It was a warm summer day in the year 1990. That Sunday, an old respectable looking man visited the house neighboring mine. My neighbors were 5 women. A mother and her 4 daughters and this was the mother’s father. He was an 86-year-old man. It was probably the first time I saw an opportunity to interact with a man so old. I was a part of a nuclear family where all of us were agile, active people and my parents were working hard towards giving us a decent & caring environment. To have someone elderly around us was a privilege that I didn’t usually have.
I was quite friendly with the girls who lived in the house opposite ours. So when this man visited, I was very curious and decided to ask more. To my excitement, this man was not just their grandfather but was also the retired principal of a school. I was naturally tempted to grab the opportunity to ask & listen to the great things that he would have to tell about his life. I sat next to the white-haired, slim man who seemed to have innumerable stories to narrate. As I went about talking the little bit I could, I realized that here was a man who could teach me early modern English. I was a student at heart and not just in school. I decided to make the most of this opportunity and learn whatever he could teach me.
I was asked to prepare a notebook, cover it and label it. I can’t remember what I wrote as part of the label but I can remember being as eager for my first lessons as someone would be to watch the sun rise for the first time. The first class began somewhere around 12 in the afternoon during one of my vacation days. I heard, repeated and noted everything I was told to; a lot of the notes were made by this old man, I called ‘Nanaji’. I think at that time I was closest to reading Shakespeare’s Hamlet than I ever got later in my life. I felt like I was learning something that very few of my friends will get to learn. And then the class got over. It had lasted barely an hour.
As I was thanking this man for the lessons, he grabbed me from behind and pulled me on to his lap. I was an 8-year-old child. I felt like I was being a really good student and my teacher was rewarding me for the same. But then I felt something strange. The hands that were writing ‘thou’, ‘thy’ on my notebook were going places. On my chest they just seemed fine but then the grip got stronger and I could feel the hands feeling and tightening for something. I didn’t know what that was but my confusion made me spring up. I think at that moment Nanaji asked ‘Kya hua? (What happened?)’. I thanked him and said I had to get back home for lunch. I promised him that I would be back the next day. I can’t remember how the next couple of days went but the rest of the summer classes were not eventful. Nanaji told me that he will be back during my winter vacations and check my progress. Only if I had my lessons rehearsed, he would continue with more lessons.
Winters in my city used to be quite nice. December afternoons in Delhi would make people happy. With the sunshine being an angel in days of dipping temperatures, kids my age with their families could be seen relaxing or having a picnic lunch in parks. I had Nanaji who would give me classes on the terrace of my house. It was a great idea to use daylight and have no-one disturb us during the classes. My body language had already evolved to behave in a certain way during these classes. I would sit close yet far enough to seem obedient & interested. The class will get over and I would be revising my notes without really suspecting that my teacher actually was ever doing anything wrong to me. Then one sunny afternoon, just when I was revising, two hands grabbed me by my chest and I was back on this man’s lap. I was still smiling yet wondering what was happening. The hands this time did not just stop at squeezing the little meat that my body had developed. The hands traveled far down, below my frock and then went under; they started rising above, went all over my thighs and before I realized were inside the garments that would hide my ‘shame’. I can’t remember what the hands were doing inside that piece of clothing but I remember blanking out. And then I heard these words whispered into my ears “Accha lagta hai? (Do you like it?)” I think I didn’t respond the first time and ran down to my house with my notebook. It happened again the following day and I told the Nanaji that I had some weird discharge and he suddenly took his hands out. I thought it probably was a good excuse and that there was something about that detail that scared him or grossed him out.
It was the third terrace class that I refused to attend. That same evening, I told my mother exactly what was happening even though I was not sure if there was anything wrong.
I know I have always been fortunate to have parents who trusted me with my words and took necessary action. My mother called Nanaji’s daughter and I was asked to be in the other room. Even while I was oblivious to the shameful nature of the act, I could hear Nanaji’s daughter (who was herself in her late 40s) crying and leaving our house. I saw Nanaji leave next day with his head down. I never saw him again.
Yet I can see him as I write this.
By 1993, I had become a cautious kid even though I didn’t really understand sexual offenses. There was this other old man whom I tagged along with for some morning walks along with another friend. I did it totally out of curiosity to find out if all men that age were like that. Consider it my bad luck but that Nanaji turned out to be yet another molester who took children to remote corners. But this time I sped before anything could really happen.
In the year 1995, I experienced eve teasing for the first time. It was Janmashtami and I was with my friends looking at small clay models built across the colony. After a fun evening, my friends went home and I was walking home when I heard some people whistling. I turned around (as usual out of curiosity) and I think I saw the most unpleasant smile ever. I ran. I don’t know why but I ran in my pavada. I reached home and I remember my mother’s face which was straight at first. She asked why I was panting. When I told her what I had encountered, she smiled and told me that it happens. She asked me to be careful and just informed me that I was growing up. For some reason I just did not like that look, the dialogue or what I was told.
Much of my “sexual education” happened through Hindi films which showed the disparity between men & women as a natural phenomenon and not a social-consequence. I grew up being highly aggressive towards any approach made by a man. I did not have great male friends throughout my school life. I was angry. Not at Nanaji but at the fact that everyone after that was not made to feel ashamed of their acts.
I grew up being groped on the road but had the guts to slap the groper. I would not even tolerate a comment that had anything to do with me being a girl. To some extent I never really accepted sexuality being a part of people’s identity. When I was told that I had to broom the house because I was a girl, I threw the broom. I told my dad that I would do any household work as a member of the family but will not sit with my legs crossed just because I was a woman. I don’t think he ever used the ‘girl’ reference to get me to do anything ever again.
I was very proud of the fact that I had dealt with most of my issues with sexism fairly well. I did go through few more disgusting episodes including the one in which my music-teacher’s 40-year-old brother who was also a father of a daughter, felt & squeezed my boobs when no one was looking!
I thank the handful of good men whom I met during the first part of my professional life. They prevented me from considering men in general perverts. I realized people are people; sexuality takes over because of a mix of various conditions. I met men with a great sense of humor. And I started laughing off at the little beings who troubled me for a while and that probably my encounters with these men refined my personality than destroying it.
After a long period of sexual ignorance, in the year 2007 I realized for the first time that my attitude was dangerous to no one else, but me. I had almost no friends in this island country called Australia. But I knew some people whom I thought I could hang out with. They were 4 boys who were also my classmates. One evening I told them that I wanted to celebrate my new job which I had grabbed barely 3 months of landing in the country. It was a great opportunity and I was looking forward to putting an end to my hand-to-mouth existence.
We partied. Intoxication was the biggest part of the celebration. I was sloshed for the first time ever. I went on to talk about and cry over my failed love story. And then I threw up and was put to sleep. I had passed out. And then, like a bad dream, I saw diluted darkness and a face in it. I didn’t hear anything but felt something between my legs. I realized I was incapable of being sure about anything. And then I sensed it. I was half-naked and there was this one “friend” who was on top of me. I wanted to move away. I wanted to ask questions and I wanted to push this person away. I could barely move. Last I remember, I was falling back and this person was trying to climb on.
I woke up the next morning, to the darkest morning of my life. It ‘dawned’ on me in those few seconds that something in me had changed, changed forever. I got out of the bed and noticed that all doors & windows were closed. That one ‘friend’ was lying on the bed next to mine. I wanted to stab a dagger into that spineless back, I wanted to cry, I wanted to cry out loud. I did nothing.
I got out of the room and saw this other ‘friend’ who was awake. I picked up my jacket and walked out of that house. I remember that I just walked that morning. It was the longest short walk ever. I went to a medical shop and bought a 72hr emergency contraceptive. It costed me $35 but that night costed me a demon of a life for the next 12 months.
I never was sure what it was that happened that night. I was outraged. I was raped, almost. In dilemma.
Today, I don’t have a long list of men whom I have dated. But my life does have an 86-year-old teacher and a 22-year-old friend rape me of my freedom to think that the world is a wonderful place.