July 05, 2020
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Just Straying

The research is interesting, but the writing is choppy in parts and needs smoother transitions

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Just Straying
Why Loiter? Women And Risk On Mumbai Streets
By Shilpa Phadke Sameera Khan and Shilpa Ranade
Penguin | Pages: 200 | Rs. 299

Imagine. A book that celebrates loitering and, more surprisingly, women loitering. They could be old, young, single, married, lesbian, in slums, high rises, on the streets, in office and at home. They want to loiter, but can’t. Men, on the other hand, can and do.

Loitering, say the authors, is feared, discouraged and considered anti-social. They point out that all the words in Indian languages used to describe the act of loitering—luccha, lafanga, vella, tapori, bekar—are uncomplimentary. Deep down, suggest the authors, loitering is about many things—need to loiter, hang out, use of space, safety (especially sexual safety)—and make a case for loitering as a fundamental act of claiming public space and a more inclusive citizenship.

The research and the resultant book are Mumbai-based. But their findings are applicable to any Indian city. The authors suggest that the socialisation of women and men—to see and use space in a certain way—is problematic. Whether it is commuting, playing, peeing or navigating their way through the city, women have it worse than men. The book is a good read for those new to the topic of women, space and socialisation. The research is interesting, but the writing is choppy in parts and needs smoother transitions. And, the authors’ suggesting that women must have the right to loiter for pleasure isn’t startling enough.

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