teach your children well,
don't ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry
~ Crosby Stills Nash Young
Friday night I went to see a play at Prithvi. The acting was sort of okay. But Iexpected that. Somehow English theatre in India seems reluctant to adapt. The accents are put on, the names are firang and it all looks hammy.
Why not just adapt it to the way we are? Talk normally, use hinglish, change the names, adapt the dialogue a bit... just make it more about us, rather than some text book american/british play.
Anyway, that’s not what I wanted to write about. You see, the subject of the play interested me. It was about child abuse. A child abused at 12, confronts her abuser much later in life.
And it got me thinking, and talking to Z, who also went for the play with me. Why do most child abusers get away with it? Of course, one reason is that the victim often feels guilty. You’re confused, did I bring it on, what will everyone say... there is so much shame associated with it, that kids often pick that up and suppress it.
The other reason is when you’re about 12; you don’t even know what’s happening. You often feel like the person is showing you so much love, like you’re special and by the time your subconscious starts picking up the shame, you’re trapped by guilt.
What were my reasons?
When I was in class eight, I was terrible at math. Actually I still am. And this person, very sweet, family man with two sons, who worked under my dad, and lived five houses away from us decided to volunteer to teach me.
And this is what I remember. I remember going to his house, saying hello to his wife and then sitting down on their dining table to study. Uncle came and sat down, and opened my books. He asked aunty to make tea.
She went into the kitchen. He started to explain some math to me. And then put his hand on my thigh. I still remember I was wearing a brick coloured dress, only because I never wore it again. And I remember his hand on my thigh. I knew it was wrong. I knew this was not supposed to happen. And I just kept hoping he’d take his hand away.
His hand didn’t move, it just stayed there. His fingers spread across. I couldn’t hear anything he was saying; neither could I understand what to do. Then we heard his wife coming in to the room, and his hand moved. He laughed, took the tea ... and I moved my body so he could not reach my legs.
The rest I don’t remember. But I never went back. My mom tried everything, begged, threatened, cajoled me... but I never budged.
I wonder why I didn’t tell her. Probably the same reasons. Guilt, fear, shame. Everything I shouldn’t have felt, but did feel at 13.
Years later, we’re sitting around and chatting, and my mom suddenly asks me why I never wanted to go back there. She asks me if there was something he did or said, and I just said no. Still guilty, still ashamed.
Then couple of years back, I’m out with my folks in Delhi. And they decide to go to his house. He’s lost a son. I can’t say no. I want to go. To see this person. To see if he’ll react to me. If he’ll fall at my feet and beg forgiveness. If he’ll be able to look me in the eye.
He does neither of that. He’s just a broken, old man. And I sit quietly, say nothing. Still guilty, still ashamed.
Now I think it’s too late. Telling my parents will only make them upset. And they’ll blame themselves for being careless, for being irresponsible. But I don’t blame them and now more importantly, I don’t blame myself.
It’s gone. The only scar I probably still carry it that I’m still pathetic at math!
But if you have a daughter, pay more attention. Teach her about good touch and bad touch. And more importantly, about the fact that she’ll never be the one who needs to feel guilty or ashamed. She just needs to tell you, and you’ll set it right.