|HER WORLD||Sunday, May 18, 2003, Chandigarh, India|
Battle of the sexes
Spirit of enterprise
SUNITA CHADHA, a sprightly forty-something woman had just eased in to the driver’s seat of her black Esteem in a parking lot in a posh New Delhi market on May 3, when a man shot at her from his handgun at point-blank range. Sunita, a mother of two, died on the spot. She was late already. That her two daughters and aged mother were waiting for her back home was still on her mind when death came walking and she failed to notice the assassin.
Most women tend to make such mistakes and, eventually, many get hurt and some even lose their lives. The threat to women's safety is more real now that more and more of them are taking to driving and walking alone especially in the metros and bigger cities like Chandigarh, Gurgaon and Ludhiana. Most of us tend to ensconce ourselves in the smug feeling "It won't happen to me". This is a bogus expectation. No one expects this could happen to him or her, but we must be prepared.
Pat Malone, past bodyguard for famous figures like Farrah Fawcett and Sylvester Stallone once said, "Our world is not as safe as we pretend that it is, and living in our fantasy worlds will get us in trouble, sooner or later". His words have proved dead right for women like Sunita Chadha.
Though men and women are equally prone to attacks, women are more likely victims because of three main reasons:
A lack of awareness about their surroundings: It has been found that whenever something is weighing on their minds, women tend to ignore what's going on around them. This can be a fatal mistake. Always keep your eyes and ears open whenever you are in a poorly lit, lonely place especially after dark. Noticing sudden movements can prepare you mentally to take evasive action. But there is no escape for a sitting duck.
Poor body language: Most Indian women especially those above 35 do not have proper body language which sends wrong signals which incidentally are exactly the right signals for a potential attacker. Holding your head high, swinging your arms freely, a sprightly gait and an erect posture can scare away even a serial killer. Likewise, overconfidence can stab you in the back. Never approach known rowdy areas alone at night. If you are single, take a friend along or better still accompany a male. A woman driving or walking alone in bad neighbourhoods is inviting trouble. She is at a wrong place and that too at the wrong time. Women also tend to check their shopping lists or change the cassettes after entering their car. This is inviting trouble too. Remember a predator could be eyeing you. So, for your safety, as soon as you enter your car, lock all doors and leave immediately.
Being at the wrong place at the wrong time: Many women now have to return home from work after late-night shifts. Big buildings can be very lonely at night. Elevators in high-rise buildings at unearthly hours are hotbeds of trouble. If using an elevator, do not get into one which already has an unknown male figure standing in its centre all by himself. And if you happen to be alone and an unknown face boards it a few floors down get off at that floor itself and wait for company. Also make it a point to always stand near the exit not in a corner of the elevator. When trouble strikes, it affords you an extra few seconds to get out of both the machine and trouble itself.
Keep this in mind: Lone women drivers cannot afford to use poorly maintained cars. Have your vehicle serviced regularly so that it remains in peak performance condition. Keep some spares handy. These essentially include: various fuses, a headlamp bulb and a tool kit. These can be very handy.
Most essential of all these is fuel. Keep enough fuel in your tank. Threats to your personal safety increase manifold if you run out of gas at a lonely spot whether its daylight or dark.
Finally, the rule of the thumb in the case of a breakdown is switching on your hazard lights, lock the car and walk to safety. In no case should you sit in a broken down car. If necessary hide in the nearest bush, but don't stay inside the vehicle.
There are several physical defences you can use against a predator. Before we proceed any further, be sure that if you have to use physical defences be very forceful to be effective. Muster all your strength and choose the right moment and vulnerable spots. A weak physical defence could create problems for you as the predator will take out the anger on you by becoming more violent. Among the predator's most vulnerable parts are the eyes. Poke your fingers in the eyes and poke them hard. Most predators are disarmed if the eyes are poked effectively and swiftly. If the predator is standing, kick him on the knees. Knees are vulnerable too and a hard kick there will take down most of us.
Pat Malone has a very practical advice on how to seek help if you need to. This is what he says: Never cry "Help", cry "Fire". Pat has an explanation for this: People don't want to get involved when people yell "help", but "fire" draws attention because people are nosy, and concerned if they or their belongings are in danger of the "fire."
Battle of the sexes
REJOICE, all ye anthropologists. A race that you thought was extinct is alive and kicking, thank you. The sixteenth-century caveman is not, it turns out, a thing of the past. He is thriving, procreating, multiplying, and shows no signs of yielding to the dictates of evolution that Darwin in his moments of unfounded optimism had predicted. And he is remarkably easy to find. You don't have to venture into the Amazon rain forests, or some other equally obscure spots to find him. Just look carefully at the next male Homo sapien you come across. That is probably him.
Over the past year, ever since I started taking proactive steps to give up my single status, I have had the (unfortunate) opportunity of making a thorough study of this species. Mr Right is proving to be extremely elusive. Mr Wrong, well, that is another story. He and his ilk have been crawling out of the woodwork with amazing, and now predictable, regularity. Someday I would like to write one of those how-to books, maybe How to Survive Encounters with 16th-Century Cavemen, that is if I can find a publisher who’s 22nd-century-man enough to publish it. But for now, this brief write-up will have to do.
Up until a year ago I, like many other young women my age, believed that the sensitive, new-age man had finally arrived. After all, equal relationships based on trust, respect, equality and love (okay, maybe not in that order) were an assumption that one made and never really questioned. An education, an independent source of income, an outlet for one's creative energies, individualism and the pursuit of self-growth as a goal made women look for something more from a man than a roof over their heads and food on the table.
A year later, I am wiser, though sadder. The new-age man's habitat, it seems, is confined chiefly to advertisements and the female imagination, both, you might argue, rather doubtful sources of reliable information, but for the moment let's not get distracted by the fact that you might be right. After all, I, like a lot of women my age, have pinned my hopes on finding the new-age man some day, hopefully before he becomes the stuff myths are made of. (Two 'hope'-words in one sentence, you can see where this is going). I am prepared for a long haul. I have to be, I have been told by well-meaning friends that the new-age man is still less like the needle and more like the hay, assuming, of course, that there is a needle in the hay.
The doubts are there, and not without reason. The media is hard at work to convince me that he exists. I have seen him gazing cheerfully from glossy advertisements or vaulting around television commercials. And some women, displaying a superior air in cloying articles in newspapers and magazines, actually claim to have met him. He is reported to be sensitive, intelligent and secure.
Unfortunately, most men I have met would gladly give the feudal lords from the Dark Ages a run for their money. Beneath that Benetton T-shirt beats a heart that seems to have bypassed all evolutionary milestones. A typical specimen of the species expects me to be two persons, one to play Jane to his Tarzan, the other to reassure him that he has kept pace with changing times. So I am expected to be "modern" with a "traditional outlook", "professionally qualified" but "family oriented", "working" but "preferably from home", "educated" but "homely" (never mind the wrong usage of the word; there seems to be a consensus among eligible bachelors that Webster got it all wrong and 'homely' actually means 'chained to the sink or the bedpost'). Makes me wonder sometimes if he expects me to hold a teleconference with my office on the latest in programming techniques while I sit on the floor at home and press his feet. (Move over Playboy, I have discovered the ultimate male fantasy).
So where does this leave me? In a
no-win situation, unfortunately. For as long as I don't fulfil his
impossible demands, I have to be content with being a real-life Bridget
Jones and when I do I will have to check myself into the nearest
hospital. It would probably mean that I have developed a split
Spirit of enterprise
She rebelled when it
was unheard of for a girl not to conform. Ninetysix-year-old Tahmi
Bhandari is a woman who was much ahead of her times. Rashmi
Talwar meets the last Parsi in Amritsar and comes back full of
NINETYSIX-year-old Tahmi Bhandari, the last Parsi in Amritsar, has lost none of her indomitable spirit. Born in a conservative, rich Parsi family, Tahmi was the second child in a family of five sisters and a brother. Her father, Adeshwar Bogga, was the owner of ice factories in Amritsar and Ludhiana in 1906. Her daring was evident even in her youth.
She was, perhaps, the first woman to own and drive a car. She drove it herself for her sojourns to Lahore and back before the bewitching hour. Tahmi ‘drives’ down memory lane as she remembers: "I owned a Lincoln 12-cylinder car with a soft-top. I loved the wind as I drove in the open car to Lahore, shopped at Anarkali, went for silent movies and loved the coffee with cream at the well-known Falleties restaurant, which is still there in Lahore. My uncle, Rustomjee Mulhaferot, always chaperoned and accompanied me." He later bequeathed his favourite niece, the house she loved so much.
During Partition in 1947, Tahmi stitched clothes for "lakhs" of refugees who arrived in Amritsar and were given shelter in the Govindgarh Fort and other camps. The cloth was provided by the government and the All India Women’s Conference (AIWC). "I worked with nearly 25 tailors at my residence in the cantonment and made clothes for the young and old. I saw ‘kaflas’ of refugees in hordes penniless and semi-clad cross over to Amritsar. However, the ostentation of women in the organisation who dressed up in their finery while distributing charity put me off. There was a genuine conflict of ideas and I disassociated myself", says Tahmi in her finest English, with a sparkle in her eyes.
Tahmi grew up with friends like HFJ Sam Manekshaw, India’s first and only Field Marshal. "Alongwith Manekshaw’s family, there was another Parsi family, that of Tammy Master whose only daughter Ms Sherene is living in the USA," remembers Tahmi. Exquisitely beautiful, she was lovingly called guldasta by her friends and admirers, among whom, besides the Manekshaws were famed writer Mulk Raj Anand, Surjit Singh Majithia who went on to become Deputy Defence Minister of India in 1958 and G.R. Sethi a veteran journalist. However, she fell in love with and married a Hindu gentleman Padam Chand Bhandari, while she was studying for her Masters in English at the Khalsa College, Amritsar — something unheard of in those times. An executive officer (EO) in improvement trust, she says: "The famous "Bhandari" bridge was named after my husband in 1954. He had executed the marvellous vision of a multi-lane bridge, a modern concept of a flyover, which connected the walled city areas with the civil lines after converting a small bridge called uccha pul built before Partition."
Ostracised by many, including family and friends, for a love marriage, that too outside her community, Tahmi had to fend for herself and her family after her husband died of a heart attack when she was just 48. She had three daughters and a son to look after. Undeterred, she rose to the challenge and converted her palatial ‘red bougainvillea home’ into a guesthouse with the help of an engineer D.D. Kaila.
She became the first woman in these parts to run a business. That is when she became a ‘spitfire’. Her abusive language brought her many a brickbat. Tahmi’s defence is: "What was I supposed to do? I had three beautiful daughters, if I had not used the abuses to fend the men away (who understood only this language) my daughters would have been sold in the ‘namak mandi!" She provided the best of education to each of her children who are all well settled abroad and take turns to look after her.
However, running the guest house was not easy, earlier the rooms were rented out to teachers, army captains and officers "Each disturbance affecting India affected her and later our guest house," says her daughter Rattan, who lives in Germany and comes to Amritsar half the year to look after Tahmi. A veritable storehouse of information and an eye-witness to numerous historical milestones, talking to Tahmi is like watching a movie being re-run.
Tragedy struck when she was 13. Her elder sister expired. That is the time when the Jallianwala Bagh episode occurred in 1919 "I heard the guns boom in the silence that prevailed as a curfew was clamped preceding the massacre I was in school when somebody came to fetch me due to the curfew. The Jallianwala Bagh episode became a turning point for the Quit India Movement".
Four years after losing her first husband, Tahmi remarried at a time when remarriage of widows was unheard of. She married, D.D. Kaila, an engineer, who provided the transportation and conveyance service to her guest house. Besides, he was also a loving father to her children.
In 1962, during the Chinese aggression the flow of tourists lessened and Tahmi’s business suffered. The 1965 Indo-Pak War too took toll of the guest list. She lost her second husband to a heart attack just before the Indo-Pak War of 1971. Family and friends urged Tahmi to move to a safer place. She was adamant and asserted: "Lains naik Raju used the anti-aircraft guns from behind my house (which is in the cantonment) and we saw blood-chilling fights in 1965. Why should I run now when India is in a much superior position? Besides, I have to ready my swimming pool for the guests who would come in hordes after the war".
During the Emergency in 1976, there was an income tax raid in her house. The officials who hoped to find mounds of dollars as many embassy personnel stayed with Tahmi, found just 8 dollars and Rs 28. To the question: " Where is the money?", Tahmi replied spend it on my house and table. I like to live well, treat well and serve well!" A fact recorded by journalist Jonathan Gregson in the Sunday Telegraph. He wrote: "Her guesthouse has an old-world charm. It boasts of Italian bathroom tiles, Burma teak furniture, brass switches and a grand piano. The art deco touches, surrounded by an English garden with brick paths, pergolas and arches makes an apt setting for "the jewel in the crown"
The decade-long terrorism in the 1980s caused a loss to Tahmi’s business. She struggled to maintain her guesthouse for more than ten long years. To keep the hearth burning, her daughter, Rattan, worked as an escort for German guests who visited other parts of India. Foreigners were barred from Punjab which had been declared a disturbed area. Rattan recalls: "During this period, my mother, then about 80-years-old, used to commute by rickshaw. Once, she went to the bazaar and loaded the rickshaw with vegetables, fruits and eatables and brought them home. To a query as to who would eat all that much when there are no guests around Tahmi said ‘we all will eat it’. She paid for the eatables over the next six months!"
Though wrinkled and frail,
Tahmi does not take a single pill. She has lost none of her bubbling
spirit although she has finally let her guard down as years caught up
with her. Though mellowed with age, her memory is still razor sharp.
Immaculately dressed in a white salwar-kameez, a spotless white
handkerchief by her side, Tahmi changes the TV channel with her
perfectly manicured hands to watch the WWF wrestling which is, but
naturally, her favourite channel!