I was gifted an interesting contraption yesterday - a latex-covered foot-long rod. Before you get the wrong idea, let me tell you how it works. You hold the thicker end of the rod and do a swish-and-flick movement. Like in that scene from the first Harry Potter movie where Hermione teaches Ron how to use a wand.
Except, you swish-and-flick with force. The rubber-covered rod magically extends to thrice its size. It transforms from an interesting contraption to a lethal weapon.
It was a gift.
From a father to his daughter.
It’s a jungle out there.
It’s not easy being a girl.
A woman. Or even a child.
It’s not easy being beautiful.
Pretty. Or even plain.
It’s not easy being a Hindu in a saree.
A Muslim in a burqa. Or even a Catholic nun.
I remember the first time it happened. I was at the medical store buying Crocin for Appa. Just as I was settling the bill, I felt a pinch on my butt. I was so stunned that I didn’t turn back - afraid that he would do something worse to me.
I was wearing a mid-length skirt and a loose top.
I was in fifth grade.
He was family. That’s what Amma told me.
He visited us one Sunday afternoon. Amma asked me to serve him lunch.
He chatted me up and asked me to feed him a morsel. I did. He sucked on my fingers in a way that made me feel dirty.
I ran to Amma and complained. She asked me to go complete my homework.
I was in sixth grade.
One day, I was home alone when a garment salesman knocked on our door. He was selling pant and shirt pieces. I had just started dressing in western wear and was interested in what he had to offer. He said they even took up tailoring orders and offered to take my measurements. I still regret having accepted that offer. Over the next half hour, he went on to strip me off my dignity even while I was fully clothed. I should have cried for help but the embarrassment of making this incident public stopped me.
By the time he left, I was sobbing openly.
It did not stop there. A few days later, he followed me back to the apartment and entered the lift when I was going up. He tried to kiss me. This time I fought back. I pushed him away, stopped the lift in the middle and ran out.
To this day, I get terrified every time a stranger enters home when I am alone. To this day, I take the stairs if there’s a lone man in the lift.
This happened in tenth grade.
Sometimes violence can be closer than you imagine.
He was my neighbour. He was my friend. I liked him. I looked up to him.
He liked me too. In a different way. I didn’t know it then.
We would sit for long hours on the terrace. He would tell me stories and I would share my dreams with him.
He was like the big brother I never had.
One day, he asked me for a kiss.
Without thinking twice, I planted a kiss on his cheek.
That day, the equation changed.
He made me sit close to him.
He touched me - not in a friendly way.
He held my hand - even when I told him I was uncomfortable with it.
He kissed me by force.
I should have told Amma about it. But I was afraid she wouldn’t believe me.
I was in eleventh grade when it happened. It stopped the next year when we moved to Chennai.
I had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. After successive bouts of depression, I switched from college to correspondence and stayed all day in my room, staring at the ceiling, thinking of painless ways to end my life.
The only upside to it, I barely went out. Life was peaceful, at least on that front.
My 21st birthday.
I was in Bangalore, waiting for the bus one winter morning when a boy cycling past me whistled out loud - “Hey sexy”. He looked like he was 12. Thirteen at most.
He didn’t touch me. He didn’t even ogle at me. Then why did I feel violated?
Back to Chennai.
Men on motorbikes grabbed my breasts while I was riding pillion, a look of triumph in their eyes as I cried out.
Men brushed themselves against me when I travelled by bus.
Men drove dangerously close to me when I walked on the roads.
Men ogled, whistled, hooted.
I got myself a pepper spray.
I kept my hair short after reading a newspaper report that said women with short hair are less likely to be victims of sexual abuse.
I wrote about it - hoping for catharsis.
I cried myself to sleep when the memories of it came back to haunt me.
My heart beats faster when I see a minivan approaching me.
I break into a sweat when I notice the man on a motorbike looking at me.
I pull out my pepper spray when I’m on a deserted road - be it night or day.
I maintain a steely expression when I go walking.
I stare down men who stare at me.
I try to be brave, but I am afraid.