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Encounter in a glass cabin

A recent sexual harassment workshop in the office gave rise to some uncomfortable questions and brought back unpleasant memories of a visit to jewellery shop

WE, THE people in our 20s, as a generation are not scared to put forth our ideas, likes and dislikes in the open. There is no filter –— we say it as it is. There is no show. We do not feel the need to be politically correct. We talk about complex matters like climate change, equal rights, gender and sexuality — without a hint of shame or doubt. Or at least that is how I see twenty-somethings around me — negotiating discussions on topics they are passionate about.

This openness is to welcome and understand concepts that are not yet explored. We want to ensure that the world is a comfortable place to live for everyone who deserves it. It may sound too utopian, given the times that we live in but that is how we want it.

With a similar disposition, I happened to visit Chandni Chowk for a story a few months ago. Silver has always been an object of fascination, and I wanted to study what made it a hit among the young circles in the city. After interviewing many shop owners and customers in Dariba Kalan, I walked through the rusty lanes of Kooch Bihari — which they said was a wholesale market for precious metals.

These markets in Chandni Chowk are one-of-a-kind and you should not give any of these a miss. Talk to anyone and everyone willing to share their experience, about anything you are seeking out from the bazaar. In this case, I wanted to understand the jewellery business better.

Some dealers uttered a few words, but most pointed to another door when asked about the history of the sub-market. They said the head of Delhi Bullion & Jewellers Association would brief me better. I obliged and walked towards his office.

As guided by the traders I consulted on every cross-section, I  crossed multiple unfriendly lanes and climbed three flights of stairs built in a space not more than nine square feet, apt for a toy house made for toddlers in an amusement park.

I entered a small room that happened to be an office for the association’s accounts department who worked directly under the said ‘head’. I explained to the head accountant about my objective to interview the boss and he offered me a seat. After scanning my intentions, he sent an image of my business card to the concerned person via WhatsApp, who was sitting in a different office nearby.

This followed an extended interrogation by the accountant — as if he was verifying whether or not it was such a good idea for his boss to meet me or if I was a worthy person to talk to.

Thereafter, multiple WhatsApp messages were sent to the boss. I was told he is in a meeting; thus, he couldn’t take calls. This was around five in the evening when I was done with my reporting. I decided to wait. A guy was sent to check if he had read the messages.

Sometimes on a reporting job, we are a little too obsessed to get all that is needed for a story. This includes going to lengths to get access to information, places and people, and never taking no for an answer. Here I was being a nagging child who continued to demand a few minutes with an organisation head.

After 40 minutes of waiting, I was told he could speak to me on a phone call. Well, it wasn’t so bad either. The landline handset was handed over to me and I introduced myself and the reason I was there. I told him I will not take more than five minutes of his.

That is how we think we trick the other person or actually just our own selves. After listening to my minute-long monologue, he summoned me in his office that was a short walk away. While the accounts team was left confused about the man’s sudden change of mind, I thought I had finally arrived. Or at least could navigate conversations like it was a cakewalk.

I followed an office boy to the boss’s office, which was in a jewellery showroom nearby. It looked like his own business. I was made to sit across his table in a glass cubicle, while he finished speaking to someone on the phone. The assistant was told to tightly close the door.

I would have run away already if I didn’t see a bunch of customers and salesmen sifting through piles of gold jewellery outside the glass chamber. Now that I think of this, I think he had a plan in mind for me.

He decided to take the lead by asking me about my age and where I lived. I usually allow such questions and answers as required when I go out for interviews, with an intent to build trust with the person I am speaking to. Information in exchange for information.

While I was hoping to speak about silver and its economy, the conversation didn’t exactly move in that direction. He was more worried about my safety and that of every girl on this planet. He was concerned about my bachelorhood, or so I thought.

He told me girls were like goddesses and their well-being must be ensured. Especially their pureness — or what he probably meant was their virginity. Then he went on to speak about the capacity to give birth — a potential that must be protected and utilised at all costs.

He was seemingly upset that I was still single. According to him, I must marry and participate in the socially sanctioned act to make babies. This is the sole reason I was allowed a chance to be human.

I thought it was an open conversation and heard him out, but soon it entered a space that was far from it. He decided to detail out the anatomy of a girl’s and boy’s sexual organs and the implications on sexual drive. I mostly remember listening to him and at a point being asked to speak quietly when I decided to retort. He said, there were people outside his glass mansion who would hear the details of our discussion.

Anyway, it was a long conversation where he defiled the existence of girls, left, right and centre. He made me uncomfortable and offended me on various levels. Even with my open self, I felt attacked. When we indeed talked about the metal I was researching for and was making notes in my notebook, he decided to hold my hands to see the rings I was wearing. In such situations, as a person, I want to not overreact and create a scene, but that just confirmed his ugly motives and I decided to tell him a sweet goodbye.

I told this to a colleague as soon as I reached my office. Sometimes you need a point of view to confirm if something is not right. As soon as I was home, I shared with my mother a brief account of what had happened earlier in the day and she did to my father. The aftermath was that I was banished to go for a trip to the hills with my colleagues. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to indulge parents in this.

While I was immensely harassed by his conduct when it happened back in November, now it’s a distant memory that I am exploring because our office recently invited a POSH trainer to sensitise us on what passes for sexual harassment. It started as harassment, but now I am just more concerned.

Concerned about where we are moving as a society. Honestly, now I feel sorry for the person in question, for his disillusioned sense of entitlement and what is appropriate. For his stupid stance on protection for females.

I think from now on, I have to teach myself to deal with such matters then and there, and not bring it home. Sadly it happens so many times with women, that they think it’s better not to make a  “big deal” out of it.  At least I would not want to do that. Communication is key and the person should be told right there that he is crossing a line and it may cost him more than he can imagine!