The grey woolen sweater I am wearing now is my mom’s. I have both good and bad memories associated to it.
The sweater I guess is as old as me, that is 25 years old. My mom must have bought it while she was staying in Delhi around 1990. She gave it to me when I was old enough to fit into it, I think my 7th grade. We both used it intermittently, as the need be.
My oldest memory of wearing that sweater is when I was traveling with my younger sister and dad to Kolkata on a local train from Kharagpur. He had some conference there and since it was holidays for us, we joined him. Mom couldn’t join because of some reason. This rarely happened, traveling without my mom. The train was jammed with all kinds of people. Among them were the men, who kept staring at me throughout the journey. It felt utmost uncomfortable but I didn’t do anything about it. When it was time to get down at Howrah junction, dad took my sister and went ahead, I was old enough to get down a train by myself. But was I old enough to deal with eve-teasing? I hadn’t even learned that word then. My dad was ignorant about it, he still acts ignorant about that subject. We have never really talked about it, in fact. But one thing is sure, he is not open about his views, at least I do not know his opinion in this matter. Anyway, these men surrounded me and in the couple of minutes that it took me to get down that train, they molested me. They grabbed my breasts and butt, I didn’t utter a word. I didn’t do anything about it. I had no idea what to do. I was wearing the grey sweater that day. The sweater always reminds of this. Even today.
I wore the sweater again after many years, this year when I went to UK. It protected me from the freezing cold there. I had lot of happy memories with it. But my mind still lingered on that incident when I saw the sweater two days back.
I was coming back to Kolkata for a visit. To visit my old school, if possible meet some teachers and friends, go to all the places that held so much of my fond childhood days. But the sweater reminded me of those men. I was engulfed with tension on my travel from Kolkata to Salboni, which will be in local trains. Cabs nowadays are scarier, so that was not an option! I even tried changing my flight ticket to the day my husband was traveling (we were traveling on separate days so that I could spend more time here). I slept yesterday with these thoughts and as the alarm rang today at 5 AM, I wished something miraculous happened and the trip got cancelled. Until I got the boarding pass while checking-in, I was hoping for it. But nothing happened. I smoothly sailed into the flight and my seat in between two young men. I was definitely going to Kolkata.
I realised in my taxi drive to Howrah junction that Kolkata may not have changed a bit in past 11 years, but I have changed a lot. I was wearing that grey sweater. It didn’t matter at all. My attitude, my looks, my body language, my acting-according-to-my-age, my acting-according-to-the-group-I-was-in was that mattered. Men still stared at me, but I didn’t even stifle in my seat. I was engrossed reading Private India by Ashwin Sanghi, a thrilling novel.
I walked past all those men, head high, wearing my grey sweater and reached Salboni by 5 PM today safe, excited, happy and ever-so confident. Finally my grey sweater phobia had lifted. I realized it was not the sweater but me who could change my own situation. It was only me who could protect me by jelling into the kind of people I was with, by looking like one-of them.
I am looking forward to my one week in my old place with the same enthusiasm as I was 2 days back before I saw that sweater. As somebody said:
Excuse me, while I kiss the sky!