Monday, November 23, 2009

Why women wear red?

I often, at least once a month, travel by Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation long distance buses from Mangalore to Bangalore and back. Now, though we have 6518 Mangalore to Bangalore Yesvantpur Express, I prefer the good old KSRTC semi-sleeper buses. I prefer KSRTC buses for the simple reason that though they call 6518 an Express, it does not run quite like an Express. It travels perhaps slower than a snail, so slow that sometimes you think you can walk to Bangalore with the train.

Most of my friends who go to and come back from Bangalore travel either by train or by Sleeper Buses. I don’t like travelling to Bangalore in those sleeper buses for two reasons. First, I don’t want to get battered up like egg in milk by the time I reach Bangalore. Two, it is suffocating and claustrophobic in those sleeper bunkers. So I stick to KSRTC semi-sleepers, now and forever, if I ever want to go Bangalore.

Now, why am I telling you about my travel habits?

If I need to travel more than six to seven hours to reach the place I want to reach I try my best to catch a night bus that will reach me where I want to reach early in the morning. I travel by night service buses if I want to go Bangalore too. And it was during one of these journeys I began to notice a pattern, a pattern which I first thought was silly. I started taking it seriously after I realized that the pattern keeps emerging every time I travel at night, by bus or train. The thing is, I come across at least one woman wearing red during most of my night journeys. And most of them are women travelling alone. In other words, every time I travel at night I come across at least one mostly single female co-passenger wearing red. And I started wondering why!

You notice a woman wearing a red dress during one of your journeys. And where I come from you cannot, under any just pretence, walk up to the lady and ask her: “Hi Miss! Would you care to tell me why you are in red today?!” A tight “Slap” would be the answer if you happened to ask that question to one of those highly liberated Indian women, who is also likely to be a Shobha De fan. A frightened flinch would be the answer if you happened to ask it to one of those girls who haven’t yet understood the meaning of being a feminist. And if the woman is a Blank Noise reader, you are sure to have the bus redirected to a police station and a picture of you approaching the poor, clueless, helpless dame plastered all over their site with an “I didn’t ask for it” caption. So when I have this urge to ask this lady in red today why she is in red, I push my seat back and go to sleep.

But you know what, certain questions don’t go away that easily. And I happened to get my one and only chance a couple of weeks ago as I was travelling from Mangalore to my home town in 6630 Malabar Express. Fortunately, I did not have a reservation and I hopped into a reservation compartment hoping that I could convince the TTR to give me a berth. Now, to me it looks like TTRs are the only bunch of bureaucrats in India who are not corrupted. They just won’t budge and let you inside a reservation compartment if you do not have a reserved ticket even if you are willing to push wads of cash into their hands. There is no ‘under the table"’ business when it come to an Indian TTR and I think that is because they don’t have tables on Indian Trains.

Where was I? Ya, I hopped into 6630, into a reservation compartment and sat where I found a vacant seat, waiting for the TTR to come and give me a seat or kick me out. Usually, Malabar Express is a long waiting list train and it is idiotic to travel by that train without a reservation. But, this was not one of those neatly pre-planned journeys and I had no way I could reserve a ticket. The train started moving. As I sat there, browsing through the magazine I bought a few minutes ago from the Newspaper Stand at the Railway Station, waiting for my future to unfold, I heard a sweet voice: “Could you please tell me how I go to the Ladies’ Compartment?”

Oh No! Damsel in Distress!! I looked up to see a young girl, dressed in red. Yes, single female, travelling alone, dressed in red! She had a big bag on her shoulder and a confused look in her eyes. “The train started moving and I did not have time to locate the Ladies’ Compartment and I hopped in! Is there some way I could go there?” She asked me.

“I am not sure if you can get into the Ladies’ Compartment from a Reserved Compartment as the connecting door usually remains locked. May be you can get down at the next station and get into the Ladies Compartment.” On second thought, I said, pointing to the seat opposite mine, “Or, why don’t you take a seat! May be when the TTR comes you can ask him for a berth. Even i am not travelling reserved.”

She took her seat and we got into talking mode. She relaxed a bit when she came to know that I was going to the same place as she was. The TTR came and I did not have to beg much as there was a woman with me. [Point noted, make sure you take a woman along with you if you are travelling unreserved in Indian Railways.] Both of us got a berth each to sleep – Side Upper and Side Lower. As usual, woman got the better part of the bargain and we decided that I took the Side Upper and she took the Side Lower.

There was still time to grab something for dinner and then go to sleep. We got to know each other a little more better. Finally, after I was convinced that she was neither a feminist nor prudish, I decided to ask her the precious little question that had been troubling me for quite sometime. To me she sounded like a normal girl, so I decided to ask: “Why do women wear red when they travel?” I actually wanted to ask her: “Why do single women who travel alone prefer to wear red?” But I did not, in an attempt not to overdo my curiosity.

“You mean…?” She had a funny look on her face as she looked at her dress and said: “Oh this” and laughed.

“Yes, this” I said: “And I usually come across at least one woman wearing red when I travel and I always wonder why!”081028074323

“Um, I don’t know. I just grabbed this as I was in a hurry and did not think about the colour. Is there something wrong with red?” She shrugged.

“Um, no! Just asked. In case you had a reason, that would be very interesting!” You know what, you should not ask two things to a woman. You should not ask her about her age. And you should not ask her to reveal the secrets of her wardrobe and accessories. If you liked what she is wearing, just tell her: “Oh! You look splendid in this!” and that is it. You must not press her for details. She just would not say! I should have thought about that before I asked. We moved on to another topic.

Now, certain questions don’t go away that easily! Today I read a write up that appeared in Science Daily. Two psychologists from the University of Rochester published their study in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2008. That was the first time colour psychology was scientifically documented. According to the study, men find women more attractive in red than in any other colour. Andrew Elliot and Daniela Niesta did five experiments to prove their hypothesis. They measured men’s response to women in pictures framed by different boarders, including red. They measured men’s response to the same woman dressed in red and blue and asked how much money the men were willing to spend on each woman if they had to go out with her on a date. And they finally concluded that red has an aphrodisiac effect on men. Perhaps, the female of our species sensed this much before Andrew and Daniela did.

Now you probably understand why they have the women in Baywatch clad in red bikinis. Or why female monkeys paint their face red. And may be, that is perhaps the same reason why I come across women clad in red every time I travel. At least one of them. They look fabulous in red and you sure take note of them when they are in red.