The thin line between looking, seeing and staring at a woman

Valson Thampu
Valson ThampuSep 11, 2016 | 15:49

The thin line between looking, seeing and staring at a woman

The desire to be seen and admired is at the root of being human. Picture for representation.

I admit, I used to stare. I've stared at innumerable bewitchingly beautiful girls. Just couldn't help it. To me all girls were beautiful. It afforded me a world of secret joy. But without any awkwardness for the objects of my adoration.

I made sure they knew not that I was staring. "That's not staring," you could say. But, then, how do you know, especially these days?


I was in good company. Thomas Hardy, the English novelist, used to go to church on Sundays mainly to see and adore beautiful damsels. To him, they were at their best when radiant in the aura of Sunday piety. We get to meet some of them in his novels.

Then I fell in love. That stopped my staring. Love is light. Light opens your eyes. Then you see. Seeing transforms staring into adoring. Then I knew that the problem with staring was not making eye-contact with a woman, eyes or body. It was that what sought the contact was anything other than eyes. At least not eyes opened and sanctified by love.

I consulted the dictionary. It told me that to stare was to look not only "fixedly" but also "vacantly". That is to say, to look unseeingly. The "starer" (pardon me for coining a neologism) or the one who stares, has eyes of glass.

I was relieved! This meant I had only seen, not stared at, any woman. I never looked "vacantly" at anyone, all my life. Much less a woman. How can a man look vacantly at a woman, I wonder! He has to be a tailor's dummy to accomplish that impossible feat.


For me, a woman is the most enchanting, awe-inspiring mystery in the world. Now, what do you do when you are in the vicinity of a mystery? I've not figured out this one thing even now.

Can I pretend that it does not exist? Or, that it leaves me cold and stolid? That my heart is made of stone? So, I turn to Roget's Thesaurus. It tells me that the opposite of staring is "ignoring". That's not a good thing. Or, is it?

Now I am told that if I stare continuously for more than 14 seconds at a woman I could be booked. Prof Sarup Singh comes to mind. In the early 1970s, he was the vice-chancellor of Delhi University. He taught us Shakespearean comedy. (Imagine a comedy without staring!) A girl complained to him that a boy, her classmate, was pestering (the word "harassing" was not on everyone's lips in those naïve days) her by sending verses professing his ardent love.

 The desire to be seen and admired is at the root of being human. (Picture for representation)

Prof Singh summoned the boy then and there. He wanted the serious matter settled.

"Did you write to her in verse?" Prof Singh thundered.

"Yes, sir," the terrified culprit confessed, fearing impending rustication.


"Write to her in prose, you stupid," Prof Singh said and dismissed them. The pestering stopped. The matter rested there.

That is the next best thing you can do, besides pouncing on culprits. Cultivate a touch of humour.

If you were to ask Gurudev Tagore, he would smile and say, "Why waste time staring? You don't cross the sea by staring at it."

Women are not tiny ponds, after all. They are imperious, infinite oceans that a man can only stare at, on his knees, on the seashore. Tagore, by the way, used to stare at God himself, "I stand under the golden canopy of your evening sun and look you in the face!"

Perhaps the issue is not the duration of the stare at all. It is that the stare is, as dictionaries say, vacant.

Who would like to be looked at vacantly, with pebbly eyes? It's eerie, to say the least. Why should anyone endure such an unpleasant, bizarre thing? It is not, if the eyes are indeed vacant, a matter of sexual harassment. It is a matter of human impoverishment. The only difference, I insist, between ghosts and humans is this "vacant" look.

The problem is not that a pair of male eyes alight, via light (think of that, light!) on a woman and rest there fixedly, say, for 15 seconds (14 minutes being the permissible limit). The problem is that they are not eyes of light. And that's an insult.

How can beauty and light be ever separated? Light making way for darkness in the eyes of men: is that not a national tragedy? (Shouldn't we declare several days of national mourning for it?) Does Parliament have a remedy for it?

A human being, male or female, cannot be a mythological creature; fascinating only because unseen or invisible. The desire to be seen and admired is at the root of being human. I am yet to see a man or woman who does not crave visibility flavoured with admiration.

Yes, everyone wants to be seen; but no one wants to be stared at. (That includes men also). Think of the profundity of this simple wisdom. The opposite of staring is seeing, not indifference. That is why life is more than Thesaurus.

Either a society nurtures men who can "see" women or men who can only "stare at" them. This "anti-staring" legislation, hence, stares us in the face. We are failing in helping male bipeds be truly human, who can "see" women as women - as daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, saint - and not as voyeuristic objects.

To think that legislative over-kill will solve this problem is to be laughably naïve. So this also stares the legal system in the face. A spate of litigation could be in the offing. Will it be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel's back!

Last updated: July 29, 2018 | 17:49
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