An account of an exoteric gaze

Friday, 24th January 2014, 11 PM

Chanakyapuri, New Delhi

I believe that I have been engaging with the idea of popular perceptions about gender identities. Considering myself a liberal thinker on the subject, I had some serious reflection to undertake after yesterday’s experience. It was 10 pm, when Tarini, Arya and I thought of going for a stroll and buying some snacks at the nearby petrol pump. While returning back around twenty minutes later, a stone’s throw away from the University gate, two women stopped us to say hello. They appeared to be returning from a party. Tired legs’ supporting those shimmering heals, slackly hanging coat on the taller woman’s arm and the fading make up – all seemed to suggest the return. “Do you girls walk here often this time?” While I was wondering how to respond, Tarini responded with a casual and a confident, “yes” and started walking. “That’s good” said a fading voice. After having entered the campus premises, the usual banter was going to begin, when I asked my friends if they realized what had happened. Arya said “aapko nahi pata” and Tarini smiled and continued her conversation with Arya which was disrupted with my question. A little appalled by their casual response, I was beginning to recognize the growing silence within me. In the coming minutes I found myself trying to understand not the incident but my response to it. I wondered why I shied away from a conversation with “them”. I don’t  always shy away from talking to strangers , that too women in the middle of the road at that hour of night. But, I had to walk away from the situation, didn’t I? What if it wasn’t safe being there? That small exchange came back to me as an exchange of my judgment about them. In an unsaid smile that Tarini and I exchanged, Arya’s comment and my question narrated a history of a gaze, a gaze that is public in its inability of being separated from the larger sets of our social worlds and assumptions. Yet, the act of gazing makes it intensely personal in a way “natural disasters “are (intentionally used while being cognizant of its problematic)…

Back in our room after a substantial amount of time, Tarini asked me if I was fine as I was evidently absorbed in thinking. I asked her how she was so cool about her answer back there. She said that they asked and I said yes, in a “most normal way possible.” It wasn’t just her normal response but her treatment of the incident as normal which had puzzled me then, seemed now the right thing to have done. We talked about similar instances and returned to our hostel gossip. I think the instance explained me the over lapping meaning of normal, general and functional in a Durkheminian sense and as well as how vulnerable our little mental worlds can be.

(Names changed to conceal identity)



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s