In a big town just five miles from a little town, there lived three best friends. One (Maya) was on her way to becoming a doctor (yup, she the typical girl who did everything her parents wanted her to do), the other (Lola) was an urban hippie who believed she was put on this earth for a reason (the reason, of course, being unknown), and the third (Chahat) just wanted to get married and procreate at the drop of a hat (fair enough). The three girls lived very sheltered lives and had never learnt of life outside their 0.5 k.m. radius. They were content in that world they called “the big city”.

Oh, the big city.

Chahat got her wish and her parents set up a groom for her at the age of 20. She was ecstatic. Her friends were happy for her. They decided it was time to bond for the last time by taking a small road trip outside ‘the big city’ and experience a slice of life before they settled down.

So they did. They hopped into Lola’s Ambassador and traveled five miles out to the small town. This was as adventurous as they could get.

They were surprised not to find any hotels, motels, or guesthouses, so they knocked upon the first house they liked. This one was small and sweet, had a paddy field, and a white picket fence.

What is it about white picket fences that gives us a false sense of security?

Helter Skelter: Sapna Bhavnani
Should we do something? Photograph by Shalini Rao.

Anyhow, they were welcomed by the lady of the house, and her husband, and their 25 kids. The house had only two rooms, so they settled in the big room where the kids slept.

That night as they dreamt of adventures coming their way, they were awoken by loud screams from the other room. They knew the sound was of a woman screaming in pain but they didn’t know what to do. They peeped in the other room and saw the man of the house beating the woman silly.

“Should we do something?” asked Maya.

“I knew there was a reason we were here. We have to do something—this is our purpose,” said Lola.

“I don’t think we should interfere in their business,” said Chahat.

So they did nothing and ignored the whole situation.

The next morning they found their way to the centre of the town where all the women hung out. It was by the well. They sat on the wall and watched them (just like we city people like to do). They noticed that 90% of the women looked battered. They had more scars than most generals could brag about.

“I told you we were here for a reason. We have to let these women know that they cannot let men beat them up like this. Come on, guys, look at them,” nagged Lola. Yes, I think she had finally found the reason that she was put on earth.

So they did.

They walked up to the well and started making small talk with the ladies that eventually turned into big talk. They bragged of their big city and their big city lives. They bragged of feminism and women’s rights.

“We should not take male abuse at any cost. I think you women need to stand up for yourself and walk out on your husbands,” started Lola.

The women seemed irritated. I don’t think they appreciated the lecture. It took them ten minutes to gather and retaliate.

“We are a bit tired of you big city girls coming to our small towns and trying to fix our lives. First it was only the white women who thought we were unfortunate and now Indian women have joined the brigade. The fact is, yes, we get hit once in a while. Yes, we get battered once in a while, but we are happy. We are content. Life goes on and so do we. You big city liberated women have travelled the world, but have no place to call home. You might have a bank account but no wealth. Look at you! Just look at you. You look haggard. Now get out of here and find a reason to live someplace else.”

The three friends got into the car and went back to the big city.

I think something inside them had been stirred if not shaken!

“My idea of feminism is self-determination, and it’s very open-ended: every woman has the right to become herself, and do whatever she needs to do.”—Ani Difranco.

Sapna Bhavnani cuts hair at her salon, Mad o Wot, in Bandra and now also in Andheri. She also writes columns, goes on road trips, listens to life stories, gets tattoos, raises goldfish, rides a pink and black motorcycle, plays Scrabble, worships Elvis, waters plants, designs pop-up books, acts, drinks no water, takes over talk shows, makes time capsules, performs at poetry readings, is worth millions on Facebook and owns enough Pez dispensers to build a bridge to the moon. Her current pseudonyms are Tiger, Tiger and MC Polar Bear.

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ACK #7

By Monsoon Company