Twenty-five square yards make up a marla, but 25 yards on their own are only about the length of 0.8 marlas. Twenty-five yards is the recommended distance one should maintain while photographing a wolf. Twenty-five yards is a little longer than a cricket pitch.
They say it takes about 30 steps and less than a minute to walk 25 yards. But time and distance can be subjective. In the 1930s, it once took Gandhi over an hour to cover 25 yards from the Lahore Railway Station to a waiting car in the porch of the station because so many wanted to do his darshan and deedar.
For me, 25 yards is the distance I walk from the car park to my office gate, twice a day, six times a week, 52 weeks a year. This is not my only engagement with Lahore without the shield of my car and my privilege, but it is the shortest, most consistent, and most repetitive interaction that I have with the city.
One would think that if you do something on a near-daily basis, you would become a master at it, that you would perform the task without much thought or emotional investment. For me, this has proven untrue.
Technically, I am alone while walking these 25 yards, but experientially I am not —- rickshaw walas going in the direction I am walking, and those going the wrong way, slow down and ask if I want a ride. When I say “nahi chahiyay”, they offer “chalo, free main lay jaatay hain, aglay signal tak” – revealing how upset they are with my very-female presence on their very-male street.
Then there are the motorcyclists. Despite the fact that my walk is in the direction that traffic is flowing, these motorcyclists are all coming charging towards me. Since they are going the wrong way, they have only a very narrow margin of the road for themselves, and they don’t like that they have to share it with me, but they do like looking at me, or at least that’s my takeaway from the incessant staring. So enthralled are they with my apparent beauty that they forget to make room for me on the street. “Aiyee! Bhai, paon dekh kar!”
Sometimes the motorcyclists are going the right way, in that case they often turn their faces almost-180 degrees to look at me, seemingly to confirm that the horror they have seen is true: that in fact there is a woman just walking on the street.
The two most pervasive presences I travel with, however, are dirty puddles, and dirtier eyes of men lounging or walking on the street. I am careful about both. I try and spot them before they spot me. I weave my way around the tiny, stinky water bodies, and stare back at the repulsive eyes that will otherwise follow me all the way to my destination, and upon occasion have been waiting for me when I walk back to the car park at the end of my work day.
There are also the less frequent companions: the rehriwalas who won’t give way, the catcaller who finds that if he doesn’t say mashallah to me he won’t be able to sleep that night, the driver of the car that is coming directly at me but ironically is so blinded by the sight of me, that they can’t see me.
I don’t know if my annoyance is universal. A former colleague jokingly refers to all these people as ‘friends’. She would negotiate with the uncomfortableness of such walks by joking that the eyes, the rickshaw walas, the cat callers, are all concerned about our safety and stare so hard and so long to confirm that we reach our destinations safely.
Perhaps, humour is a better reaction than annoyance, since its almost time for me to walk back to my car and I’m in no mood for a bad mood.