“Through it all there was no song, and weeping
came many years later.”
– The Interrogation, Li-Young Lee
It was seven in the evening, early in January, and I was sitting in an empty park near my college. I had quarreled with my only friend and needed some time to think. A man came up to the bench where I was sitting and tried to talk. I didn’t want to, so I cut him off. But he sat on the same bench, trying to be nice and warm, and soon he had a hand on my shoulder and another dug deep on my thighs. I sprang from the bench, flung myself on the grass, and cried aloud for the first time in several years.
Surprisingly though, I wasn’t thinking of this particular man from the park when I started crying. The feral howling (I was alone in a park in an uninhabited area and I let myself cry), I remember, was the extirpation of what I saw as the sum total of my life. I felt like an object, used again and again for the pleasures of human beings. In that moment I hated all of them.
Soon this incident had pushed me into a vicious cycle. I felt scared of everybody, wouldn’t go anywhere without my aforementioned friend, and was seriously contemplating suicide. See, it had so happened that my first sexual encounter had been non-consensual. I was barely five and I had had no idea what was happening. I had swallowed only raw information. We were ‘just dancing on the terrace and it was nice that it was dark. The terrace was beautiful.’ Now this treachery would play in a loop in my head and if you so much as asked me for a coffee, I would suspect of some design in it.
Also, when still young, I was sent to a boarding school, which I had liked very much for the first few years. The Vice-Principal seemed to be a very kind man, offered sweets and chocolates, and would help me when I was ill. You couldn’t have sweets and chocolates otherwise, because we weren’t allowed to go outside. I liked it and I surmised this special treatment was being given to me because I was a good and obedient student. But one day, the Vice-Principal did the same thing as our man in the park. By then I had responsibilities that needed me to visit his office now and then, and he would hold me and do other things that I have let myself forget over the years.
There were other such people too (in my childhood and early teens), who gave me these tiny bit of incongruous information to store in my head. When I had started comprehending some of it, I would be terrified and frigid when I was molested. And the calmness with which my molesters proceeded was what I kept thinking of constantly after the episode in the park.
As I spiralled down recurring bouts of anxiety, I quarrelled more often with my friend- to the point that I had nobody who I felt comfortable with, and could trust. Soon I was visiting psychiatrists and counsellors and, obviously, neither they nor my parents had any answer to the question: “Why did this happen to me?”
At the same time I was realising how slow our public health services work. The appointment dates were months apart and it was only around the end of summer that we came around to a report on my condition. All this time, I had to survive on drugs that gave me headaches and made me drowsy.
In the meantime, between crying and calling up people hysterically asking for help and answers, I had begun working gradually. My parents had taken all pressure of academic achievement off me, which gave me time to do the kind of work that I loved to do. And in life – taking in all the experiences I had – I often found myself fighting the systemic problems that result in people going through often irreversible losses like mine: of childhood, of a childhood of happiness.
But the fear remains. From what I learnt about my condition from my doctor, my condition remains still irreversible though dormant. Slipping back is easy and sometimes when I wake up scared at night- unable to shake off a nightmare – I know just how destructive my memory can be. Therefore, I remember everything, to control the narrative that my head spins. My only very personal and subjective mantra has been to turn the questions in my head to answers. No amount of talking will help a person forget what has already happened. Then the person shouldn’t go through it at all. Perhaps, all of us should work towards that. Those who haven’t had any such experience would, so that there is no weeping. For me it is a song even when there is weeping.
If you are a survivor, parent or guardian who wants to seek help for child sexual abuse, or know someone who might, you can dial 1098 for CHILDLINE (a 24-hour national helpline) or email them at [email protected] You can also call NGO Arpan on their helpline 091-98190-86444, for counselling support.