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‘I Let Myself Get Objectified at High Spirits, I’m Disgusted Now’

In an open letter, a regular at Pune’s High Spirits Cafe pens down her experiences of sexual harassment.

Updated
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5 min read


Khodu Irani and High Spirits is the Millgram prison experiment and Stockholm syndrome rolled into one.
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I was a regular at ‘High Spirits’ till I left Pune. I was a part of their exclusive Facebook group called “High Homies”. I was given special offers and often let in for free. My music knowledge comes from all those wonderful artistes I danced to. I dressed the way I wanted when I went to High. I got really drunk and have passed out in their space (a couple of times) and I know their team made sure I reached home safe. I’ve gotten multiple free drinks. I’ve made friends that are going to last all because Friday night was live gig night at High Spirits.

It still does not excuse the experiences I and so many other women have had to go through in that cafe.

And here is my confession, I enabled it to happen.

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The last three days have been visceral to me. I keep rewinding and thinking about my days at High and why I behaved a certain way. I’ve been single handedly dissecting myself and hating myself because of the person I used to be.

I’m a small town girl who came to a big city and was blinded by the glamour. Just to explain my level of naivety, let me tell you that I used to dress up to go to McDonald's.

When High Spirits happened, four years of living in the city, I was mesmerised by the beautiful women and men that I saw. And everyone seemed to know each other. There was this friendly back slapping, the “nods” you gave to the people at the counter which waived off the entry fee for you, the after parties that you got invited to. The word I am looking for is a mixture of slick, suave, VIP, glitter, privilege.

Like an all-access credit card, I really wanted it. I wanted the owner to notice me, I wanted my free drinks, and really, I wanted to be that girl who got invited to these house parties.

I don’t remember my first conversation with Khodu Irani, the owner of High Spirits. I remember a few of them though, and mostly they were around my breasts.

I felt cool about it. I’m disgusted at the moment and sincerely loathe my lack of self-esteem previously, but that’s the truth. It felt like I had arrived because I had seen this casual banter before.

Winks to the cleavage, butt pinching, and all these gorgeous women didn’t mind it.

So for me, that was the currency to becoming popular. “Harmless petting” of my body parts.

I do, however, clearly remember a conversation where I was asked for a lip kiss. I said no – and then I was rubbished and he promptly went to a girl four years younger to me and got her to kiss him. Just a smack on the lips, really. And the girl obliged because he was like a father figure and I really felt stupid and thought I was a prude and I didn’t need to be one.

Today, I went back and looked at our conversations from four years ago. A particular one said, “Are you on SnapChat?” and I said yes, and Irani said, “Where is my booby pic?” And my response was “hahaha, you’re so funny!”. I allowed this. I allowed this to happen to me – a 22-year-old consenting adult.

So by the time I realised, a good 5 years later when I identified myself as a feminist, I had zero courage to point this out. Because I was guilty of it too. I’m sure there are countless pictures of me sitting on Khodu Irani’s lap, kissing his cheeks, and so on. I feel very ashamed today. When I was asked to write this, it took me three days to respond because it took three days of self hate and then moved by this women to contribute.

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The part I want to talk about is also how this really convoluted the concept of respect my body deserved. I didn’t understand if I had the right to shove a man who placed a sticker on my breast or hold me a little too tightly on the waist. Because in the ecosystem called ‘High Spirits’, these were social currency. Of course, this played later into my encounters with men.

Finally, my 24-year-old self made a categorisation – these will be allowed at High Spirits because people there care for my safety and it won’t be allowed anywhere else. I can see how messed up that is now.

Another incident: There are some men at High Spirits who are BLATANTLY sexist. Their status updates have always been about sexualising a woman. When shit hit the fan last year when another woman called him out, this boy did not have any fear. He lost NONE of his social privileges; in fact, became more popular at High as the “guy who makes sexist jokes”.

There are a lot of women who are supporting High Spirits at the moment and I hear you. If I did not go through the process of unlearning I did two years back, I would be with you too. I understand that you have a different concept of safety and I respect it. But you cannot dismiss my/other’s concept of safety – which is not to feel objectified on our assets. Of course ‘he was harmless and it meant nothing’, but I hope you sit back and think about the other man who was enabled by his behaviour at High Spirits to behave similarly. I know you know a couple of them. We all do.

I also know that a lot of people do not want to speak out for fear of being blacklisted from the social circuit. I hear you too. Pune is very small a city and when you’re young, you do like to hang out in the evening.

Khodu Irani and High Spirits is the Millgram prison experiment and Stockholm syndrome rolled into one.

I apologise to all the women who had to go through these awful experiences because I know I played a part in them. But, I hope writing this open letter helps put the perpetrator to justice.

(We have reached out to the owner of High Spirits Cafe, Khodu Irani, for a response and the story will be updated accordingly)

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