Tag Archives: street

How to India: Ganpati Dancing

So I’ve found a whole new way to make a spectacle of myself! My new video series is called HOW TO INDIA. It’s a (hopefully comical) instructional video series for foreigners living life in India.

My first video was about how to Bucket Bathe. Basically, taking a bath with a bucket instead of a shower or bathtub.

My latest video (my second one) is about how to safely enjoy Ganpati as a foreign woman, with som bonus dance moves at the end (make sure you don’t miss it!).

Click here to watch!

So, how does one safely dance in a crowded, sweaty, male-dominated procession on the last day of Ganpati?

Ganpati is a Hindu festival which culminates in a procession called Visarjan, where the Ganpati Idol is immersed in water. A lot of families keep a Ganpati Idol in their house and submerge it in water at home. However, the large community Ganpati idols are ceremoniously paraded down the streets and taken to the water  (the river in Pune, the ocean in Mumbai).

Processions are amazing to see and hear, but they are extremely crowded and you need to be careful.

Going out Safely: If you’re like me, and you stand out from your typical Indian crowd, you can draw unwanted attention to yourself by dancing.

  • Tip 1: Go out with a group.
    • Strength in numbers means Fun in numbers.
  • Tip 2: Girl Power
    • Some Ganpati processions have sections for the women to dance in. This is intended to protect the women from unwanted touching and cat calling. If you’re a woman, feel free to jump in and make some friends!
  • Tip 3: Pack light
    • Take only the cash you need for the night and some ID. Make sure your phone is fully charged in case you get lost!
  • Tip 4: Wear a Disguise.
    • I find that wearing a hoodie worked really well for me last year.
    • If you want to go all-out, you can buy a mask. Nobody will look at you funny on this day, I swear.

Now make sure you watch the video on youtube to see my recommended dance-moves. There is also some additional footage that shows what to expect during a Ganpati procession.

If you want to learn how to take a bucket bath… well, I have a video for that too.

HTI_BucketBathing

Click to watch!

http://runangelrun.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/woman-running-beach-sunset-abh-patient-story.jpg

Run Foreign, Run!

Warm Up

How hard can it be do go for a run in India’s international metropolis? Mumbai has a special place in many hearts including mine but that probably doesn’t include the terrible pollution and traffic.

Being from North America’s most liveable city, I grew up being spoilt by Vancouver’s long, straight roads with bicycle lanes and wide sidewalks. The fresh mountain and sea air make the perfect humidity and temperature to run outdoors, and the infrastructure makes it safe and even peaceful to run as long and as far as you can dream.

When I made the transition to living in Mumbai, it meant that I went from running 30 km’s a week to none. More than anything else, I was afraid of committing some social taboo since I didn’t see any female joggers on the roads. The thought of the people staring, the traffic, and the sidewalks kept me indoors. The cost of a gym membership, the gym small-talk, and the monotonous running on a treadmill kept me sedentary.

Living in India, I could handle many eyes staring at me on a daily basis and I only ever managed to let it piss me off about once a month when it would get really bad on a day when I have no patience. Being a caucasian with blond hair, I realized that it would just have to become a part of life. Still, I was conscious of running outside but the thought of sweaty body building men hitting on me at the gym seemed even worse.

After being told to stop complaining and just give it a try, I decided to go for an early morning run in my neighbourhood. I couldn’t imagine running in the afternoon/ evening after the streets had baked in the hot sun all day.

I used to say that the hardest part of exercising is putting on the running shoes but I have changed my mind about that. Running shoes on, I headed out for my adventure.

KM 1

I decided to start out on the beach near my house. At low tide there is usually 2-4 kilometres of good beach to run along but I had only seen it at sunset when it was crowded with cricket players, young couples, and old men. At 7:30 am, I reached Versova beach to find it almost empty at high tide. I ran toward the fishing slum, the only direction I could.

As I was running, I suddenly passed an Indian man squatting in his lungi on the edge of the water and staring peacefully out to the horizon. I didn’t think much of it an assumed it was some kind of morning meditation and continued on. Then, I passed two more doing the same thing, lungi’s hitched up to their waists. One of them sleepily turned his head in my direction as I was approaching and I realized that perhaps this was not just a morning meditation but also a part of the daily morning ritual for all the men and women of the slum as I saw another 20 or so lined up further down the beach.

I decided to give them their relative privacy and headed back to the streets to give test the sidewalks.

KM 2

I was on! Running on the sidewalks of Mumbai was like a full obstacle course. With the music playing in my headphones loud enough to just hear the car horns, I was dodging rickshaws, elderly people, roadworks, piles of dirt and garbage, and complete holes in the cement. I even thought that perhaps this could actually be a better workout than just running and I could become a hyper-alert runner and perhaps even start learning parkour.

That was when I passed a pack of stray dogs sleeping next to the chai-walla stall. They jumped up and started chasing me, biting at my heels. Scared shitless, I growled at them with my wolf-pack dog training yell and ran faster. I don’t know if I intimidated them with my growl or they just lost interest but they left me alone after that. I kept running forward and left behind a group of men laughing at me as they drank their chai.

KM 3

Now utterly conscious of the people around me, I noticed that I was the only person running. I wondered if all the gyms were full and if running outside really was a societal taboo in Mumbai. Some cars swerved closer to me as they passed while the drivers were busy staring at me. Ready to go back, I picked a bus stop 20 meters ahead as my turnaround point.

The bus stop was full of 17-21 year old boys on their way to college. They saw me coming and I knew that they were pointing me out to their friends. Starting to get uptight about the whole thing, I stared ahead and ignored them, putting on my bitch-face. As I reached them, they broke into applause. I stopped to turn around and saw the shock and guilt on their faces. Secretly relishing the feeling, I took out my headphones and asked if the applause was for me. Silence. One of them lamely pointed to some indiscriminate spot across the street as if to displace the blame.

“That’s really not necessary,” I said to them in my hoighty-toighty highschool bitch attitude. I put in my headphones and started back, really proud of myself but not so satisfied with my run.

KM 4

Taking a different route home  to hang up my running shoes until I could afford a gym membership, I passed something that I had always thought was a private garden. I stopped to take a look inside and saw that it was actually a 500 meter running track, full of men and women walking, running, and sitting on the small benches meditating. “So, THIS is where all the runners have been hiding!” I thought.

As it turned out, many parts of suburban Mumbai have these private parks that have been built by private developers in order to get permits to build their boxy, high rise apartment societies. Entry was 2 rupees (4 cents), and it was open mornings and evenings.

A bit of peace and greenery separating opposite directions of traffic in Mumbai.

A bit of peace and greenery separating opposite directions of traffic in Mumbai.

Cool Down

So I had finally found my running-haven. I started going for runs whenever I could wake up in the morning early enough to avoid the heat. I found it difficult to run more than 4-5 kilometres because I would get very tired. I read the weather report and in Mumbai it had been a forecast of “Smoke” for the last 2 months. I heard a rumour that it was recommended to run only in the evenings to avoid the pollution which settled on the ground overnight making the morning air extra-polluted.

I started running in the evening, which turned out not to be the worst thing ever. The park was busier though, and after many runs feeling like an anonymous park-runner I finally had the experience I was really trying to avoid by staying away from the gym… conversation.

Running my laps, I noticed a young guy kept stopping his workout in the stretching area to come watch me run by. Ever damn time I would run past, he would stop what he was doing, walk to the edge of the track, and openly stare as I passed. When I finally finished, I couldn’t see him and was glad I didn’t have to face him. I bent down to touch my toes and stretch my hamstrings and closed my eyes, glad to finally have a peaceful place to work out. I slowly straightened my back and opened my eyes, and I turned around to find the guy standing directly behind me. Oh shit, seriously?

I went to the other side of the stretching area and resumed stretching. The guy tried to do a pull-up on the bar and failed. He then tried to get my attention again, “are you stretching?” he asked?
“Yes,” I replied with my expert bitch-face. I put my headphones in and faced the other direction.

He left. Message received.

I don’t think there will ever be a guarantee of exercising in Mumbai in peace. I’ll just have to keep running.

 

 

Featured image source: http://runangelrun.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/woman-running-beach-sunset-abh-patient-story.jpg

The F-word and Female Responsibility

There was an ‘incident’ that happened to me recently which made me furious.

Have you ever heard about those stories about groping on Japanese subways? I became aware of this when I was 18 and travelling to Japan by myself for the first time. I had heard that men would often grope Japanese women on trains because the women did not make a scene out of embarrassment. The travel logs never said that western women were groped because they had a tendency to yell at the groper, causing mortal shame for the groping men.

anti-groping

That was when I made up my mind to be that vocal woman. Fortunately, I never had a chance to practice my scream on the Japanese train and I soon forgot all about the risk of being groped. That is, I forgot until a ten year old Indian boy grabbed my boob four years later.

The mere shock made me stop in my tracks, speechless. I was walking with a friend in Colaba, Mumbai, and it wasn’t a crowded street. The Jr. groper had been walking next to us and asking if we would marry him. Then, he briefly cupped my breast, and we both stopped. There was a strange moment where time slowed down. He looked at me expectantly, to see the shock on my face. It was there alright. He had a big grin on his face when I snapped out of it and cuffed him on the side of the head. He took off running as I yelled after him.

I didn’t think it was a big deal. I still don’t. At least he hung around to receive the punishment he expected. It wasn’t very serious, but I’ll tell you what has prompted me to write this blog.

Just last week, while waiting for the bus in Vancouver, I felt something touch my bum. I took my earbuds out, and turned to see a man of about sixty walking past me wearing a sweatsuit and baseball cap. He had shoulder length and scraggly blond hair.
He smiled at me.
This time I didn’t hesitate.
I yelled at him, “What the fuck do you think you’re doing? You can’t just touch my butt and walk away like it’s okay!”
I caught up to him.
He picked up his pace, and didn’t meet my eyes but turned and said, “Don’t worry about it baby, I’m an international rock star”.
“It doesn’t matter who the fuck you are. You violated me.” I yelled, so that people across the street could hear.
He started to run away, and I chased after him. I caught up and tried to kick him in the butt, but missed because I was wearing high heels.

I will take this opportunity to mention to the assholes who might be reading this, that I was not wearing slutty clothes (and if I was, it wouldn’t mean that I had less right to be angry).

I continued to yell after him as he ran away. A man who saw the whole thing told me that I should file a police report.
I couldn’t be bothered with that. What was that going to do anyway? I didn’t know who he was and he looked like a generic man who hung around the Gastown pub district at night.

I was fuming and felt violated, but was happy that I had had the presence of mind to yell and chase after the guy. I was glad he got scared and ran away from me…
I wished I hadn’t missed the kick to the ass.

My bus didn’t come either.

So, pissed off and riled up I went back to the pub to wait with my friends for the next bus that would come in an hour. After my unexpected re-entrance and grand proclamation that I had just chased a groper down the street and that my bus didn’t come, my friends and I got into a discussion about female blame and responsibility.

Basically, even though we are taught that rape, groping, and verbal sexual abuse is wrong and we should fight out against it, many women I know have been raised to believe that they have some kind of responsibility for the male attention they receive. Whether this attention is wanted or unwanted, there is something ingrained into society that says that men only react to female sexuality.

For a less-extreme example than rape, take a situation where a girl finds out that a boy she has been friendly with has a crush on her. If this attention is unwanted, I know that the first question that will come up for her and her friends will be “what did I do that made him get a crush on me?”

The problem here is the belief that a woman possesses a dangerous power to seduce, and if she doesn’t control it carefully then men will end up falling for her. It’s something we call “leading him on”.

I know that whenever this has happened to me, I feel as if I can change the way I behave around men to avoid any sort of awkwardness. I immediately start to evaluate and mediate all my male relationships to ensure they stay friendly.

For the more extreme example of rape, let’s think of all the times when a woman has been accused of “deserving it” because of her past sexual history, the way she dressed, what neighbourhood and what time, or how much she had to drink. Thankfully a new dialogue has risen out of some unfortunately extreme cases that got a lot of publicity. The new idea discounts all aspects of female responsibility when a woman falls victim to sexual abuse.

For the people who are aware that women are not responsible for the abuses visited on them by men, there is a new kind of responsibility we must adopt. This is not only the responsibility to educate other women, but the need to educate men. It might be hard to tell the creepy man who is gesturing at you on the bus that it is inappropriate and makes you feel violated, but now you know that it’s not your fault you should think of the next girl or woman he will do this to.

Every time you let something slide (because maybe he’s not actually said anything, or hasn’t touched you, or you’re getting off at the next stop anyway), you’re actually sending a message that it’s okay.
My advice? Use your voice. If you’re in public, tell it to them. If you’re not in public, yell it to the world in some other way.

Also, don’t listen to people who call you a feminist like it’s a bad thing. It means you believe in your rights and will defend them.

My question for you:

Why has Feminism become a dirty word?

Edit: I  just discovered this website, iHollaback! which campaigns against street harassment. There is a space to read and share other stories about this issue.