When I started the Fearless Campaign, I was spending three weeks living out of Goa, in a happy goa fearless bubble with a glass of port in my hand as I rode around with no thought about whether my body was covered or not, I watched women from all over the world walk fearlessly on sand, wind in hair.
My journey from there continued onwards on Bike with my partner to the North of India on a rusty old enfield towards the Kumbh Mela over three days, and it's this ride that really turned out to be my super symbolic "fearless" test.
While we rode through rural U.P. I have never been as aware as I was on that bike of what I was wearing, how desolate the highway was, how many trucks and big cars full of men there were, how few women were on the streets and in the villages. To add to this test, our bike broke down on all three days that we were riding in U.P for hours at end.
Suddenly we found ourselves in rural U.P, in the middle of hillbilly nowhere, with hungry eyes and claws staring at me in every mechanic shop, every dhaba and every chai stop. My first reaction was to add more layers onto my salwar-kameezed-winter clothed self. I wore a dupatta around my head, and every time we would stop I would avoid eye contact with all the staring men. My paranoia even went as far as a thought crossing my mind that I should make myself look "uglier" so that I attracted less attention.
I've lived in small town North India, and travelled extensively across villages in Kutch and Rajasthan while working, but this was the first time I had felt this kind of fear. In my head played articles about Rape in Haryana and U.P, thoughts about how "these people" are all repressed, and all sorts of judgments. I messaged a friend about my fear who replied saying "Remember Pi, the world reflects your fear, replace it with strength and that will be reflected too".
And so I raised my head and faced the journey with greater strength as I would in my hometown Bangalore or in lala Goa. I became the tiger and the mirror. And to my surprise, a lot of the people who I wouldn't even have looked at in the eye but judged as creepers, were kind and full of love to us while we got our bike fixed, as more often than not has been the case when I've travelled through India. And yes, some of those stares were more lecherous, but my hiding wouldn't help the hundreds of women that would and should make their way across India on a bike.
Fear, making ourselves "blend in" or a Wallflower is all counterproductive to the larger change we need to see. We need to face not only the 'tigers' in our societal boats, but also the tigers inside us. My calling rural men in UP "repressed" is the same as them calling me (a city girl) a slut.
This is not a time for judgement or divisions, but relearning and re-forming our ideas about men, women, sexuality and ourselves.
"Remember Pi, the world reflects your fear, replace it with strength and that will be reflected too".