It happened to me…

I was wearing a beautiful beige & gold banarasi sari with a pink brocade blouse. (Remember that I was NOT wearing Western clothes, it is important.) I attended Lakshmi puja at my father’s restaurant on the occasion of Diwali. I got into my car & drove myself to my friend’s house. (Remember that I did NOT take public transport, it is important.) I went in & greeted everyone. (Remember that I was NOT out on the streets when it was dark, it is important) I knew all of them present for a long time, some of the boys there were like my brothers, I had known them that long. (Remember that I was NOT among strange men, it is important.)

All of us hung out like old friends should. Chatting, laughing, singing. Alcohol was a part of the party and as the evening progressed, several of them at the party started to get drunk. I was on my second drink. (Remember that I was NOT drunk, it is important.) It was beginning to get late. I left the party which was happening in the living room and went to the adjoining dining area to serve myself some dinner. One of my male (not single) friends came to make sure that I would eat well.

As I was serving myself food, he put his arm around my shoulder and said, “Please eat properly, don’t be shy to serve yourself.” I smiled in acknowledgement. Slowly the arm slipped down from my shoulder to hold me around my waist. He continued to make small talk. I stiffened up but told myself, “Well, no need to overreact, he’s a friend. We’ve known each other a long long time.” Even before I had completed that thought, his hand went up to fondle my breast. My sari palloo provided the required shield against anybody who might have looked in our direction. I froze. The smile I had, to keep up with the small talk, also froze on my face. I was incapable of moving for a few seconds, a few minutes, I don’t know. All thought drained out of my brain. I was screaming inside but I felt unable to move my limbs.

Fortunately, another friend came over to serve herself dinner. The hand moved away from my breast. I immediately returned from my shell shocked state. I put my plate down, said bye to everybody and left. I drifted in and out of a very restless sleep that night.  I didn’t speak to anybody for most of the next day, still trying to wrap my brain around what had happened to me.

I was shocked by the thoughts that came to my mind. Had I done something to attract this? Had I given out the wrong signal? Had I behaved in a way that made a man think that it was okay for him to touch me inappropriately? What if I was not single and had a boyfriend/fiancé/husband with me at the party? Would things be different then?

I was horrified by the way that I felt. Yes, I felt violated. But I also felt guilty. I, the victim in the situation, felt very very guilty. Would people believe me if I told them what had happened? The friend was well loved among everyone. As a slightly older man, everybody looked up to him. I felt very alone.

Fortunately for me, I have a few friends in my life with whom I can talk to irrespective of how I feel about myself. They knocked some sense into my head. They snapped me out of the whirlpool of misery that I found myself drowning in. Feeling empowered again by a strong dose of loving support, I decided to tell everybody present at that party about what I had gone through. Men & women alike, I told them all. I had nothing to be ashamed of. I had not asked for it. It was not my fault.

Everybody expressed shock. Everybody on their own time confronted the friend who admitted to what he had done but blamed it on the alcohol. Everybody was enraged. Everybody soon forgot about the incident. Everybody decided to continue to be friends with that man while shuffling their feet and staring at their phones every time they encountered me.

When one takes a stand for what is right, it is easy to do so against a stranger. It takes true character to take a stand against a friend or a family member. Little wonder then that a majority of sexual crimes go unreported as they are mostly done by a known person. Can a woman be expected to be brave and courageous and speak up against injustice done to her when society as a whole provides feeble support based on who has committed the crime?  I have been blessed to have a few friends and then subsequently my family in my corner. What about the women that can’t even have that? I am an educated, independent woman. Yet when a crime was committed against me, I lost my voice, I felt terrible about myself. What kind of conditioning takes place in this society that made me feel that way? The man in question is also educated, works in a multinational company. What made him think that he could do what he did, that despite being in a committed relationship a single woman is fair game? There were other women present at that party. Was their loyalty to their men’s decision so strong that they didn’t feel compelled to express solidarity with another woman?

Remember, I was in a sari, driving my own car, was indoors after dark, was sober and was among friends that I had known my entire life. And yet it happened to me. If it hasn’t already, it can happen to any one of you. Trust your instinct, it’s the strongest tool we women have and it is the weapon we use the least. Talk about it, it is the best way to heal. Even if there are few to feel your pain, still, talk about it.

While it is shameful that something like this had to happen, there is nothing to be ashamed of. I did NOT ask for it. It is NOT my fault.

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THE chase

There are many things we chase in life. Some chase money, some chase fame, some chase the perfect body, some even chase the all elusive happiness. There most certainly is one chase, however, that binds all humanity and that is the quest for the perfect “match”. The one person in the entire Universe who is responsible for our well being, whose world revolves around us, who is totally and wholly responsible for making us feel like we are not alone in this world. 

In every other chase, we run alone. But in this one, we have an entire team – parents, friends of parents, friends, parents of friends, uncles, aunts and neighbours, running alongside us, cheering for us right until we find that “soulmate” or until they perceive us to be way over the hill to find one. Every person in my life has at some point in time, pointed out the “perfect boy” (note how all we single folk are referred to as boys & girls).

Most often than not, in India, we are in the chase before we even realize that we are in it, thrust into it quite early on by the “well meaning” all and sundry in our lives. I was all of 20 when my cousin Shantavi was getting married in Bombay. She was someone who everyone had written off as over the hill, set in her ways and too headstrong for any man to take on. She even had an older unmarried sister, Veena. Being close to them both, this was one wedding that I wouldn’t miss for anything. All the aunts clucking and nodding their heads in sympathy for Veena, while expressing absolute amazement at Shantavi’s “good fortune”, topped with the sarcastic, witty and extremely hilarious reaction to the entire situation by the two sisters… this was one wedding that would be memorable for too many reasons.

As excited as I was, I went and bought myself a beautiful black and gold Kanjeevaram sari to wear to the occasion. I was very pleased with what I saw in the mirror when I draped myself in it. All the puppy fat melted away, I thought I looked like the sexiest girl ever to wear a sari. I walked into the wedding hall confidently strutting my stuff. I was very pleased to notice that people took notice of me. So many people came up to me to talk to me. Everyone was interested to know what I was studying. Many smiled with relish that I was due to complete my B.Com. in a few months. I was mighty pleased that so many people were interested to know about me. Much later my mother told me that a proposal for marriage had already come my way.

Here I was thinking that I looked charming in my first appearance in a sari. In actuality, I was announcing that I was officially in the chase and the best part… I didn’t even know it!!.