Vocabulary - Strategy 1. Owning, twisting, throwing it back

There's a reason it's called Bookish Bloomsbury.

Peppered with colleges and libraries and bookstores, this little bit of London has a portion that is frequented by cyclists and students hurrying back and forth from college. So when I was crossing one of the main roads leading into an enclave of colleges including my own, I was startled by a loud, "Excuse me!"

I ignored it at first, but it repeated itself, so loud that it pierced through the neighbourhood quiet: "Excuse ME!"

Directions, I thought. Students often stop to direct tourists to the nearby British Museum or Russell Square tube stop.

I turned.

A bunch of hooting guys were poking their heads out of their car - "Do you study around here?" asked the one in the passenger seat with a wide grin.

"No, I don't," I shouted back, "I'm a prostitute. Want to follow me?"

"A prostitute??" he said sounding taken aback. The car drove off.

The shout and the rejoinder hung disjointed and awkward around silent Bloomsbury.

I can't remember the last time I have said "prostitute" but it seemed to suit their aggression and a street dynamic I have come to cultivate which requires you to be rude and in your face, not look away or pretend not to notice.

In India people yell things at you and whistle as they pass you by. Here they yell out across streets, addressing questions at you, stopping you in your path with a mock exaggeration. Coyness, disregard, and looking downward don't work so well.

Recently I have begun to reply the buyont, "do you study around here?", the lip licking "hola, hola", the young boys surrounding you to ask directions, the "hello" with actual rejoinders - "I'm sorry, do I know you?" The conversation is always quick to be taken up, but the aggression in the response allows you to be participant in some skewed way in a street dialogue you did not initiate or want.

At Stoke, my friend is brushed against by a boy who could not be older than 12. "Asshole," she yells at him, and everyone at the bus stand turns. "Sorry," he mutters and his friend's smirk quickly shrinks away.

Men sipping coffee on Angel's Upper Street form their fingers into a camera shape and tilt their heads pretending to get the best "shot" of a friend's anatomy as she walks by. The girls that follow her stop to yell at them.

Neighbourhood gangs of boys are screamed at, fingers are shown, gangs of girls tease back loitering boys.

Looking back, talking sharp, packing punch, weaving wit and surprise into street talk... takes some doing especially when you're alone and sometimes embarrassed, but it seems better than being overwhelmed.


P said...

'"No, I don't," I shouted back, "I'm a prostitute. Want to follow me?"'


Now, why is it that I don't hear anything like this being retorted back at yobs when I walk around London.

Yes, yes I know its not funny or pleasant to be in such a situation, but I can't help but see the lighter side and imagine what happened next to the guy in the car - a classic D'oh moment.

D said...

I dunno about London, but I do this in Lucknow!! Ignoring is my first reaction to eve teasing, but not the one I believe in any longer. I mean, if I can't do anything else, I can embarass the guy who thinks he can get away with anything because he's a guy!!! I love to see them fumbling denials.

hemangini said...

lucky he didnt actually follow me though. that might have been a bit of a dead end...

Anonymous said...

I realize its easy to arm-chair theorize and cant really think of another way here, but:

- the intention behind shouting prostitute is based on the prostitute being a demeaning or degraded person, is that so cool regardless of who is doing it, a guy or girl?

2. Gangs of girls teasing back boys.

This back justification thingy.... my point should be obvious, if its not, its probably not worth making here... sorry.


Anonymous said...

"The car drove off."

You must be very ugly then.

hemangini said...

jai: hm... thinking not in terms of values attributed but more in terms of shock into silence; unexpected response etc.

anonymous: yes i am. you must be very wise to know this.

Anonymous said...

hey....i wanna ask a quetion.....(i m a thinker...who thinks anything and everything)..... first i wud like to make it clear neither i eve-tease nor do i support who do it....but i wonder (if we leave aside the physical aspects of eve-teasing)why the hell a girl feels disgusted and embarrassed by verbal eve-teasing(which generally consists of passing lewd remarks, whistling, hooting, remarks related to sexuality or the private biological parts of a woman)......i would like to inquire why are people ashamed of their biology and
why are such negative connotation associated with the sexual parts of the woman?...I sucked my mother's breast when I was a kid and I came out of her vagina when I was born..and all guess all the normal people do so..

Anonymous said...

hm...you think that would be possible in india? or do you need the knowledge that there's a 'limit', for lack of better words, that won't be crossed in daytime bloomsbury?

P said...

I find it ironic that I have to change sides here.

Anonymous 3 aka the thinker:
Perhaps the answer lies in the question? Replace that thinking cap with a dictionary and look up lewd or hoot. You *may* find a clue there.
Elementary, my dear thinker.

Anonymous said...

m rly sry to hv put this question at a wrong place........

Anonymous said...

dear p.....
understanding and then answering that question needs just a lil bit of thinking...a lil bit more than looking up a dictionary....then....*may be* you understand what i actually wanted to ask....

P said...

Dear Anonymous,
I need to find my 'Anonymous English to Regular English' dictionary first and translate your words. The reason being.. in a regular dictionary, lewd at its very nicest would mean - indecent.

So, to ask why someone, be it man or woman would take offense/be disgusted by a lewd remark is akin to asking why a cyclist cycles or a runner runs.

But like I pointed out earlier, this is based on the regular English dictionary, so in case lewd means: marked by refinement in taste and manners, to you, I stand corrected.

Anonymous said...

dear p,
thx a lot for ur enthusiam, while replying back....the "parenthesized part" which contains that "lewd" word....actually i was looking for an apt description of verbal teasing nd i did not write it...i found it somewhere....and i m sry to hv included it there....but if u just scroll down below that "lewd" word u will find a question. why are such negative connotations associated with the sexual parts of the woman?....nd....most of the times...any comment on them may be considered lewd....so i was wondering why is it so??? i hope m able to put my question in a better way....and u may not require an Anonymous English to Regular English dictionary..... :)

hemangini said...

anonymous a.k.a. news producer: yeah, true but also i think "limits"
have shifted a lot since i got here sort of assumed things would be safer but for instance there was a serious assault on a woman just last week in broad daylight outside my house in a very busy area. harassment also occurs just sooo much more. but dynamics are completely diff, yes. guess these are different ways to weave your responses to a situation.

P said...

The Thinker:
Yes, now it falls into place :) Unfortunately, I'm not smart enough to comment on/answer your question. Just wanted to pick you on the 'lewd' bit, so I'll pass the buck here ;)

Anonymous said...

did you ever stop to think that the 12 yr old who brushed ur friend may have done it accidentally and thats why he apologised.....condemning all men( or boys) for the actions of a few seems a bit harsh

Anonymous said...

@ anonymous
If the 12-year-old had done it accidentally, he would have been angry at being called an 'asshole' for something so trivial, and not apologetic. And his friend would not have been smirking.

Those who have been victims of sexual harrassment know how, all too often, the perpetrators hide behind the mask of "accidents"

I, for one, do not condemn all men (or boys)- only the assholes who do harass women. Cos that's what they are - assholes.