The Tribune - Spectrum

, April 14, 2002

No place for Jill on the hill !
Alka Sharma

SO Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water... how romantic! The hill must have seemed that much greener, their pail that much lighter for their holding hands.

Illustration by Sandeep JoshiI wonder if that’s what made them so light-headed as to tumble down the slope head-first. I also wonder if Jill still longed to go up the hill with Jack when the two had spent a good deal of their lives together.

I mean, wouldn’t she rather share the gossip with Hannah or Rebecca or Julie or even me on the way to the spring than put up with Jack’s middle-aged grumbling and bland arithmetic of pounds and shillings, day in, day out?

I am sure, she would. Once her preoccupation with men, marriage and home had subsided, she would have yearned to be back among the girls. Lively, carefree, free-wheeling, with the wind in her hair... Till, like me, she found the rub.

Inside me, the travel bug has been fighting a losing battle. After all, it is ages since we visited some place ‘interesting’: Which is hardly the adjective for Shimla, where we land twice a year, or Chandigarh, where I grew up. On the other hand, a sweet-sounding place like Chhitkul, in Kinnaur, should be interesting. Ditto the Parbati river in Kulu or Bharmour in Chamba or Chirgaon in Shimla district...


Hubby dear, however, regards these proposals with tired looks, which say: "grow up" but which I read as "grow old". I once tried frightening him out of middle age by threatening to leave for Kaza or Keylong on my own but my bluster was met with a guffaw that set the firebrand in me all aglow.

"Explain yourself," I dared him, "Do you think we women are not up to it?" But he laughed louder still before letting out, "The first thing you will miss is the loo". Sure enough, there in lay the rub.

Unless you’re a man (in which case the roadside would serve just as well), travelling long distance will occasionally put you in need of a rest room along the way. But where are these conveniences? Not on the way to distant Sarchu, surely.

Come to think of it, you don’t find any on the way to more accessible places like Kasauli or Renuka either. Forget Himachal Pradesh, right here in the National Capital, women visitors to Qutab Minar or Purana Qila have to look extra hard to find a utility.

Apparently, the tourism machinery in the country does not set much store by modesty or women’s comfort. The systemic philosophy seems to be that all tourists are men while female visitors constitute the inferior sort of baggage. Therefore, so long as you have men — the real ‘clients’ — satisfied, business will keep flowing.

No wonder then, apart from the top-notch hotels which receive a sizeable number of powerful, independent women, the other establishments do nothing to make life easier for female visitors.

The absence of public toilets along the way is in fact a minor inconvenience if you consider the veritable ‘hazards’ a woman traveller must put up with. Can a lone woman visitor feel at ease sitting down to dinner at one of our roadside dhabas? How about her checking into a shady hotel, all alone?

Yet, all it takes to make even a rundown place seem respectable is a little thought. A small all-male setup in a backstreet may seem disreputable but put a woman at the reception, a couple of them in the restaurant and some more in the service staff and you have a place where a woman will step in with few apprehensions.

Ultimately, it is the entrepreneur who gains the most by making his establishment woman-friendly. A crude setup in the most scenic place will draw a few adventures — mostly young bachelors — but till the time the place can recommend itself to women, families and the big money won’t come.

Nor will the girls. Jill, Hannah, Rebecca, Julie and I included!.