This piece was written by Megha Mehta (Batch of 2019).
This article attempts to document my experiences as a ‘Lone Female Traveler’-aka, the LFT. Once a rare species, this creature is now spotted quite frequently in-habitat, nervously waiting at deserted metro stations, clutching her purse to her heart in a sensual embrace on shady sidewalks, pretending to be engrossed in a non-existent Whatsapp group chat at cafes, and sometimes, giving wistful looks to couples at bars. LFT’s vary in size, height, ethnicity and profession. The binding characteristic, if any, is that they identify with the female gender, conspicuously lack a boyfriend, father or any other suitable patriarchal substitute to safeguard them in their adventures, and often tend to be the only single woman in their group of friends.
You may also find varying degrees of social awkwardness, misanthropy and Pretentious WanderlustTM in LFT’s or maybe that’s just me. Not to be confused with the Single Upper-Class Urban Female (though there are often overlaps) or the Daily Drudgerer (single moms and suburban housewives attempting to beat the city traffic while ferrying nervy pre-pubescents to and fro coaching classes and football practice).
The LFT has been gaining quite a lot of popularity, what with Kangana Ranaut’s stupendous portrayal of the Heartbroken LFT in Queen and Deepika Padukone’s aborted journey as a Nerdy LFT in Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewaani before she succumbs to Bollywood Heteronormativity and falls for yet another Nomadic ManchildTM.
I don’t know what category of LFT I would describe myself as. I have gone through varying phases, depending upon which year of law school I happen to be in, the number of commitments I am juggling, and how many Imtiaz Ali movies about magically finding yourself in Europe I have been watching. This article will focus on my experiences in India, because home is gold. Also if you can’t navigate your way through Nagarbhavi you have no business wandering the hipster ghetto areas of any of your international dream cities.
10:30 a.m. For various reasons which are linked to my being a socially awkward loser who didn’t have the foresight to book plane tickets home, I am alone in my room with no plans for the long weekend. Since I don’t have any Jaanu or Baby to give me frantic wake-up calls, and also because I’m too lazy, I end up oversleeping and missing the high-quality 5 star mess breakfast.
10:50 a.m. While reading yet another GOT fan/conspiracy theory, I get a mail from BookMyMovie.com telling me that they have an ‘offer’ for me. Some random data analyzer sitting in their head office in Canada or wherever has told their marketing executive in India that I haven’t booked tickets in a while, thanks to the time constraints of the trimester system and general student penury. Yay internet algorithms and innocuous usage of cookies to stalk consumers. The marketing executive, out of unconditional love for me, and unconditional concern for their dipping sales graph, gives me a 40 percent discount that will be usurped from me in due time at the multiplex popcorn counter.
The discount is for a movie I have been really excited for, called Saahobali 2. The Saahobali duology is about Bali, the prince of a mythical kingdom in ancient India (which is not really India, because India is a joint venture constructed by the Congress and the British circa 1947); and his struggle for the throne against his evil uncle Saaho. I have no interest in Bali and his misogynistic shenanigans stalking and molesting the neighbouring kingdom’s princess, but I enjoyed the cinematography and the overall character-sketch in the first movie, so I decide to take up the offer. Also, I have a secret crush on the dude who plays the villain. There’s a reason they make Saaho go bare-chested in the posters.
BookMyMovie informs me that the last available show is at 7pm. My mental alarm faintly protests ‘It’s too late! What will you tell your mom?’ I look at a devilishly hot Saaho grinning at me from the film poster and put the alarm on snooze.
6:00 pm: I call for a Share cab because YOla is one of the few companies who understand that even friendless people need to save money. My co-passenger is a senior from law school who is co-incidentally, going to watch Saahobali 2. I have an awkward phone conversation with my mother where I try to explain that I am going alone to watch a movie in a place which is more than 10 minutes away from campus, after sunset. Since my mother lacks the paranormal ability to fly down to Nagarbhavi and whack my head off, she convinces herself that said law school senior is my chaperone for the evening and that I will be Safe. I neglect to mention that the senior is going to a different theatre. You must adopt these tricky survival mechanisms if you want to be a successful LFT.
7:00 pm: The movie has not yet started, because in the interests of capitalism and free-market society, I must sacrifice 15 minutes of my life watching ads for jewellery for my imaginary nuptials and the imaginary dream house in Whitefield where I will live with my dream husband and our imaginary kids. We live secure bourgeoisie lives thanks to the dream life insurance policy which my husband buys because women can’t handle planning for the future and shit. This is followed by an ad for the pest control and disinfectant which I will buy to protect my imaginary babies from keetanu and show my husband what a good domesticated idiot I am. This dream montage climaxes with the national anthem, which you must stand at attention to in military pose lest anyone in the audience think you’re unpatriotic and a terrorist spy from the neighbouring country. I can imagine my dream husband and dream babies singing next to me while I die a slow death on the inside.
7:22pm: The movie has still not started because we must learn about the harmful side-effects of smoking. My mind zones out to a vivid childhood memory in which my mother and I had gone to watch a movie and the man sitting next to my mother had Behaved Inappropriately.
I do a quick background check. Just like ordinary people look left and right before crossing the road, LFT’s have to do the left-right check before sitting anywhere because the chances of ending up dead on the highway are approximately the same. The people to my right consist of a family of husband, wife and son who probably have the dream life insurance and pest control advertised previously and maybe a Kent RO purifier as well. The husband is sitting next to me, but I know he won’t Behave Inappropriately because if he does, I’ll scream and his wife will be upset (at him hopefully).
Sitting to my left, is your standard just-married couple who’ve only bought the life insurance policy so far and still have a few years to go before pest control and a SUV. Again the husband sits on my immediate left but I know he won’t molest me either because he’s the OK Jaanu type whose face is permanently tilted towards his wife. As Mukesh dies a gory death for the umpteenth time, I muse about how the frequency of his sweet nothings will gradually diminish after she gets pregnant and fat and he cheats on her with his hot colleague. They will squabble over what to have for dinner while the same loansharks who gave them the life insurance policy circle their house looking for signs of failure to repay the mortgage. The guy tilts his head away even more, as if he can sense my nihilism disturbing his romantic fantasies.
7:25pm: The movie finally starts. Bali makes his grand entrance, flexing biceps the size of a small European country, while the broodingly handsome Saaho attempts to assassinate him. My brain switches off its panic button and quietly relinquishes control over to my endocrinal system.
8:00pm: I have had the life-changing epiphany that I like neither Bali nor Saaho, both of whom are blundering feudal jocks, but the character of Devi, Bali’s wife, who refuses to take shit from either of them throughout the movie. My ovaries ask my brain to shut its trap.
10:30pm: Since the mess ammas don’t love me enough to have kept my dinner in the fridge, I wander about the food court, looking for something that will still leave me capable of paying the law school fees next year. I settle for a stall that claims to be selling ‘authentic Bombay Pav Bhaji’, more out of love for my wallet than any sense of nostalgia. The server hands over my plate with a fake smile and I return the same, both of us mutually acknowledging that the real stuff in Bombay costs half the price and tastes better.
I am once again made to realize how much the world hates single people when the couple after me orders double the amount of food, along with soft drinks, secure in their knowledge that expenses will be divided. I’ll be honest-I don’t like being single. In fact I’m quite bitter about it. All I really want, more than a career or an independent existence, is to have that one, amazing person whose has intoxicating eyes I can stare into, and with whom I can split the bloody restaurant bill. I ignore the envious rumblings coming from my stomach and start zooming in on seating options.
10:33pm: The thing about being a LFT is-you can feel people constantly staring at you, and not because you’re Aishwarya Rai’s twin or anything. The men stare at you, well, because I guess men secretly miss the innocence and purity of their childhood, because there’s no other reason for them to devote so much attention to your mammary glands. The women stare at you because they’re curious about why their men are staring at you. (I mean really girls, let the poor guys be, they probably feel trapped by this consumerist society and want to return to the era when their basic nutrition was free and all of that)
Families stare at you because deep down on the inside, they feel the smugness of having found themselves a social unit to keep them company in passing their mundane existence, and they can’t convey their superiority complex effectively without giving you pitying glances every now and then. Poor girl, she still has so much time to go before she can entrap a husband and produce keetanu-fighting babies.
There is of course the curious grandma, who gives your dirty looks and puts a protective arm around her grandchildren if she catches your eyes glancing anywhere in their direction. This is a problem LMT’s (Lone Male Travellers) have to face as well. If you’re a LMT chances are the grandma will think you’re a paedophile or a rapist. If you’re a LFT chances are she’ll think you’re an immoral woman or plain psycho. There’s no escaping from the grandma’s death glare either way.
Of course it is entirely possible that nobody is really staring at you, because nobody has the freaking time. The dads are worrying about office, the moms are worrying about office and what to feed dad before he leaves for office, the kids are worrying about IIT-JEE and the grandma is probably wishing they’ll put her in an old age home already because nobody cares about her when she’s in the house anyway. Maybe the death glare is actually a cry for help, or just plain old jealousy.
11:00pm: I am surprised to learn that the Share system works at this hour as well. After ten minutes of ‘Hellaw’ and ‘Where are you Sir’ and ‘Madam, hum location pe hai’ I finally manage to get into the cab. All memories of Bali and Saaho engaging in war porn gradually fade while my brain starts doing its Please don’t let the cab driver/co-passenger be a rapist chant again. I breathe a sigh of relief when I discover that my co-passengers are a married couple. Everyone knows women with mangalsutras are the safest, second only to cows maybe. I pretend to be thoroughly engrossed in my music collection and ignore the side-eye the wife is giving me. For a moment I am tempted to make small talk and explain why I am out at this time of the night but then I decide I don’t owe anybody jackshit. This time I tilt my face away.
11:10pm: I am feeling stupid about the previous assumption I made about my co-passengers because the cab is now wandering in some dark alley and everyone is oddly quiet. I wonder whether the husband-wife and the cab driver are secretly involved with a gang of human traffickers and this is a ruse to pick up victims like me who are stupid enough to travel alone . I am imagining how the newspapers will break the news of my disappearance (Times of India will probably carry something along the lines of ‘She asked for the cab!!’) and feeling thoroughly sorry for myself when the driver’s navigational skills magically materialize and we reach the actual drop location, a wedding hall. Hardly the godown of horror I was imagining (As much as I would like to visit Thailand, I’m quite comfortable living in the Nilgiris hostel for now).
11:20pm: I am back on campus. Crickets are chirping. Stars are twinkling. Random couples are hooking up in the basketball court. I am alive. Did I discover the true meaning of life? Did I meet the Nomadic ManchildTM who is my soulmate? Did I magically morph into a hottie overnight after swapping my imaginary glasses with contact lenses? Did I realize that my relentless pursuit of academics in the hopes of securing a law firm job is meaningless since ultimately the dark void will consume me the way it consumes everyone else? No.
The most thrilling part of being a LFT is the fact that it’s so ordinary. It’s not like the chances of being kidnapped, murdered, sold into slavery and struck by an asteroid, etc. magically increase or decrease. There really isn’t much hoopla about going somewhere alone. Sure you might suffer multiple panic attacks, have a constant running Creepo-mentary in your head, attract a few weird stares, pay double the price and eat half the quantity of what you would when you go out with a group of friends and feel like you’re in the Twilight Zone occasionally. But it reduces with time. So carpe diem ladies, and don’t hesitate to give yourself some me-time if you’re done dealing with your everyday young-adult bullshit.
Depending upon reader response and how jobless I feel in the coming days, this article is soon-to-be followed by a sequel situated in the stunning locales of Europe-LFT: The Conclusion (?)