By: Mrinalini Shinde

“There are so many in this gathering who wish the candle well. 

But if the being of the candle is melting, what can the sorrow-sharers do?” 

— Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib

I refrained from writing about the recent incident of rape in Delhi, because honestly, there wasn’t anything that hadn’t already been said. However, a conversation with my mother a couple of days back, gave me a renewed sense of perspective on the issue, and I decided to put it down.

My mother called me in the middle of the night, saying how worried she was. I’ll be interning in New Delhi this spring, and my mother was losing sleep over it. She said she was afraid for my safety, especially in light of my nature. I told her not to worry, both of us aware of the emptiness of that reassurance.

After hanging up,  I kept repeating one phrase, inside my head. ‘My nature’; the fact that I am pathologically uninhibited from travelling, exploring, wandering,  sometimes in search of a photograph, but mostly to be one’s own sounding board.  Although, I’m rational enough to not walk around in a forest at night, I generally am fueled by wanderlust.

And it broke my heart that my lovely mum was scared, thanks to this nature, because it had taken her years to ensure that I did turn out that way. Not once, while growing up, did I hear either of my parents say, “No, you’re a girl…” or anything along those lines. Neither me nor my sister, actually. I started regularly using public transport since I was seven years old. I obviously didn’t know it then, but it wasn’t because I couldn’t be dropped in the car, but so that I understood that public transport was the accepted and normal way to travel.

“Here are the Two Rules of Miyagi-Ryu Karate. Rule Number One: ‘Karate for defense only.’ Rule Number Two: ‘First learn rule number one.’ ”   – Mr. Miyagi (The Karate Kid, Part II)

My father enrolled me for Karate lessons when I was seven. I detested it.  I hated the mindless kicking, punching, blocks and push-ups, when I’d rather be comfortably reading Dickens or answering quiz books. But, Baba didn’t give me a say in the matter, he used to  cancel his appointments, so that he could could drop me to class, despite my mild protests. And for that, I can never be grateful enough. As Senpai Mrinalini, aKyokushinKai black belt holder years later, it was epiphanic.

Most people associate karate with mere stylized attack, or efficient self defense.  For me, it has always been more of a meditative process, that helped me understand the abilities of my body  and the power of my mind to control it, and vice versa. You’d assume that, as a black belt holder I’d be better equipped than most to deal with instances of sexual violence. It’s probably true.

However, speaking from hard personal experience, I can tell you that, at that very instant, your mind goes blank. Especially if it is somebody you know; in a situation that did not demand your guards to be up. The best counter attack or block is not the first thing on your mind, but a white shock at the instance itself, and a cold, hard fury that at the end, your entire being has culminated into being reduced to a summation of your body parts and their exploitation.

Obviously, it is possible to take down an aggressor with technique and presence of mind, but mock reality situations can never prepare you for trauma. However, if you’re trained, you know inside that you can defend yourself and therein lies the rub. We need to know we can. They’re not stronger than us. We’re not doomed only because a man decided to initiate an attack against us.  We have a fighting chance, and I find it imperative that both sexes are absolutely aware of that.

Let me add, that I am nowhere advocating violence as a solution. As any karate practitioner will affirm, violence is always the last resort, and never in excess.  I merely think that instead of waxing eloquent and enraged baying for blood, capital punishment and castration which involves points in law and jurisprudence which many people don’t give a second thought to, it is far more important that both men and women are aware that the former does not have a distinct biological advantage and a consequent birthright to the latter’s bodies. It’s a simplistic proposition, but one that I set immense store by. I say this because, Karate helped me understand that. I’ve studied some Krav Maga, and I intend on pursuing Pankration soon.  You know why? Because, that’s just my nature.

And, deep beneath her fears, I know that my mother is proud of that nature. So, I’m going to explore the streets, stores and forts of Delhi, and use public transport while I’m at it, because I’m not going to let a certain kind of Delhi, stop me from enjoying Mirza Ghalib’s Delhi.


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