I travel by train everyday to and from work. I get done by 7:30pm, Monday-Saturday and today was no exception. There was quite a rush while I walked up the main entrance stairs of Kodambakkam station, I was lost in my own thoughts and climbed the stairs two at a time with my head facing the floor. Midway, I noticed a pair of legs about 3-4 stairs ahead of me that had stopped. I moved aside and looked up to the face that belonged to those legs. The man was staring at me. He had stopped completely and was looking straight at me, completely unaware of the people pushing and squeezing around him. I found it odd but continued climbing the stairs. Someone long ago told me that the best thing to do is to ignore people who whistle, stare or call out to you. By reacting negatively, for example, making a face at them or saying something rude back, you are still giving them the attention they want, so I walked past the man without acknowledging him.
Pic Courtesy – Annie Mole
As I reached the top of the stairs I glanced back and noticed that he had turned around and was still looking at me with an odd obsession. I walked a little faster over the bridge and before turning to get on to the stairway that would lead me to my platform I glanced back again and noticed that the man had now started walking towards me; his eyes still glued to me. This is when the alarm bells in my head began to ring, my heart started beating faster. I ran down the stairs and over to a bright spot where there was a mix of men and women. Even if he follows me here, I thought, he wouldn’t dare do anything funny in front of so many people. I was also aware that while the safety of these people was temporary. It wasn’t a solution. My objective was not only to reach home untouched but to reach home without leading the guy to where I stay, in order to avoid future problems.
The man had now walked down the stairs and stood about 10ft away from me. He stood under a tube light, picked up his phone, pretended to talk into it and continued staring at me. Step 2, I decided was to get a good look at him. Have a clear description for the FIR, if I had to file one. He must have been about 27-30 years old, lower-middle class, around 5’7” in height, dark skinned, round black eyes, slightly unshaven oval face, wearing a white shirt and beige pants with black sandals, carrying no bag. He looked a little drunk. A minute passed, he continued to stare at me and no one noticed.
In my third week in Chennai, at around 2pm in the afternoon, while I walked to a restaurant for lunch, a dog ran after me on the road and began to circle me and snarl. He jumped at me, I screamed, he jumped again, I wacked him with my wallet. He continued circling me; I looked around at the people on the road, who had all stopped to stare, but none of them took a step closer nor picked up a stone to fling at the dog. They just stared at me even though I screamed and asked for help, a few even smiled. Had it been Bombay, I knew I would have received help instantly. I lost faith in the people of Chennai that day; I knew that no matter what my situation was, I could never rely on them. The same applied to my current predicament, which is what made me more afraid.
I looked around the platform in search of a policeman/woman. There were none. The man came a few feet closer and continued to stare. I must do something I thought. I must make people aware; I must let him know that people know he’s harassing me. There was a middle aged man sitting next to an older man, so I walked over to them and asked them where the constables generally sat. They said there was no such thing as having a couple of policemen allotted per station. They asked me why I needed one in Tamil and I clearly pointed to the man and told them that he’s been following me and hence I want to report to a policeman. They laughed and said, he must be taking a train too. I shook my head and tried to explain, but they weren’t interested and began to talk among themselves again. The man saw all this, but it didn’t seem to disturb him, he continued to pace around slowly and look at me. My heart began to pound.
There has to be a Station Master. I spotted it and quickly walked towards it. The man followed. I walked fast, he walked calmly. I reached the Station Master’s office, walked in and announced, “There’s a man following me, can you call a policeman?” The Station Master must have been in his late 50s, tall, lean and balding. I could hear my heart beating faster. He picked up the mic and announced for any on duty station staff to report to him. He told me there was a train coming and I should board it and go home. I began to say that I don’t want the man following me home, before which he cut in and said, “I’m really busy, there are 2 trains coming in, there is no policeman.” I looked out the door, the man was passing by, so I screamed, “That’s him! He’s been following me” The station master ran to the door and called out to him, he walked a little faster but didn’t turn around to look. The station master gave up and walked back in. I began to speak again but he interrupted me rudely and said, “Madam, I’m really busy, you are stressing me out, if my temper increases I will not get sleep all night, please sit quietly. Sit for as long as you like, there is no policeman; please call your parents and ask them to pick you up.” I didn’t bother explaining that I had no parents in this city. I sat quiet for I knew that though the Station Master wasn’t the loveliest person in the world, I was still safe in his cabin.
Photo courtesy – Google Images
I stood at the cabin door, as my train entered the station. The station master got busy making calls, punching buttons, he walked out with his green light. Another train came on the other side of the platform, he got busy again. I kept looking up and down the platform in case I spotted the man. I wanted to know if he had left on one of the trains or he was still lurking around on the platform, waiting for me to leave the cabin. The trains left. I hadn’t spotted him. I was still nervous, I couldn’t leave just yet. If he got on to my train and got off at my station, I’d be in big trouble. Chetpet, the station I get off at is really empty by 8:30pm and my walk home is on a quiet lane that isn’t well lit. I sat back in the cabin and waited.
I need to inform someone about what was happening. I should have called someone in Chennai, a friend or someone who lived close by but instead I called my brother David in Goa. Though nothing had happened, the way that man stared frightened me, the whole chase had made me edgy, I need to be comforted. My voice was shaky while I narrated the incident to David, he listened carefully and was calm, which reassured me. I asked him not to inform my mom and told him I’d call him once I reached home. The station master made another announcement, calling out to the staff. Soon 3 men walked into the cabin. They got the gist of the story from the Station Master and then walked out to looking for the man without asking me for a description of him. They were back in 2 minutes to tell me that there was nothing to be afraid of, the man wasn’t around. Ya right!
Five more minutes passed, another train going my route entered the station, I stepped out of the cabin, waited for the train to stop, looked around to see if the man was around or entering the train. Since I didn’t see him, I walked back in, thanked the Station Master and ran into the train.
I got off at my station, took a good look at everyone who got off, the people on the platform and then began to walk home, with frequent paranoid glances behind me, just to make sure that he wasn’t stalking me. Mission successful: I had reached home untouched and without the bugger knowing where I lived.
On retrospect, I shouldn’t have been as scared as I was. This has happened to me in the past in Bombay. I have had men following me, running really close to me and screaming in my ear and once, a drunk on the road even grabbed my hand. I was scared all those times, but somewhere deep inside me I knew that things wouldn’t get out of hand. I could count on the people of Bombay to stop their cars, or drop their bags and rush to my aid. I don’t know if this would actually happen but that’s the kind of faith I have in Bombay. Today, however, I felt all alone. Now that I look back, I’m sure the people of Chennai would have stepped in to help but when it was all playing out, all I could see was the smiling faces of the men and women that afternoon while the dog circled me and snarled.