Friday 21 February 2014

The Road Not Taken

There are about half a dozen poems that shaped my life. The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost is one of them. I find the image of a lane leading to an unknown destination, especially a lane that looks quiet, empty, devoid of any human presence, truly desirable of exploration. When I travel, I walk through different neighborhoods, taking in the sights and sounds of that village, town, or city - be it in India or anywhere else around the world. I love the quiet time and the feeling of not knowing what to expect. I love to walk by homes of all sizes and shapes, and watch people go about their lives. A glimpse of someone brushing their teeth, or another reading a newspaper, or someone bargaining with the vegetable vendor, or even the stillness of a silent home -- all of these give me a unique insight into the lives of those who inhabit this Earth along with me. The purpose of these walks is largely to stay fit, just so that I can keep up with my energetic and curious 10 year old, but the icing on the cake is the opportunity to observe how others go about their lives, and perhaps the occasional conversation, or a new friend I may pick up along the way.

I was in Jaipur last week and as usual, I stepped out of the Le Méridien hotel to go for a walk. I turned right on the main toad and walked along the main highway with trucks and cars whizzing past me. After walking for a while, I saw a group of women turn onto a lane off the main highway. They had this purposeful, quick gait and were chatting enthusiastically as they walked. I decided to follow them, walking a few yards behind them. One of the women turned to me and asked me to join them. She wanted to know why I was walking alone; she said that I should always have a walking partner and that I should not be by myself for my own safety. This woman explained to me that all of them were farmers and that they were all going to their fields. She added ", Maybe doing the walk will help you reduce some weight!" I loved her honesty, her simplicity, and a sense of chiding me to do the needful to get into shape! I took a photograph of that lady in red and turned around to get back to my hotel.

The lady in red

As I continued to walk, her comment about needing someone to walk with stayed with me. Has it become so dangerous that a woman has to think twice about taking a morning walk alone? Maybe we all need to think of going in groups, of having someone with us. It is not the immediate solution that worries me. The next day on my walk in a different direction from the hotel, I saw a lane that was quiet, like the road not taken. Somewhere in the back of my mind, what the woman said rang out and for a moment, I hesitated to take that road. I forced myself to take the road because I did not want to succumb to that fear. I felt that it is this constantly cautious state of mind we are asking women to adopt could be preventing them from developing their full potential in the long term.  But how can I guarantee my own safety in the short term?  I am “allowed” to take whatever chances I want to take with my life, but what right do I have to give that guarantee to someone else?

What if our young women cannot take the road less traveled for fear of their basic safety? Taking that road has “made all the difference” to me. Will the young girls of today be denied of that difference? That would be a truly tragic day. For now, I keep taking that road and support anyone else who wants to do the same. 


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