The Most Spectacular Sight Ever
What’s the most spectacular sight you’ve seen on your travels?
I get asked some form of that question often. Off the top of my head, some of these spring to mind:
To wit, some of the most awe-inspiring sights I’ve felt my spirit soar at. I’ve chased mind-bending beauty on all my travels, as I always will.
But I recently noticed a sight more uplifting and heart-warming than all the night skies, geysers, volcanoes, lakes, waterfalls and mountains in the world put together. A sight more real and relatable than anything in the wild, yet just as unreal: the sight of women moving about freely in a public space, well into the night.
‘Freely’ meaning the way you’d expect a human being in a civil society to navigate a public space. Not like a fugitive on the run, not like a potential assault target scanning danger zones, not like a fear-riddled future statistic planning her quickest exit strategies. Not like the school girl you or your boss might’ve once been, pepper spray placed strategically in an easy-to-reach pocket should ‘things go wrong’, not like your mother who uses her dupatta as a shield to thwart what is mildly termed ‘unwanted attention’. Not like countless women who are told incessantly to dress, walk, sit, stand, talk, look, exist a certain way or else they’re – you guessed it – ‘asking for it’. ‘Freely’ meaning: like a free person to whom the streets belong just as much as to anyone born into a male anatomy.
Strolling the busiest parts of ‘developed’ cities such as New York, Dubai, Delhi and Bombay, I’ve passed by men taking confident chest-open arm-swinging strides like they owned the street, while my whole agenda on those same streets was to get from A to B without getting catcalled/groped/ogled at or harassed in any way. I’ve had guys slide up close to me as we passed each other on a sidewalk, saying things only a depraved imagination could take credit for. Some of these low lives I took to task, but on busy, crowded streets many slip through in the blink of an eye unless you have a ninja’s reflexes.
On a recent trip to Thailand, where I threw myself into more outdoor adventures than my insurance or self-preservation instincts would allow for, my most memorable moment hit me during a rather mundane activity. On a taxi ride in the city, I saw something I realized I’ve always longed to see on every trip.
The setting was a non-descript street in Chiang Mai, under a late-night sky. I noticed two women strolling along on the sidewalk, sharing a laugh. With as casual a walk and as nonchalant an air as one might expect of a man in a public space (especially in religion-endorsed patriarchal societies).
What were they wearing? Shorts and tank tops
Dressed for the weather and not for protecting against anyone’s hyper-sexualizing or objectifying gaze. Just two humans taking a damn walk without feeling any need to ‘hide’ anything – not their beer bottles, not their personality, not their laughs, and certainly not the fact that they had – hold your breath – female anatomies. Legs and curves included, and not only the kind the movies and the magazines might approve of.
Female and free to move around in a public space, even at night, even in ‘revealing’ clothes, even with alcohol, even while laughing away, even without a male chaperone. The kind of freedom one half of the human race takes for granted every single day, and the other half fights for in so many ways – every single day.
My cab turned a corner and the women were out of sight in seconds, but a warm sense of happy reassurance stayed on. Sometimes the everyday and the ‘mundane’ do to you what all the wonders of the wild don’t. Reassure you that there is still hope for humans in our so-called-but-far-from civilized society, as long as we have possibilities on the planet for women to walk like that – well into the night and well into their freedom. Given the state of affairs, could there be a more spectacular sight?