1

How many of us, including myself? Fifty, sixty– is it even possible to count? And suicide? Thirty? Or more? What about the murders? We, who were abused, our protesting parents, siblings, our teachers! In the end, how many of us?

I went there the other day. I had to. Everything around me was becoming increasingly toxic. The walls of resistance were crumbling down one after the other. It was my last resort.  Though I knew that whatever I had lost would not come back, I still had to go. Like a drowning man clutched at a straw, I was fighting until the very end. Yes, it was my battle for survival. For as long as I could.

My father and I went to complain to an influential person– a powerful man residing in our locality. Some said that he could turn the day into night by his mere words, that he could do anything he wanted. We managed to reach the veranda of his mansion after a lot of effort. Though it was an open space, it seemed like a good place to relax. There was a touch of good aesthetic taste all over. A black granite floor. Flowerpots all around. As far as I could see of the surrounding campus, there was a well-maintained garden full of flowers and a lush green lawn. How could I appreciate such beauty even after such a disaster! “Do you have no shame!” I cursed myself.

I could not look into Baba’s eyes anymore. It was painful. His pupils turned a dirty grey. As if the world lost its colors to him. Those were perhaps the eyes of a man, who had lost all his dreams.

2

We waited for a while on the veranda. Then this all-powerful man appeared from inside the house. With a mug of coffee in his hand, he took his seat. We found him quite polite. I supposed, he had been feigning politeness for such a long time that it came naturally to him. He listened to our charges and his attention seemed genuine. We explained, who was the target of our allegation, and why. The powerful man first raised his eyebrows and then smiled a little. He looked at Baba and then at me, in a certain manner. I knew that look very well. It was like the cold touch of a poisonous snake slithering down my spine. In a mild voice, he told us, “Forget it! Just forget it! Such incidents are nothing new. They have been happening since the creation of time. It is there even in the Mahabharata! The other day, I was leafing through its pages and I noticed that ‘Puloma, the wife of Brahma’s son Bhrigu, was abducted by the son of a demon named Puloma’. The abductor and the abducted were namesakes! Isn’t that interesting?”

We did not know what to say. We kept staring at him, speechless. Perhaps we forgot what normal behavior meant! 

“There is a history behind these two sharing a name. Ha-ha-ha!” he guffawed loudly, as if the key to this mystery belonged to him, and him only.

“The original story was the following We waited for a while on the veranda. Then this all-powerful man appeared from inside the house. With a mug of coffee in his hand, he took his seat. We found him quite polite. I supposed, he had been feigning politeness for such a long time that it came naturally to him. He listened to our charges and his attention seemed genuine. We explained, who was the target of our allegation, and why. The powerful man first raised his eyebrows and then smiled a little. He looked at Baba and then at me, in a certain manner. I knew that look very well. It was like the cold touch of a poisonous snake slithering down my spine. In a mild voice, he told us, “Forget it! Just forget it! Such incidents are nothing new. They have been happening since the creation of time. It is there even in the Mahabharata! The other day, I was leafing through its pages and I noticed that ‘Puloma, the wife of Brahma’s son Bhrigu, was abducted by the son of a demon named Puloma’. The abductor and the abducted were namesakes! Isn’t that interesting?”

We did not know what to say. We kept staring at him, speechless. Perhaps we forgot what normal behavior meant! 

“There is a history behind these two sharing a name. Ha-ha-ha!” he guffawed loudly, as if the key to this mystery belonged to him, and him only.

“The original story was the following– ‘The demon Puloma at some stage wanted to marry the woman named Puloma. But Puloma’s father gave her away to Bhrigu, hoping that in return he would grant him a boon of a great fortune. The demon Puloma on the other hand never forgot the humiliation. So he abducted Bhrigu’s wife Puloma when he found her alone.  ‘The demon Puloma at some stage wanted to marry the woman named Puloma. But Puloma’s father gave her away to Bhrigu, hoping that in return he would grant him a boon of a great fortune. The demon Puloma on the other hand never forgot the humiliation. So he abducted Bhrigu’s wife Puloma when he found her alone. At that time, Puloma was pregnant with her son Chyavana. Observing such a heinous act on his mother, Chyavana came out of her womb, enraged, and scorched the demon Puloma to ashes. Though the demon was dead, this incident left a deep strain in Puloma’s character. However, despite that, Puloma’s father-in-law, Brahma, accepted her. A great river was born out of the tears that she shed during the incident. When Brahma saw that the river was following Puloma, he named the river as Bodhushora.”

The man now laid his eyes on Baba. “So, did you get it? This is nothing. It was not signed earlier, nor is it now. Just ignore it, forget it. This is not something that you should talk about to others. No one cares. No one even remembers.” 

And all these times I just kept staring at the floor. There was a procession of ants on the black granite floor. It was so insignificant that anyone could easily squash it under their feet. 

Baba was still looking up to the powerful man with some expectations.

But he was on his phone now – “Yes Boss, ok Boss. That one! Of course! All good. I will fix everything. Don’t you worry about a moment.” Another ring, and one more. This went on for a while. 

Baba waited for an appropriate interval and pleaded, “Bhai, about my problem…?”

The man gave him a look.

Baba was muttering as if talking to himself, “What should I do now! What will happen to my two daughters? I never had a son. I wanted to educate the daughters so that they could become independent. Didn’t want to marry them off so soon, you know.”

“I told you already, didn’t you listen? Of course, I will rebuke the miscreants. I will have some very strong words for them. Nevertheless, you know how it is these days. Such a problematic time we are going through. Even my threats do not work anymore. These hormonal things– even God cannot stop them from committing these acts.”

“What will happen to us now?” Baba seemed a little angry, or he probably forgot the vulnerable situation we were in. His voice sounded bold when he said, “This is the tragedy of our time. Fascism has invaded every single nook and corner of this country.”

The all-powerful man seemed a little annoyed now. Perhaps because no one spoke to him in that manner. He snapped back, “Such a bizarre time we are in! Sometimes it feels like there’s no self-respect left in people! Otherwise, who on earth goes around openly complaining about these things! Why can’t you keep quiet? Everything will be fine after a while. I am telling you repeatedly, your girl is pretty enough! Marry her off to a decent groom. What is the need of educating girls anyway! Besides, if she is really that eager, she can always study after marriage. What will you get by educating her! She will only cause distress, be it the family or elsewhere. Let me tell you a story. You are complaining about the time we are living in, right? So listen. Mind you, I don’t share these stories with just about anyone. These are not for idle chattering. However, in special situations, I choose to share these with people like you, who are politically too aware for their own good, to remind you of the situation we are in. All that the Bangali can do is forget their past. That is where all their problems lie. Whenever something significant happens, they assume that it has never happened before. Something similar happened to our family around thirty-thirty-five years ago. One of my brothers’ wife used to teach at a school, which we owned and ran. As it was our school, no one forbade her to teach there. One evening, she was returning home after finishing school. It was becoming dark. There was an orchard nearby. Someone forcefully dragged her there. In the dark, they probably didn’t realize that she belonged to our family.”

The powerful man seemed to take some kind of pleasure in providing an explicit description of the rape of his own sister-in-law in front of a father and a daughter.

He went on, “You know, we even decided to call in some arbitrators! Abba was their leader. Do you know what he did?”

“What?” Baba whispered hopelessly.

“Before the arbitrators came for the meeting, Abba went to Bhabi’s room and told, ‘Bouma, forget the whole thing. Loss of a woman’s dignity is not something to be proud of, nor should it be discussed in public. Whatever happened cannot be undone. From today, you must not go to school. Do you realize that such a thing would never have happened if you had not gone out to teach in the first place? Tomorrow morning you must leave the village with your husband and move to the city. I have arranged everything. This is my final judgment to you and no one else needs to hear it. I will now cancel the meeting.”

The powerful man kept on laughing while telling the story.

All these – his smile, his manner of talking, his body language– everything was pouring poison into my wounds. The perverts who threw acid on the helpless and sped away, those who dragged us into the woods or empty rooms in hostels whenever they had a chance, those who hurled abuse at the girls at the crossroads and the gates of schools and colleges, were by no means different from this man whom we had come to seek justice from.

3

As usual, nothing happened. Baba and I returned home, loaded with some fake promises. Both of us realized how far we were from availing any kind of justice. Ma cried for a while, blamed our luck, lamented giving birth to a girl– even in this century!

Baba broke down completely. As if he would never stand erect ever again. And I?

Just now, they laid me down and stretched my body. Someone organized my hair as I did every morning when I woke up. Just that, it was not necessary anymore. My face was tilted to the right, but they moved it back towards the sky. I looked up proudly, like a winner. The sky saluted me back. Then they fixed a disobedient arm of mine that bent to the left. An effort was going on to align my legs. The grass mat underneath was folded around my body. Even a bamboo stick had been arranged for. It would now be placed at the center of the folds. Thick nylon ropes would be used for tying me, to make sure I didn’t curl myself back. None of them understood that my days of curling in was over now. All those days I was really curling in shame, no one came to hold me up.

When I roamed like a beggar, going door to door for justice, no one came forward to raise my lowered head. And now our entire courtyard is flooded with people. Everyone wants to raise me up towards the sky. Maybe they want to give me something that they could not give before, something they hoped would ease the life of their own daughters, wives, sisters. When I was alive, no one wanted any such thing for me.

Now I realize that the only two people who felt the pain at my premature death are my parents. The sorrow has uprooted the core of their life. Every second is a void, as big as a black hole. They have fallen deep down the hole and can never climb their way back. Oh! I am not being able to bear their pain. The powerful man, who told us to keep our mouth shut, is now giving a speech of protest– bragging about the steps he desperately wished to take for the safety of women.  Simultaneously, he is cleverly trying to stop my body from being taken to the morgue. Empathy! Compassion! That is not what he has in his mind. He wants to save his neck. He wants to make sure that this scandal does not reach the media. Otherwise, he will lose his status in front of his superiors! But what should he do? No one wants to wait any longer because soon I will start rotting. The smell will be a nightmare. How can he mention this without sounding insensitive? No, he can’t. He quickly decides on a plan. He gets everyone recites the oaths.

He is busy reciting the words together with the people. These people have been kept intoxicated by powerful men in society like himself. Will he now utter the oath even with those, who are responsible in various ways for the rapes of women like me?

What words would make such an oath? I try to imagine. “Remember, these have been happening since the creation of time!” Is this what he would tell those rapes-terrorists if he gets to meet them in private?

About the Author