It was late. The clock had fast-forwarded way past M’s bed-time and here he was, still tossing and turning. It was then that I noticed the boom-boom seeping through the old Dutch doors and its vintage, fragile glass right into the pillow. The vibrations echoed in my ear as I fought my rising anger. I could feel my heart racing, wondering what to do.
I left M on the bed with instructions to stay put and went into the verandah. A quick look out showed a fairly deserted street – rows of cars tucked away next to each other for the night, the orange glow of streetlights illuminating passers-by (all men), one of who did a little jig to the music as he crossed the street.
By the chapel at the end of the street, a maroon Maruti van was parked, its rear doors wide open. The music seemed to be coming from there. Three or four men stood in front of the car, talking. One man crossed the street towards them and did what can only be described as a step from a Bollywood item-number. To get their attention, I put the verandah light on, but they were too far or too engrossed to notice.
I went back in, changed my clothes, told M I’ll be right back and went downstairs. This involves opening several locks, putting staircase lights on, stepping out into a quiet street.
I was not afraid. Just very irritated.
It took me 15 seconds to reach the car. On the curb, two men sat, one with a red baseball cap on his head. I looked at him and asked in Konkani whose car it was. Mine, he said. Put that music off, I said. He took a moment to react. Put it off right now, I said even louder. The other guys reacted and I saw that they were ‘locals’ – motorcycle pilots who spend their days hawking their bikes and on this rare night, were celebrating something.
After my lecture on the decibel levels, the ‘pilots’ told the driver to shut the music down. I walked back home, still furious at having to do this so late in the night.
Back home, M was finally dozing. The boom-boom had stopped. Five minutes later, I could hear the car go away.
Why did this annoy me so much? We’ve been fighting noise here ever since we returned back, but that was just part of the issue. What made me furious was the stance of the men – standing in groups on street corners, playing loud music oblivious to the surroundings, being intimidating and well, playing the part of the typical Indian male to perfection.
If a woman (other than me – I know these guys) were to pass by, would they have ‘eve-teased’ her? Maybe not these men. But that’s just the point. If this were a bunch of strangers, there’s every chance that a woman passing by would have been harassed, verbally or worse.
And this made me angry. This fake ownership of the streets that men have, this arrogance that they own the pavements and everything around.
I’m thinking about this and I realise that in these last four years, I’m recovering a bit of my former self. That’s the person who would stand up to idiots, hit straying hands, complain about injustice. These days, the rage is about noise because it impacts us specifically so much. After almost four years of constantly complaining to the police, we’ve had a terrific response to personal complaints to the owners/managers of the cruise boats on the Mandovi. Now when the decibel levels creep up, we send an sms and action is promised. (If you need numbers, contact me.)
I’m not afraid to call the police in Goa. I’m not afraid to ask strangers to turn down the music at night. I’m not afraid to call the pub round the corner at 2 am asking them to turn down the volume or face the consequences. I’m fed up of the status-quo and it is time to turn the tables.
Today, as thousands of people around the world participate in One Billion Rising, I find myself thinking of the battles women face every day. The incident today was about noise, but it was also about safety and the right to a quiet life. We must reclaim our cities, our streets. Even if it means swallowing our fear and confronting people you’d rather pretend were invisible.
It’s now almost 11.30. Midnight fast approaches and the electricity has just gone off. I have deadlines and without an internet connection, work is not going to be possible. Outside, the blackness is absolute. A car blinks its lights, then it is gone. M sleeps, tangled up in duvets, sprawled 90 degrees from where I had left him an hour ago.
I look at my sleeping son and for his sake and my sanity, I hope the rest of the night is quiet.