Of Prejudice

I have a book set out in front of me. It’s called Go Set  a Watchman. It bears a relationship to the classic To Kill a Mockingbird. Some see it as the rough draft that never made the cut and some see it is a continuation of To Kill a Mockingbird. I want to read it because I want to know what happens once Scout grows up. But every time I reach the book, I can hear the internet whispering slyly in my ears that this is not  what being with Scout, Jem and Dill felt like. It reasons with me if you cannot revive what that was, why ruin the sanctity of that world.

Not so long ago, I made a 15 hour overnight train journey alone.Have you ever stood on the station and scrutinized the ones around you to make mental judgments  on them? Don’t judge me but I always end up doing that. On the day of the said journey, while I was perusing the crowd I spotted a group of three middle aged men who looked straight out of  Sons of Anarchy. With thick gold strings around their neck, they were dressed in boxer shorts and T shirts and flashed grins that can border on leering. To be honest, they seemed nothing short of being a rowdy trio to me. All I wanted was to not have anything to do with them during the next 15 hours however given my luck lately they happened to be the three out of the five people that I was sharing my compartment with.

I had once applied for a position in Risk Advisory services. The interviewer had asked me to enlist the possible risks in a given situation and I could not list out any more than five. In retrospect, I laugh at this incident because on an ordinary day this what I do, thinking of all the things that can go wrong. So for a good first hour of that journey, I obsessively thought of the number of ways could these men make a pass at me. On the cost of being branded sexist, I have no qualms in admitting that never have I traveled for even an hour without enumerating the danger that other half of the population poses to me. From what I had overheard, I was informed they were vehement supporters of Salman Khan, intended to sneak liquor during the hour long stoppage at New Delhi and were on their way to Vaishno Devi. I comforted myself with the idea that men who go to pilgrimages do not objectify women at least during the tenure of those pilgrimages. To turn my attention I began reading The House That BJ Built, the sequel to Anuja Chauhan’s novel Those Pricey Thakur Girls. When a girl sets herself the task of reading 500 pages of a book to catch a glimpse of what Dylan Singh Shekhawat sounds like on paper at 40, she might turn a blind eye to an apocalypse in front of her. Or maybe it is just me, who is so deeply invested in fictional characters that I can turn oblivious to reality.

It was somewhere around ten when it dawned on me that I had another 200 pages to go, which implied that I was going to be awake for the next four hours. For that to materialize my body demanded fuel, namely food, water and coke, all of which I had run out of. The train was running an hour late which meant that it was going to reach the Nizamuddin station in about another half an hour. The thirty minute stoppage would allow me to stack myself with all that I needed to keep myself awake for the night. But the question was whether it was safe for me to deboard the train at 11 in the night and if I decided against that, it would imply going back to obsessively thinking about the three men placed in front of me and how the alcohol that they were to get hold of in another hour might influence their actions. Since I have been blessed with a very vivid imagination, I figured that I’d be safer if I forego sleep for that night.

The second that the train reached Nizamuddin, I got off it and started walking quickly with my phone in one hand and my wallet in another. It was the familiar walk that I had walked on the many mornings that I had come back to Delhi from home. I must have crossed eight coaches when I landed myself in front of a tuck shop. Quickly grasping two packets of Lays, a coke and a bottle of water, I handed out the money to the vendor. It was then, I heard someone shriek and turned around to see that the train had started departing. I froze in horror, horror of what would happen if I were to be stranded on that station. There were still twenty minutes before the scheduled departure of the train and I had a second to decide whether I wanted to make a run for it or to step out of the station and hail a cab for New Delhi railway station where the engine is changed which meant an hour long halt. I chose to run, in spite of all the horrendous physical education periods in school, I believed that running was worth a shot. I got hold of the rod adjacent to the door of the pantry car, fumbled twice over the step but managed to get inside on a third attempt. I walked towards the exit of the pantry to realize that it was closed and the shutter was locked from the other side. I turned around to see one of the workers in the pantry walking towards me with a wry smile. I was terrified and began knocking the shutter in the hope that the attendant might hear and unlock it. This worker told me that the attendant is asleep and before he could approach any further another man materialized in front of us from the other side. He was one of those three men from my compartment. The worker retracted. I leaned my head against the shutter and stood defensively listing out the escapes if things were to turn worse. In the fifteen minutes that we reached New Delhi, this man did not even look in my direction. The train halted for two minutes on the outskirts of the city. I wondered if he was the lecher that I had pegged him to be for that evening, he could have easily shoved me outside the train and in to the darkness to satisfy himself.

We reached New Delhi, I went back to my compartment and resumed reading. A friend who I had been texting with during the past half hour told me amusedly that this usually is the juncture where women find Shahid Kapoor to their rescue. I thought to myself that I may not have stumbled upon Shahid Kapoor but I have recalled an important lesson that Scout and Atticus had taught me. In the end of the book, when Arthur saves Scout and Jem, she is shaken because she had been compulsively consumed in branding Arthur their mysterious neighbor as a monster. A surprised Scout tells Atticus that he was real nice to which Atticus replies that most people are once you finally see them.

Very often we let prejudices dictate our behavior and picture people in a negative light. We let our brains trick us into being hostile to individuals and situations without any fault of their own. So as much as the internet is coercing me to quit on this book, I think I will not do that and give the woman who wrote Scout and Atticus a chance. A chance to convince me to look past prejudice again.


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