It was a lovely, crisp day in January. We were on this three-week long tour of the South, organized by our college. So far, we had seen Cochin, Periyar, the lovely zoo in Trivandrum, spent a day at Kodaikanal and another at Ooty and many other places in the South. We had made new friends with people who had just been ‘classmates’ before this tour. That also included boys. The boys were happy with their new ‘girlfriends’ and eager to show themselves off, whenever an opportunity came. Friendships blossomed and we started spending the days together, except while retiring to the dorms for the night.
We celebrated New Year’s eve in a common dorm in Bangalore. The boys had bribed the Professors with some whiskey and happy with that, the Professors left us to our own. We had song, games and dance sessions; a notorious group of boys mixed hard drinks in the cola offered to the girls. We had this game where someone approaches a member of the other gender and asks them an outrageous question. ‘Outrageous’ had a different meaning back then and the poor lads asked really benign ‘outrageous’ questions such as ‘Will you dance with me’, etc. It was the turn of my would-be spouse (we did not know then that we would marry sometime in the future)! He approached me and asked, “Would you marry me?” The poor guy probably did not have the guts to ask this question outside the game!
The last day of the tour, the students decided to go to see Vrindavan gardens. There was a close rapport between the boys and girls by now. It was a beautiful evening and we enjoyed seeing the carefully landscaped flower gardens. Someone suggested us to go to see the fountain display. I believe it was musical fountains but I do not remember now. As we would realize later, it was to be a horrible mistake!
As we reached the area where the fountains were, in no time at all, we found ourselves trapped in a rowdy crowd. Intentional or otherwise, there were people pressing against us, either pushing us forward with the flock or brushing hands across our bodies. For the first time in my life, I felt ‘unprotected’ in a weirdly physical sort of way. It was a nasty feeling. I pushed out with my hands and elbows, as viciously as possible. I wanted to poke some ‘mawaalis’ in their eyes or kick them where it hurt most. Unfortunately, at that age I did not know where it hurt them the most! Even if I did, I would never have tried it then! The boys in our group seemed to realize something was wrong and they tried to stick close to us but hell, we did not want them to be close either, even if they were nice, decent boys. It would create an invisible abyss between us, later!
Finally, after a torturous five minutes or so which seemed like ages, we got out of the crowd. All the girls in our class were from middle-class homes, the kind which act like nothing wrong ever happens to them, especially if it is gender-related. One of my close friends whispered to me, “Did you also feel what I felt? In that crowd?” Another girl was weeping. Perhaps she had had a ‘stronger’ dose of the abuse. I had just felt heavy pushing against me and seen lecherous faces and I had found even that offensive, so I could not imagine how she must have felt.
Some of the boys came to console the weeping girl and asked her what the matter was. Other boys (who knew or had an inkling of what was wrong) tried to politely divert these boys from asking us ‘uncomfortable’ questions. For the first time, I felt that troublesome rift between us and the boys. We were the ‘weaker’, softer sex. Even the boy standing next to me, whom I had to look down to speak, had a major advantage over me. These ‘kaku-bai’ girls would never blurt out to the boys what happened there (and I was one of them). These shareef boys would also never ask since they already knew what had happened.
The journey back was a subdued one. Once again, we had segregated into groups, mostly of only girls or only boys. The matter was never discussed but it was never forgotten. We were naïve back then and these paedophiles only struck the most vulnerable of them all - the ones who had that middle-class, ‘decent’ stamp on their faces. Now when I walk in crowded areas, I sometimes almost hope that someone would come close to tease and I could get a chance to knock him down! My rage descends on my spouse sometimes but he quickly understands and says that if God permitted, he would willingly swap places with me to become a girl and bear some of the burdens!
Posted 8th March 2007