Breaking the Creep’s Code

Gender

Breaking the Creep’s Code

Illustration: Sushant Ahire/Arré

I

f you grew up in India during the nineties, there’s no way you could have avoided hearing this beauty. This marquee song from a film whose name you can’t remember (Yash, 1996, you’re welcome) hits all the high notes of ’90s’ Bollywood kitsch: Aerobic exercise in place of dance, outfits borrowed from the local bandwallah, and unsolicited attention from a strange man right outside your window. I sing “Dil mera bole hello how are you” routinely while parsing my social-media profiles.

A version of this song has made its way into my life ever since I decided to make a career as an entertainer. Every day, some red-blooded young man touches base with me on social media and asks, “How are you?”

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When I post a new status update, they ask me, “How are you?”

When I upload a “hot” picture (their words, not mine), they ask me, “How are you?”

I talk about my gym workout, they ask me, “How are you?”

I attend a movie premiere, they ask me, “How are you?”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love the attention. As a public figure and an entertainer, I know my career depends on the love of my fans. I appreciate how people have made me a part of their lives and care enough about my well-being to find out how I am feeling.

I love the warmth and know that their concern is genuine. Except when it isn’t… you know when creeps presume that since I work in the film industry, I must be “easy” and “available”. It is when I know, that “How are you,” will be followed by “Nice boobs!!!” or “Hot ass”. These are the buggers who are just interested in my tits and my arse. The precursor “How are you” is sometimes followed by “khana khaya?” and “paani piya?” I often wonder if they ask their wives and mothers about their diet and water intake as frequently as they ask me. I also wonder how many messages it will take before the conversation devolves completely into a full-blown sexual proposition.

It almost always veers toward sex.

“I want to fraandship you.” Or “I want to loveship you.” And sometimes, “Baby, you want to have hot sex?”

If only we stop hearing phrases like “Ladki hasee toh phase” while growing up, which imply that a woman gives a man consent for pretty much any sexual contact by merely smiling at him.

Now, I’m no prude. So let me put this out in the open. Yes, I’m a sexual being. I love sex. I think it is beautiful. But I don’t remember giving anyone a hall pass to send me such messages.

Perhaps I should be used to this. When similar remarks from the president of the world’s most powerful nation can be dismissed as “locker-room talk” or when sexual advancement from an influential Hollywood producer can be dubbed as “casual massages”, maybe my problems are minuscule. This is the result of generations – nay, millennia – of men being told that they can have their way, that they are allowed to express their desires in as straightforward a fashion as this. And that the women at the receiving end ought to feel grateful that some man, any man, has deigned to cast their eyes on them and wants to have sex with them.

There are a thousand other ways to have a conversation with me. Social media is for interaction. So tell me a bit about yourself. Your life, your job, what makes you happy, what inspires you, your dreams… I have had several perfectly respectable and pleasant conversations with fans online. I know most of the perverts are also just confused young men who have grown up in a sexually segregated (and repressed) society and don’t know how to approach women.

Since childhood, boys and girls play separately. Girls are often sent to convent schools. I know because I studied in a girls-only school for most of my formative years. When I suddenly switched to a new co-educational school after relocating after my father’s death, I had to overcome a lot of inhibitions and deal with a lot of cultural baggage. I was very uncomfortable and often just ignored boys when they tried to speak to me. This behaviour made the boys think of me as a rude snob. If only children in India had proper sex education at school. If only we stop hearing phrases like “Ladki hasee toh phase” while growing up, which imply that a woman gives a man consent for pretty much any sexual contact by merely smiling at him. This belief has been a part of our culture for so long that we have a warped understanding of the concept of consent.

So for everyone who has asked me, “How are you,” I’m good. Thanks for asking. I’m doing well and I hope you are too. Now please don’t ruin it by asking follow-up questions about my diet, water intake, or desire for sexual contact. Goodbye and good luck.

This is an updated version of an earlier published essay.

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