Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Sexual Harassment

I was at the mall this morning browsing through the books when I heard a woman screaming around the corner.

“Don’t move!”

It was a Scottish accent and as I looked up I saw the face of Mrs. Cairns. When I was at school, Mrs. Cairns had been one of the English teachers in the primary section. She looked livid now.

“Don’t you move!” she screamed at the man standing in front of her.

A security guard was trying to pacify her and ask her what the problem was.

“This man defiled my daughter!” There was a young teenage girl standing next to her.

“He passed his hands over her body and felt her!” She demonstrated the movements on the child. The girl burst into tears.

A small crowd had gathered by now. People were pulling out cell-phones. The man who had been accused tried to say he was sorry.

“Sorry?!” she exploded hysterically. “What good is sorry going to do?! You defiled my daughter!” The girl had wrapped herself around her mother, hiding her face from public view.

A small cordon of security guards and shop assistants had gathered around them. One of them dispersed the crowd. I walked away.

In Pakistan, when I was in medical school, some of our female classmates had told us about this sort of harassment. Out shopping something would touch them or pinch them or try to feel them up. This usually happened in crowded places and the perpetrator was either difficult to identify or the girls hadn’t wanted to create a scene. They were too embarrassed, too ashamed to report it.

Like my classmates, I’m sure there are many girls and women who have to endure this sick behavior on a daily basis. I can’t imagine how traumatic it must be, to have your body violated and treated like public property. I can understand why the girls wouldn’t want to bring the issue up. And yet, as traumatic as it may have been for her daughter, I am glad Mrs. Cairns brought it out. I’m glad she stood up for her daughter and defended her in front of a crowd of strangers. No woman deserves to be treated that way, let alone a young girl. I have heard arguments about eve-teasing (what a stupid word!) where accusers have said they were led on by a provocative style of dress or some flirtatious behavior. That’s such a rubbish excuse. No self-respecting man would ever treat a woman with anything but respect. And those who don’t, they need to be identified and punished.

As upsetting as it was, I’m glad Mrs. Cairns made an incident of the act. I hope it serves as an example for other women.

Monday, October 09, 2006

If you watch one movie this year . . .

. . . make it Etre et Avoir. A beautiful documentary about a small village school-house in the French country-side, it takes a very simple concept and turns it into visual poetry.

One of the best films I have ever seen.

Sunday, October 08, 2006


There is a barbershop around the corner from our house. It's run by a group of pleasant South Indian guys. We don’t speak much but whenever I go there I'm greeted with a friendly smile. The barbers live close to us and I see them around, riding to work on their bicycles. Sometimes we wave to each other. A few years ago I saw one of them eating an apple as he rode with one hand. It was just after sunset and on the empty road we seemed like the only two people in the world. A boy watching a man on a bicycle eating an apple in the dusk.

So scared of growing old, I'm only good at being young

I’m not sure how it works but for some reason, as I grow older, my father seems to be getting younger. We were out shopping for trousers the other evening when the salesman innocently asked my father if I was his younger brother. When told that, no, I was actually a son, the salesman thought I was kidding. Of course, Abbu was delighted – who wouldn’t be? – and of course I knew it was all an act to make us buy more pant but the remark didn’t exactly warm the cockles of my heart. In fact, the delicious chocolate-colored beauties in front of me instantly took on the color of stale coffee grounds. Who wants to buy a pair of trousers that look like they’ve been percolating for weeks in a fisherman’s boot?

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