while it is a nice place to live in, I can imagine that having a scruffy half-bald-half-long-haired man grinning at them as he lumbered past would not contribute to their feeling of safety.
And so, instead, I’m smiling when I tell you this story.