On Being Dirty

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Is it ever a small thing, molestation? I don’t think so. It may have happened fifty years ago; perhaps ten; perhaps just five. Maybe it was just yesterday. It could be an open wound or a shiny old scar. You could cover it with your clothes or hair, or you could wear it openly; whisper it to heavy dark demons at night, or scream from the rooftops It happened it happened it happened. Because it did. It happened, and that is the truth.

It may seem, at the end of the first day, like a bad dream. But do you remember your oldest nightmares in detail? I remember in bits and pieces; but I remember that moment, that morning, so clearly- every tiny, filthy detail.

I’m not filthy. I’m not. I know this. I believe this. But I also remember after the initial realisation- I’ve been touched, I’ve been molested- sank into my skin, it was as though something black and oily  and viscous had replaced my blood, emanating outwards from the breast that had been squeezed- like an auto rickshaw horn, I thought- to every vein and capillary in my body. I was terrified that it would bubble up, dark and dirty, through my pores, and then  everyone would know. I’d be bad.

I didn’t keep it a secret for long. Home has always been where I could break, ugly and peaceful. I told my mother and elder brother that very day. There’s nothing quite like the warmth of a hug when you feel as filthy as I did that day. But hugs don’t wash away memories, and no matter what smile I put on at home or how flippantly I spoke, the ten minutes of hell were permanently burned into my brain.

I’m still rather scared of strange men, particularly those around 40-60 years. I don’t remember what my eve-teaser looked like, I didn’t see his face long enough. But black hair, fat face, and smug smirk sailing away on a motorbike- I remember that well enough. Too well, and too little, but enough.

I’ve moved past it, really. I’m not always looking over my shoulder. Mom thinks I should; after all, this is Delhi. But the road of my life will not be paved with stones of fear. I look staring strangers in the eye until they look away. I take public transport as much as I can. I try to live the life I want as much as possible, because the truth is that I am terrified.

Not of men, or what they can physically do. I’m terrified that my body and my belief will be alien and dirty to me again. So I try to live as much as possible before that happens, in the hope that it will never happen.

And really, I’m one of the lucky ones.

 

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Pubic Hair Girl

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It was a nickname of mine in high school. Not one that was used to my face, of course. Maybe if it had, I’d have felt better about it.

I love my curls. It took me nearly ten years- not until I saw Kangana Ranaut on a newspaper cover and how she was lauded as ‘beautiful’, same as beautiful Aishwarya Rai- but I do.

The bastard had a nickname for you- he used to call you something.
What?
Pubic hair girl.

Don’t be his friend, people had told me. He’s really weird. Naïve little girl, you should have listened. But you always thought you could fix things, even fix people.

I got angry because he was calling you a really bad nickname.
Whoa, wait, you and the rest of the guys know about it?
Yeah. The seniors told us.
What the actual fu-

How many laughs and snide looks had I received from people who knew nothing about me but the supposed texture of my hair?

And how had it been told to my class boys; like a boys’ hostel joke, tossed out in the middle of a conversation as the seniors snickered and my classmates looked confused until someone enlightened them?

And why did they never tell me-

Because they used it, of course. How often had they talked about it, laughed about it? Called me by that name, a boys’ hostel open secret?

So… you know that nickname, right? Was it- was it used like, a lot?
Um… from what I can remember, it was used quite a bit, actually, Malu.

Did it cross their mind every time they saw me in class, every time I raised my hand to speak? Did they think: pubic hair girl wants to say something.

It’s not news to me, you know. I’ve known about it for a year, so don’t think you can use that shit against me. I don’t give a fuck.

I found out in my tenth grade, after it had been bandied about for about a year and a half among the seniors- of course, it got to the girls too, and one of my classmates, sharing a room with an older girl, told a friend of mine, who told me.

It came up a year later, after an argument between two guys, both friends of mine. They hadn’t known that I knew, that I’d known for a while, and though I rolled my eyes and scoffed at them, I burned inside.

Because, as I had always imagined, it was tossed into the argument like it was nothing.He threw it out, it wasn’t a big deal, and to him, it really wasn’t.

I should have slapped him, I realise. Should have slapped him and torn his hair and cried- but show no weakness, I thought at that time, and I laughed about it with him for the rest of high school.

I shouldn’t have laughed about it, no?
No, you really shouldn’t have.

People say, laugh at yourself, and no one can laugh at you. But I laughed at myself, laughed about the nickname, and I felt sick every time, and for a long time after. I feel sick now, every so often, when it pops into my mind. It’s not like the stupid things you say and do, which make you laugh in momentary embarrassment when you think about then later. It’s a burn of shame and anger and pain and angst that refuses to abate, and I remember how cowardly I was, not standing up to say that I didn’t like it, that it wasn’t funny. I hate myself, when I do.

It began with the boy I deluded myself into believing was misunderstood and nice underneath; with the seniors who passed it down to my classmates, my friends; with the people who didn’t come and tell me that it was happening, until one did a year later, a year too late. With everyone who thought it was okay to just throw a person’s name around, to give them cruel nicknames and laugh about them and spread them. And there I was, laughing, telling them all that it was okay to do so with every smile, every roll of my eyes.

Pubic hair girl.

I cried. I never told, but I cried.