Growing up I was always taught of the virtues of smiling.

Keep smiling, they said, It adds to your beauty.

Nice, kind people are the ones who smiles at people on roads and were ready help even the random strangers.

Ever so naïve, and always the one to please, I took the above mantras to practice.

But one hot summer day, I discovered smiling can be quite dangerous if you live in a place like India.

I remember that day with extreme clarity.

I was 12 years old, and was on my way to tuition classes. That was the day of my teacher’s birthday and we were promised ice creams after the class. Feeling on top of the world, I was walking towards my teacher’s house with thoughts of delicious ice creams floating through my head.

On my way I came across a mother carrying a cute little toddler, as per the habit, I gave them a smile, she smiled back and I moved on.

Just round the corner, I saw a group of guys standing. One of them smiled at me. I smiled back.

And that’s when I realized what a horrible mistake I had just made.

You see, just as I smiled, the guy’s eyes changed. He somehow reminded my of the Big Bad Wolf from the Little Red Riding Hood. The look that came in his eyes, frightened me. Something told me that this was the time to RUN.

For the first time in my life, I bowed my head to the ground, not daring to look at the wolf look-alike and started taking long strides praying to all the Gods I could remember.

Just as I was passing, I heard the wolf’s friends sneering and passing vague comments on the lines of ‘Hasi toh phasi’ (i.e. if the girl smiles, she is trapped) I remembered this as the lines from a very popular hindi movie, where the hero is trying to ‘woo’ the heroine (less of wooing and more of Street sexual harassment like stacking and commenting), she turns around and smiles. The hero then uses this ‘hasi to phasi’ line. From that moment on I have disliked the said hero.

As I kept on walking, I could sense the guys following me and asking me my name, where I come from etc etc.

There were many people on the street, all must have seen. No one came to my rescue. To a twelve-year-old girl, those five to six twenty something people looked too strong and scary.

The walk from where I met those guys to my tuition teacher’s house must have been little more than five minutes, but for me, it seemed like eternity.

I ran as soon as I saw the house and cried my eyes out when I saw the teacher.

So, scared I was, that for weeks I had my mother walk me to and fro to the classes.

It might be nothing compared  to the gang rapes, but for me, that was the day I learnt that this is no place for nice people. That was the day I came in contact with the ‘boys-will-be-boys’ males of India who think all and every child/girl/women are their properties.

It was the day I stopped smiling at strangers.