I had finished my meeting in Boudha. The distance from Boudha to the place where I live is not exactly walkable. But on those days that I decide to do so, it feels walkable. Thus, that day I decided to walk. I reached the flyover bridge at Chabil Chowk that has solved the hassle of crossing the road which is often hugely busy.
While climbing the stairs, I saw a few men standing on the top of the bridge enjoying the view of the busy road below and the scene at a distance. I saw the sun was almost setting on the other side of the bridge and the sky looked beautiful. While the roads down looked chaotic, there was stillness in the hills. I was mesmerised as I kept walking.
When I reached home, I realised that I would have also liked to stop and loiter on the bridge. Perhaps not as long as some of those men but just enough to enjoy and appreciate the beauty of that moment just a little longer. When I thought of the reason why I had not stopped, I realised that I had never done it before. I had actually never stopped on any flyover bridge to just wander and observe.
While thinking about this, it also reminded me that there are not many places in the city that I have ventured to or gone on my own aimlessly. Barring a few years to complete my undergraduate studies and work for a year thereafter, I have lived my entire life in Kathmandu city. My childhood, adolescence and adulthood have many memories in the city but always of those places that are considered the right place at the right time for a woman to be there on some purpose.
These past few years as I am questioning all the assumed truths related to my gender, I find myself questioning this belief which has made us believe that strolling and wandering aimlessly is not for women. Loitering is not something that is considered to be right for a female. Girls or women of “respected” families just don’t loiter around. They walk outside of the house to reach somewhere, to get something done, and then return home on time.
So, when I talk about gender equality and women empowerment, I find colleagues and relatives asking me what more do I want? They tell me in Kathmandu girls and women get equal opportunities at work, hang out with their friends and are even “allowed” to drink in public. I wish I could tell them that the things that they are listing are not even needed to be reiterated. It is everyone’s right to hang out with their friends and any adult person can choose to drink if they feel like it. Adults do not need permission.
The things that feminists are asking to be dismantled are more nuanced. The underlying patriarchy that is deep-seated in all of us and subtle make us believe that women are supposed to be the bearer of their families honour and dignity.
Perhaps, loitering is not just about being aimless and useless. It is about being comfortable in our space and having the agency to do things in our own way and at our own pace. It is also a space where one gets to contemplate and reflect. We can view the passing world that can help to discover and get in touch with our creative side.
Loitering is also not worrying too much about past or future. It is being at the present. It is discovering our strengths and weaknesses. It is also learning to enjoy your own company. Thus, it cannot be that only one gender is entitled to loiter. I suppose we all can aspire to loiter.
Hence, just like any other human rights, being able to loiter can also be considered a right. It can be a hobby and a choice that we all should be able to claim for ourselves regardless of our gender and background. With that thought, I have promised to allow myself to loiter for a while the next time I cross a bridge!