Wednesday, July 24, 2013


This is my story.

I’m not telling you because you should know. I’m saying it because I want to say it. Because this is my closure. Or my attempt to seek it. I do not yet know. I’m not telling you this in the hope of gaining your sympathy, your pity or your attention. I’m writing this because it is mine to tell. My story is not meant for you to dissect, to jeer at, or to hold against me. If you have any intention of doing these things, please go right up to the right hand corner and press the little ‘x’ and leave this space. But if you care to not be that person, please know that my story is my narrative, it makes me who I am, and will always be a part of the journey that has led me to be the person I have come to become today.

When I was five, it happened first. Summer vacations would soon become a time and place for trauma, as I would come to learn. I’d hung out with a cousin all morning, and our grandmother took us along to an older cousin’s place. We played about, making merry and pretending we were owners of the world’s biggest empires, each. Currently, we were embroiled in a battle to decide which empire was the bigger one of the two. The older cousin was sullen, refusing to conform to any of the rules of our respective empires. He was far too cool for us, you see? Something about being a brooding teenager, holding big books and being sullen made us hold him in awe, even if our royalty remained unacknowledged. While I was embroiled in battle with my arch enemy, he got up and walked to us. I have something to show you, he told me. YAY! I shrieked, my okra-seed teeth glistening as I smiled. I mean, come on, a cool older cousin had something to show me! My opponent threw his staff down. I want to see, too! He chimed. Not you. Just her. The sullen older cousin muttered before he turned to climb up the stairs. I went along, my tiny feet trying to keep up with the pace of his huge paddles-for-feet. He went into his room – now this, this was a sanctuary that we were kept away from. His room was out of bounds, there was no chance of being allowed next to it – much less even seek a whiff of the air inside it. And here I was, exhilarated at the prospect of being the chosen one – yes, I thought that – the Chosen One, to see his room. I made my way in, and he shut the door. He held me by my wrists and pushed me against the wall, telling me to back up as he steadied me there. Was there an animal? A big, big dinosaur that would come out of his cupboard? Or maybe, maybe it was a new car! I remembered wondering.

And that was when it started. His hands ran up my dress, disgustingly going everywhere it had no business to. Using the disgustingly, impossibly inappropriate symbolic middle finger, he did the deed. Pain washed over my form, I wanted to cry. I wanted to leave – what was this, what was this disgusting, filthy disgusting surprise he had to show me? He drew back, and I remained frozen on the spot. A voice screamed inside my head, telling me to run. To run and to never, ever, ever look back. And while the voice made merry inside my skull, I watched him in horror as he pulled his clothes off himself. Stark naked.

Something gave me the courage at that moment – try as I might, when I revisit the scene, as I do each sleepless night, I have no idea what gave me that moment of fortitude – to open the door and run. I did. As I flung the door open, I saw my fellow battle-opponent standing outside. His expression turned from curious to baffled, but I didn’t stay back. I ran downstairs and sat on the first sofa I found, my legs glued together, my eyes shut tight.

A year later, it happened again. And a year after, and another year later. On his bike from which I threw myself off onto the ground below, on the sofa when everyone else was still around – his sense of brazenness unhindered by the presence of anyone else. Till date, I can’t stand lemon yellow – the colour of his room. Till date, I can’t stand bikes, the place he tried it again. Till date, I can’t stand the bark of a dog – which unfolded in the background once – to such an extent that I saw him as a mangy cur, to the extent that I would think of his ruthless abuse when I heard a dog bark. 

You might want to ask me why I didn’t tell an adult. Yes. There’s a reason for that. Each time it occurred, my cousin would tell me that he could kill people with his bare hands. When you are five, six, nine or fourteen – you believe these things to be possible. A young lad who could molest you could well kill you too, if he wanted. Or maybe not – but what do you know? I’d settle in at night, trying to snuggle up to my mother on our make-shift bedding at my grandmother’s house. I’d want to tell her, to cry to her, but a bubble would form in my throat and strangle the words until they were snuffed out. I’d stay sleepless until the late hours of the night became early hours of the morning – unbefitting the sleep cycles of a little child or even a teenager, for that matter. I’d stare at the night lamp and send up fervent prayers in the hope that I’d be given some courage to tide over it. I’m not sure I was heard – maybe the department I was sending these prayers to had its headphones on.

Then came another nightmare. A trusted – or so they thought – worker in my uncle’s and grandfather’s office decided that I was an easy supply of entertainment. He would charge at me, a mad glint in his eyes, unexpectedly when I was playing outside the house, or when I was looking at worms wiggling about in freshly dug earth or admiring buds that had yet to bloom after the first rush of summer rain. He’d hold me by my ankles, and hang me upside down. My clothes would tumble over my toppled form, I’d be exposed – raw, vulnerable – to everyone around me. I wanted to be invisible, but his hands – one crunching my ankles together in a tight grasp, and the other, running about wherever it wasn’t supposed to - didn’t let me. I’d close my eyes, shriek, scream, demand that I be put down. People around would watch: some of them related to me, too – but no one said anything, no one stopped him. One day, it came to light that he had embezzled money from the office. Let’s send him to the police, they decided. Yes. Take a photograph of him so that we can get them to arrest him. (I still don’t know why embezzlement was the bigger crime.) I was asked to pose in the office with him around, as though they wanted to take my picture – but he was only accidentally around – a fly on the wall, if you will. As the first flash of the camera went off, he’d reached out between frames and yanked the zip of my dress down with such invisibility that no one around noticed. I wanted to leave, to run, run so far away – but I couldn’t, and I didn’t. Instead, I stayed rooted to the spot, again.

After years, and years and years of silence, I spoke out for the first time. Believe you me – I’d dissociated, dissociated so well that these things never had a place in my cognitive memory. But even the thinnest wisps of dust, when swept under the carpet, have a way of coming out. And come out, they did.

There was no anger, none of it. No shame – why should there be? There was just a sense of feeling destroyed, broken from within. Irrational fears gained an explanation, sleeplessness had a basis. I had spoken, and my first step towards healing began. There are some gems that made the journey easy to bear – whether by speaking or by helping me heal, or by just listening – sometimes crying with me.

When you’re through reading this, I want you to remember something. Yes, it totally upsets me to talk about it. Yes, it happened. In the conservative mind, I’m ascribed a stigma. The truth? I don’t need stigma – what happened to me was not my choice or my decision. What happened to me could be anyone’s narrative: look into your homes, your friends’ homes or your neighbour’s homes. It is an enormous challenge, an enormous challenge to overcome this – and I’m not alone in that. And that’s why I fight, I fight for my sisters in the Congo and everywhere else in the world, who are violenced every day. That’s why I write and scream and fight when a Sahar Gul or a Malala happens, or a 23-year-old in Delhi happens. The saddest part is that these things still happen.

One of my best friends sent me this quote this morning, from Requiem for a Woman’s Soul.  “.... a wad of paper was thrown in, rolling almost to my feet. I unfolded it carefully. The words ‘Bravery and Courage’ were written on it. The world seemed so marvellous to me that I began to weep. I read it, and re-read it, a hundred times.” And it made my morning. It really did. Bravery is not by choice, but by circumstance. Courage is not a quality, but a life-boat. I’m me, and I will always be me. Brave, our Courageous ... I will always be me.

To the souls (you know who you are, and need no mention) that have known this story before it came out here, thank you for being there. Unconditionally. Thank you for letting me cry when I needed to, for letting me shout when I needed to, and for letting me know that I was not, and will NEVER be a victim.