A Hair-Raising Story

I don’t know how safe New Delhi’s bus stops are for women these days, but once upon a time they were about as safe as shark-infested waters are for scuba divers. This is because New Delhi’s bus stops were haunted by a breed of predatory fiend known as the chain snatcher. If you heard that a woman had had her gold chain snatched, you could safely assume that the crime had been committed at a bus stop.

In those days, women who wore gold chains and used public transportation were a particularly high-risk group in New Delhi. Inside the bus, they could expect to have the private areas of their anatomy shamelessly groped by strangers. (This in a country whose pledge of allegiance describes its citizens as brothers and sisters.) Outside the bus, the part of a woman’s body most at risk was her neck.

My late aunt Joyce, who called India’s capital city home for nearly five decades, once told me about a woman she knew who’d had her chain snatched while waiting for a bus. The chain snatcher returned to the bus stop at the same time next morning. He had with him the stolen chain.

If you guessed he’d come to return the chain, you are right. But it had nothing to do with repentance.

Before long the woman arrived at the bus stop, as was her custom on weekdays. Being an honest and responsible adult, she paid her bills by working at an office across town, not by stealing other people’s property.

The moment the chain snatcher spied his victim from the day before, he stepped forward and bestowed upon her cheek what my late father would have called “one tight slap.” Then he flung the chain at her and stalked off with this parting shot:

“You should be ashamed of yourself for wearing fake gold.”

This is the story that came to mind when I saw a clip of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at a press conference on September 2, two days after her trip to a San Francisco salon.

A reporter informed the Speaker that a certain barber thinks she owes the service industry an apology. After all, she’d had her hair washed and dried indoors while salons in California have been ordered to conduct business out of doors. But instead of tendering an apology, Pelosi replied:

“This salon owes me an apology for setting [me] up.”

Unlike the chain snatcher in my late aunt’s tale, the House Speaker had not committed a crime. As long as indoor salon trips are not prohibited by law, she was not guilty of a legal infraction. But her actions did violate a social and moral code of conduct.

As Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi commands a large, national stage with an audience of over 330 million, not counting the foreigners who follow American politics. Her audience includes many women who aspire to reach the top of their respective fields, as she has done. Surely setting a good example must trump setting her hair?


(c) 2020 Sharon Arpana Edwards. All Rights Reserved.

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