It was 10pm on Saturday night. I was walking home from the tube. And I heard a wolf whistle behind me.I’ve lived in Indian cities where a whistle is so common you don’t even notice it. Like rubbish on the streets, you tune it out.
But this was London & I wasn’t used to wolf whistles here. I turned back to see where the whistle had come from.
There were four of them. Young British Asian men huddled inside a dark car, idling on a dark street at 10pm. I had that moment we all do, when an inner cautious voice whispered ‘Don’t create trouble…”.
But in that one moment, unlike all the hundreds of thousands of moments where other men had whistled or groped or cat called, something inside me snapped.
I walked up to the dark car and said, “Why are you whistling at a woman who’s walking alone at 10pm?”
“It was meant to be flattering,” came a muffled voice from the back of the car. It was so dark I couldn’t see his face.
“But it’s not cool…” I started to say.
The young man nearest me interrupted & said, “We weren’t whistling!”
I don’t know what I was expecting. Not an apology. Just some embarrassment at having been caught out doing something their mums would’ve twisted their ears for. (Trust me, they looked young enough.)
“Haven’t you got anything better to do than whistle at passing women on a Saturday night?” I asked him
He laughed, “Ha! Didn’t notice you were a WOMAN.” His friends laughed along.
This was London. This was my city. I’d moved away from India so I could walk home from a tube station without being bothered.
I found myself angry. Not just at him but all the men who had groped, cat called, made me feel unsafe when I lived in India.
Irritatingly when I get angry, I lose the ability to be coherent. So I did the only thing I could – I swore black & blue. At the top of my voice.
The guys in the car looked shocked. Maybe their friends, mums & sisters didn’t use language like that.
And then having expressed my anger to my satisfaction, I walked home.
In hindsight, if those guys had decided to get aggressive – perhaps I would’ve put myself in danger.
But the truth is, in that one moment, I had had enough. This was my city, my safe place. No one was going to make me feel unsafe…