I grew up with boys all around me. My brother’s friends were a constant in our lives, walking in and out of our house at odd hours, having their meals with us, sleeping in our beds and generally living there. I therefore grew up with very limited knowledge of public and private space, often nudging some friend to a corner of my bed to make some space for myself. But now when I see it, the group was clearly divided. The school group was one I hung out with, had crushes on, was closest to. I still am in touch with a whole bunch of them, having not met some of them for almost 2 decades now. But birthdays are remembered and calls are made and there is a general air of comfort and bonhomie around them. The other group were the locality friends of my brothers’ who I never liked. But they often pulled me into their gang, forcing me to be friends and take part in some random game of cricket and be the ball-bearer. And among them were my landlady’s grandsons who were jealous of my friendship with the others.
Living in the same building, I often crossed them at landings or while sprinting across the stairs. There were no elevators then and the stairs were a lonely place with a dim light at every floor. I remember that evening very clearly, even now. I was carrying back a packet of eggs from the grocer. Sprinting up the stairs, I was almost reaching my floor when a pair of hands grabbed me from the corner. ” Why do you like those other boys”, he asked me, “just because they speak English better than me? Why dont you speak to me like you do with them? You think they are richer than me and will give you a better life?” I was perhaps 13 or 14 then and I didnt know what this even meant in my life at that point. Riches didnt make sense. They were my friends and he wasn’t. I was about to say something when he made me touch his body and he touched mine. I was scared stiff but no sound escaped my throat. “If you tell anyone about this, I will tell them you took off your clothes for me”, he said. I nodded and stood there as he groped me. My eyes were closed and it hurt me a lot but I couldn’t cry. It was perhaps a minute or two but it seemed like an eternity. He only let go when he heard footsteps, warning me of dire consequences if I ever opened my mouth to anyone. It didnt get over that one time. I dont remember the number of times anymore but it happened over and over again.
And that changed me. My brother’s school friends who were my best friends were my biggest enemies. They still loved me as much, made me feel special but I saw them from a distance. If one man, albeit of another group, could do this to me, so could they. I didnt want a single person’s hand on me ever and if that meant I stayed away so be it. I dont think anyone except for one friend of my brother’s noticed what was wrong. He tried asking me why I was quiet and I never had an answer. He asked me if anyone said something and I never said a word. He asked me if anyone had done something and I could never ever murmur what was wrong. And then one day he took me out for lunch and held my hand forcibly when no-one was looking. I shuddered in fear, thinking that history would repeat itself. But this force was what it took for me to break down and confess. I told him everything. What happened, who did it and how many times. I made him promise he wouldn’t tell my brother or my parents. He didnt, but he warned the landlady’s grandson of dire consequences if he ever laid a finger on me again and I think, also gave him a slap or two.
And that’s all it took for the cycle of abuse to end. A stern NO and he knew I wasn’t a prey anymore. Many years later I met him with his wife and son and all I saw in his face was the fear that I would tell his family what he did to me. I didnt have to. That fear was enough. But I wished I didnt have to pay for it.
Post for CSA Awareness Month