Surprised much?

Recently, I was in Hyderabad. The first time in a new city is like a clean slate. What impression it casts on you is something you might take away for life. I loved how the non-intrusive city provided me with the anonymity that I was yearning for. Everywhere I went, people did not seem to notice I was around, and quite frankly I liked that. Amid the wide roads with drivers who drive like they’re in a car-racing game and the suffused calmness that a Mumbaikar feels in any other city apart from his own, I found a certain willingness to come forth and help when needed. Somehow, everyone that I met in Hyderabad was helpful and courteous. It was not in the trying-to-please-a-tourist kind of way but the it’s-who-I-am kind of way. It appeared like that is who they really were. Although, I could say the same about my city Mumbai as well, somehow, I cannot. People in Mumbai do it with an enthusiasm, but people in Hyderabad did it nonchalantly.

I was in an auto one evening and wasn’t a bit too worried about being alone. Call it foolhardiness or numbness, I didn’t see why I needed a chaperon. However, the thought that something untoward could occur crossed my mind as it does to all women these days. When the auto-driver said he would need me to pay more money than agreed, I hastily said I would pay anything as long as he would get me to my destination safely. To this, he assured me with good nature that nothing would happen to me and that he personally guarantees my safety. He also went on to tell me how Hyderabad was a safe city for women and how “other madams” travel without fear. Much assured and on safely reaching my destination I paid him more than agreed. Some of this generosity came from being relieved while some came from being touched by what he said.

On this very trip, I met a positively cheerful girl from my office in Hyderabad who had just returned from her trip to my city—Mumbai. While she narrated her stay in the city, she said that she was in love with Mumbai. Frankly, I was extremely happy to see how travelers react to Mumbai and the oft-said “charm” that this city is. It felt like reclaiming my love for my city. Among her other tales of being at Linking Road and buying handbags for a steal, she told me of her encounter with a cab driver. One night, she was in a cab and it was late at night. Given that she was new in the city, she had no idea of what the route was. She told the cab driver to take her to the destination safely and he said “Madam ye Delhi nahi hai. Aap fikar mat karo, aapko thik se pohcha dunga.” (Madam, this is not Delhi. Do not worry, you’ll reach your destination safely.) Apart from this, she was thrilled when he took two rupees less because change wasn’t available. As much as I was proud of my city, it made me think what the Delhi gang-rape case did to drivers and commuters in other parts of the country. It is safe to say that both, my new-found friend and me, had the same experience albeit in two different cities.

Somehow, the rest of India seems to have woken up to woman safety. Moreover, it seems to shy away from the example our capital has set when a woman demands to get home safe. “We’re not like Delhi” is the cry these days. I want to be proud of this, but should I? What one brutal gang-rape has done is slightly unsettling. Very slightly. So, this is who we are. We don’t want to be like Delhi. We don’t want to have the name of our city tarnished. We don’t want to be rapists and uncouth. We don’t want to repeat what Delhi did to her girl. Well, kudos to that. But one might stop for a moment and think, is this what we needed to wake up to safety of women? A merciless murder? Is this how we will learn? From a horrific “bad example”?

Long ago, I once said to someone inside me, we don’t learn from good examples as much as we do from a bad example. We might not want to be a Gandhi. But we, definitely, don’t want to be Hitler. Strange how the negative can induce the positive to hold its head high up. But then again, that makes me think if it really is that strange. After all, what makes up this universe is every little thing in it. One thing influences another. It’s a chain, a sequence. One that is hard to unravel. A little good, a little bad and that’s who we are. Why should we be surprised at ourselves then?

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