After dispensing with the hi-s, hellos and how are yous she wanted to know if we'd like to join the group for a spur of the moment picnic. She and Vijay were bringing the beers, someone else the soft drinks and the rest were bringing eats. The venue was the beach and agreeing it had to be soon, before the unpredictable NZ weather changed, we rang off. The kids, barely in their teens, were super excited as was my husband. The kids packed a frisbie, a ball, towels, their water bottles, wore their rubber chappals and were ready. The hubby packed a picnic blanket to sit on, hats and cream to protect us from the sun's uv rays (as NZ has a hole in its ozone layer), and he was ready. I packed, unpacked and repacked some stuff to eat. Knowing the others would bring delicious fare I finally decided to take along the meal I'd prepared for dinner. Oh, I thought, mustn't forget hot water, milk and teabags. I love a cup of tea after lunch and quickly packing it, rushed to the car. Realising I don't take sugar but some of the others might I jumped out aware that I was dampening the family excitement, and rushed back in to get some sugar. Feeling a bit guilty that I'd kept the rest waiting but satisfied I had packed everything, including Equal (sugar substitute) for Nimmi and Kokila, I hurried back to the car.
We drove up to the beach where the kids ran off to join their friends. We were all meeting after ages and there was a huge melee of greetings. The grown ups spread out the seating but let the goodies remain packed for later. After a lot of catching up, some of us women went off for a long walk on the beach while the men stayed back to keep an eye on the kids and probably to behave like kids themselves while the women were away.
The beach was crowded, mostly with families. Parents were everywhere, helping kids build castles in the sand or splash about in the water, determined to make the most of the lovely weather. We walked idly, chatting and absorbing the sights. There was much to see, not least the clearest of blue skies and a cobalt blue sea. A mum sat serenely watching her toddler take a few faltering steps and fall. The little girl's face underwent a rapid change from utter surprise to monumental misery, eyes tightly shut, forehead creased like scrunched paper and lower lip trembling piteously. She looked utterly adorable and we all winced, feeling her pain and waiting for her bottled breath to explode.
She was seconds away from a fiesty bawl when, "that's all right," said mum mildly, adding brightly, "Up you get." We stood there, watching in suspense. It worked like magic. The little girl forgot to cry, got up, took a few faltering steps, fell again and to our utter surprise this time, smiled at mum.
"Oh, well done, mum," said Yasmin softly to our group, breaking the spell. I couldn't help agreeing.
"Who's coming jogging," said Kokila, turning around to face us, walking backwards. "Might as well build up an appetite." Kokila was a fitness freak and it showed in every inch of her superb, supple body.
"How about a race," said Shahnaaz, a bit plump and out of condition, stepping forward. "Okay," said Koki and in one fluid, graceful movement, turned around and shot off, giving herself a good head start. Shahnaaz yelled out, "back," and bolted in the opposite direction. We all turned, watching her run for dear life, laughing. Koki let out a wail of protest, "you tricked me," but sure she could beat Shahnaz, ran after her. We watched with wicked satisfaction as Shahnaaz reached our group of men a second before her.
We continued our walk. Koki caught up with us, exhilaration and perhaps triumph on her face and pointed to Shahnaz huffing and panting half way between the men and us. We stood around, waiting for her to catch up. We heard the chug-chug of an engine and turned to watch a boat with a man ski-ing expertly behind it. As he became aware of us watching he gave a little twist and a wave leaving a wonderful pattern in his wake. Shahnaaz soon caught up and gamely faced all our ribbing although we did manage to slip in, to Koki's chagrin, that she had definitely won the first round. We continued on our way. Finally, our faces red with the heat of the sun and the fresh sea breeze, we decided to turn back. The slow walk had warmed us up nicely and as one, we walked back at a nice clip with little conversation.
As we reached our group we saw that Vijay had wasted no time handing out a second round of chilled beers. The men looked content, laughing uproariously at some incident one of them was recounting. The kids had wandered back from their games and were sipping cold drinks. One of the men was throwing out brain teasers which some kids were happily trying to solve. Another was whirling one of the kids around. "me, my turn," yelled some of the others. One of the men had rummaged in the bags and discovered savoury stuff to go with their beers. The kids were making inroads into the namkeen. Before they lost their apetites to junk food we decided it was time to eat. One of the men fired up the barby. Soon delicious smells of frying meats and onion assailed us. We laid out quite a spread and everyone tucked in. It was, in true Indian style, a long, varied, chatpat and satisfying meal. We were finally done and cleared away the dishes.
I could tell the ladies were beginning to feel drowsy. The men were huddled together talking in low murmurs. They seemed to be hatching a plan. We watched the kids troop off to have more fun by the water. Suddenly, the men jumped up and whipped off their shirts. They ran in a group towards the sea. Some had paunches and some knobly knees but each and everyone of them wore shorts and a slight, self conscious blush. We sat up, smiles splitting our faces and watched. Then, leaving them to their fun we decided to have tea to help us keep awake.
I felt happy. This particular group of friends were out for a laugh and a good time in the nicest of ways. The men took a lot of ribbing and dished it out as generously. They were friendly and relaxed. Nobody knows what goes on in an individual's mind but this much I can say with certainty. I enjoyed being with them. Thank goodness they were 'Normal' Indian men unlike those louts who've been in the news for forcing their offensive and unwanted attentions on our women.
Perhaps I'm lucky. Although, hang on a minute. I've come across tons of the other kind. Only, I've never thought of them as men - Indian or otherwise. Even as a young girl of twelve I remember creeps on the road trying to cop a crude feel or stare hungrily, giving me a sense of loathing and revulsion at their unwanted attentions. Walking on the road was stressful to say the least. I learnt to have eyes in the back of my head - to anticipate the moves some of those animals would make so I could side step them. Very often they succeeded, making me feel violated and angry. In those days decent men and women didn't know how to react when faced with this ugly behaviour. We felt helpless and tried not to make a scene, to ignore these louts and wish they would disappear. Unfortunately, that simply made the low lives bolder. Their behaviour worsened.
Enough is enough. We want to see them punished. With a united action plan, even if the police are hesitant to record rape cases and even if many politicians are made from the same, lewd mould, we are determined not to tolerate this kind of uncivilised behaviour a moment longer. Everyone wants these monsters to suffer the consequences of their actions. Where we all differ is the degree of punishemnt. Some advocate capital punishment and others, life imprisonment. Here's one of many such discussions on the issue.
Sadly, nobody seems to have faith in our justice system - another topic for another day. Yet we all seem to agree that this problem has to be attacked on many fronts. To my mind the challenge is this. All of a sudden, although we are not the louts and it isn't our fault, the onus is upon us to work at trying to cure something terrible that ails our society. We've definitely started writing about it openly where previously, we preferred to whisper about it angrily.
Wonder if we'll rise to the challenge of hammering out action plans. Whether we'll confront the problem as team players. Wonder if we'll make a determined effort to unite in action to send all this obscene, unbriddled and alarming lewdness permanently underground.
And as for the question - are Indian men sleazy? Try keying in the phrase in your Google search bar and see what it throws up. One of the reasons our men have gained that reputation is because the slimebags on our roads are beginning to outnumber the decent kind. Another, to my mind, is because many of our men have grown up believing that socialising with women isn't right. Hence they lack the skills to behave normally with half the population.
To balance the equation, having travelled extensively and having met a huge variety of men, I can say with authority that all Indian men aren't sleazes nor are all non Indian men perfect gentlemen.
Beach Photograph courtesy Taranaki Daily News Online
Woman kneeing man courtesy Health India