The engagement tag story

Noon tagged me for my engagement story and I am positive that everyone knows everything there is to know about the OA and my filmy affair. The running away, the tears, the fireworks… but never one to shy away from a tag I shall do it all over again.

I was in the midst of a break up with CB (college boyfriend) and the relationship just wouldn’t end.  Each time we sort of called it quits he would just turn up the next day smiling his huge smile and I’d sigh and figure that maybe there was something left to work on.

Now the OA was my shoulder to cry on through the breakup. In fact he just missed falling into the safe friends-zone (oh come on – the one Joey warns Chandler about?!)!! He patiently listened, didn’t advise or argue. He just bided his time dating other random women and acting like he wasn’t in the least bit interested in me. Or so I thought. He now says he was waiting for me to wake up and realise that he was the man of my dreams. So full of bullshit, isn’t he?!The rest of our office however couldn’t believe we were spending so much time together and still not an item.

The thing with CB finally ended and I was rather shattered. I don’t care what people say, I believe that even if you are the one to ultimately call it quits on a relationship, you are still rather devastated. You invest so much in a relationship and then suddenly one day you realise it isn’t working. You can either cling to it like a leech or have the sense to let it go while the memories are still good. Left single and sad and alone in the city, I hung out a lot more with the OA who was busy studying for his management entrances after office hours.

I was used to colleagues teasing me about the OA but after his impassioned avowal that he would never marry someone like me because I didn’t cook, I naively believed I was off the radar. I looked up to him since he was pretty senior in the food chain at office and was basically such a good guy. I don’t know when idol worship changed to love. It just happened.

The rides to and from office I would say, were where it all began and ended. Since I was the first he generously picked up each morning I’d sit in front while the rest slowly and sleepily piled in to the backseat along the way. We even discovered our very similar taste in music on those long rides.

Some days I’d get ready earlier than usual and so walk down to his place instead of waiting for the kind man to come and get me. Now he shared a flat with three other guys and with my Victorian upbringing I didn’t want to go in there alone. I was definitely not interested in catching some guy roaming around in his undies. So I would send him an SMS telling him that I was waiting at his door. He’d rush down, socks in hand and apologise. So I began to muster up the courage to go in because I hated having him rush down and then I’d sit on the edge of a chair in the living room and primly look away while he shoved his feet into sneakers and rushed around brushing his hair. (yeah okay, laugh all you want!) I think I realised the growing closeness when instead of the usual ‘I’m waiting downstairs’ message I began to send him just this – ‘Goodmorning  :)’ to indicate that I had arrived. He later on told me in a rare moment of mush that the moment he saw the smiley in the message he’d see my face smiling up at him. He has a good 9.5 inches on my 5’3″ so even after the metaphoric looking up ended I continue to look up to him.

Truth be told my mother told me he was interested in me, long before I figured it out. I’m a little slow like that. Practical and worldly wise, she didn’t understand why a young boy who could be getting in a lot more sleep was leaving for office half an hour earlier so that I could catch my shift, and coming out of his way to pick me up and hanging around after office in case I got late to give me a lift home so that I could avoid the dirty, crowded blueline buses.

I told her she had a dirty mind and didn’t understand platonic relationships. She told me she’d lived long enough to know a man in love. I ignored her. Now I eat my words. Mother. You are always right. Well, mostly right, if not always. Throw these words in my face and I will ban you from my blog.

So anyway, mother visited me, caught the OA as he dropped me off, offered him a cup of tea and left, satisfied that even if I did end up falling in love with him, he was a decent guy. She went home and told my dad that she could see it in his eyes but that I was too blind. And of course there was nothing she could do to keep me away from him, because as far as I was concerned she was being an orthodox old lady and there was really no reason to ‘keep me away’ from him. I stubbornly (so whats new?) kept meeting him and ignoring her because she was just an old fuddy duddy, see?

And so it went on. The OA wisely waiting. Me blithely ignorant. Or was I? I am still not too sure. All I know is that I saw him almost every waking minute and it just seemed right. He took a few days off from work and that is when it all began. The frantic SMSes. Willing the phone to ring or beep. Sending messages that you know you wouldn’t send a friend but still not sending anything that could be read as too flirtatious. How many times a day will you message a friend saying – ‘What you up to?’ I mean would you really care to know what a friend, even a best friend is up to, ten times a day, every single day?!!! How about – ‘Had dinner?’ Err… who cares?

A friend who took the ride to office with us called me aside and warned me – ‘I notice the look on his face in the rear view mirror. He’s nuts about you so if you’re going to break his heart, this might be a good time to tell him you’re not interested.’ Break his heart? What did I have to do with his heart? What the hell was wrong with the world and why were they all ganging up against me. Yes, I’ve always had a persecution complex!

Finery and liquor can do a lot to push a relationship to it’s culmination (I’m a teetotaller!). An office party happened and as usual he was picking up and driving a whole bunch of us there. The party was rocking but suddenly it struck me that this man I was spending most of my day with looked really hot when he cleaned up! That he danced like a dream and made interesting conversation. And that when the music came to an end, I didn’t want to stop dancing with him. Yes, you could call me slow. Why on earth was I insisting on setting him up with my best friend when I was single and ready to mingle? And my sales pitch to my friend – he’s cute and terrific husband material! So why was I selling when I didn’t mind buying?!!

I tore myself away and went and sat in a corner to sort my head out. Was I really interested or was it just the atmosphere and the fact that about 200 other people had been throwing us together? My phone beeped and the screen lit up..’What are you doing in that corner when you should be dancing with me?’

I looked across the lawn and he was standing with a bunch of colleagues and listlessly sipping his drink. I replied…

And so we kept at it. I don’t know if anyone noticed that we were sending messages for an hour. But it made me self conscious. When you’re in love, or when you do something you shouldn’t be doing, you do end up rather self conscious. You think everyone knows what you are up to. And to my mind the whole office knew and was probably reading our messages as they floated across the lawn with the music and the conversation. Finally he sent me a last one…’Let’s get out of here..’

But we couldn’t. We had to give 3 people a lift home. All looked rather disgruntled that we were leaving just as the party was warming up. But nobody wanted to fend for themselves in the wee hours of the morning so they knocked back their drinks and joined us.

We dropped two of them home and only my flatmate and I remained. The tension in the car was thick enough to cut with a knife. I wondered what lay ahead. I didn’t want to get my hopes up and see them dashed, neither did I want to make a fool of myself. And what exactly was he planning to say to my flatmate? How were going to get out of that?

But I needn’t have worried. My husband is a simple man and even then he had a simple solution. Turning to my flatmate he said he wanted to get out of the office party because it’s hard to enjoy a party when you’re concerned about getting drunk and making a fool of yourself. That he wanted to go to a real party now… ‘Want to join us? I’m taking MM to dance with me. She works too hard.’

Flatmate who was no fool and could see the sparks flying, mumbled an excuse and left. And there I was..alone with the OA in the car. Now I’d been alone with him a thousand times before. But it was never like this. I sat there in the darkness of the parked car and knew that the next answer would make a huge difference to my life.

‘Wanna go dancing?’ he smiled gently and now that I look back I can remember the distinct lack of enthusiasm in the voice.
No, I mumbled, wondering again if I’d misunderstood what were simply friendly or maybe mildly flirtatious messages.
I was dressed to the nines and my stilettos were killing me and I knew I couldn’t have danced if I wanted to, so I told him I could barely stand.

‘Coffee then? Drive?’
Sure… I replied hesitantly. What if I were found raped and dead the next morning, huh? I am nothing if not suspicious!

And so he drove and we chatted. And at some point he asked me to marry him. I kid you not. I have no recollection of what he said or how he said it. Simply because I was rehearsing my acceptance speech in my head. And perhaps because on the other hand I was also not expecting this to be the big night. I thought he’d perhaps confess undying love. Who in this day and age proposes marriage without dating for at least a while???!!! My honorable husband obviously.

‘Huh? What?I beg your pardon?’, I jerked upright in my seat.
I’d just heard him say… ‘…. when we’re married…’
Us? Married? Did I just miss my own proposal? Obviously. So full of yourself MM, that you miss your own proposal because you have other things going on in your head…
Apparently I’d just been proposed to. And then the womanly wiles kicked in and I made him sweat. Made him say it all over again. And again. And again. ‘You mean you’re in love with me? So why can’t you say it that way? Will it kill you to say the word ‘love’?’
From the way he changed gears I had a feeling I would be killed if I didn’t stop trifling with him!
‘Well if I’m talking marriage, obviously I am in love with you, right?’…
The age old thrust and parry of mating rituals.
‘Yes, but can’t you ask me properly? What makes you think I feel the same way? Have I said I want to marry you?’
He turned and looked me in the eye with a confidence that gave me my answer.

We had coffee at a 24 hour coffee shop and just sat and grinned foolishly at each other. I was finally at peace. I knew this was what was meant to be. There were no edges. Everything felt like it fitted. I can still see us in my mind’s eye. I in my black trousers, blue silk top and he in his beige trousers and black shirt ( He gave that shirt away to the guard recently and couldn’t figure out why that upset me so!). But for the life of me I cannot remember a single word of the conversation we had.

Sometimes the most significant moments in life catch you off guard. You imagine that when you are proposed to, violins will play in the background. That you will remember the scene and the words exactly. But that’s not how it happens. All I can remember is the dark highway stretching ahead, the glow of the instrument panel in the car and the strong hand that hesitated a moment before reaching out for mine.

I swore that I’d make him go down on his knees but we went through so much hell after wards that the whole knee thing seemed so trite and pale. When a man leaves his family and everything else that matters just to be with you, solitaires, poetry, roses, champagne and romantic dinners are just what Hallmark uses to sell cards. I never did get a proper proposal. I don’t think I care for anything more.

We had a huge engagement party in my hometown. He missed the train even then and came sleeping in the luggage rack of a passenger train but that is a story for another day. The engagement ring was beautiful. A square cut diamond with pink diamonds on either side. And since nothing conventional stays with me, it broke. A train door slammed shut on my hand and the ring saved my finger from breaking. But was squashed and damaged beyond repair. I didn’t get it repaired and I don’t remember the engagement date either. It’s either the 21st or 22nd of December. I must ask him.

The “Just Married, Please Excuse” Contest

So, the very funny Yashodhara of Y On Earth Not, has a book out. I expected nothing less from her. Although how she managed three kids, a job and brought out a book, will always be a mystery to me. Titled Just Married, Please Excuse, it is pretty much autobiographical, telling the tale of Yash and Vijay’s courtship, and the early years of their marriage. While I’ve had the pleasure of learning her voice through her blog, nothing prepared me for the book. Kahani mein action hai, emotion hai, aur drama bhi hai. I’ll admit I wasn’t too excited before I picked it up, because hey, I read her blog… I know how this story ends. But it’s a whole different thing to have the gaps filled in and handed to you in the form of a book.

I read it through the night, fully knowing where it was going. And I guess that is the triumph of her writing. It keeps you engaged and amused to the very last page. I’m not going to tell you anymore – so buy the book.  What I will do though, is tell you a story of the OA and I, just after we got married. But before that, some stories from the week just before we got married. This is an entry for a contest she is running and since I love Mamagoto’s food enough to sell my kids and park myself there for a lifetime, I’m participating in the hope of winning a meal. Yes, I’m cheap like that.

Anyone who has read this blog for a while knows that the OA and I had a rather filmy love story. Dashing Hindu boy meets shy Christian girl. Pursues her until she gives in. Suddenly realises he should have been working on his parents instead of her, but it’s too late. Boy’s parents dig their heels in, boy decides to follow his heart and the girl. Boy and girl struggle to put him through post grad college and true love triumphs.

This is where this story begins. Convocation was over and as he tossed his cap into the air, I felt a surge of pride. We’d done this without anyone else. A lot of other students had significant others attending, but they also had parents. We were a lonesome twosome with no adults (I still thought of myself as not-quite-an-adult) there for us. Our wedding was a week later so his parents were at the height of their outrage and mine were busy organising the event.

The next day we had a train to catch back to my hometown. Two heavy suitcases dragged to the gate, friends hugging at every step, congratulations being shouted out (he was the first getting married straight off campus), plans being made… and we were late for the train by, oh.. about an hour already.

As the cab pulled in to the station we heard the train whistle. We had it all planned. He’d rush ahead and pull the chain to stop the train. I’d follow with the coolies and the luggage. He raced off and I started running, urging the coolies to keep up. We jumped down on to the filthy tracks, clambered on to the next platform and repeated the exercise until we reached the correct platform. As I clambered on to the last filthy platform, my hands a mess, my teeshirt filthy, the train jerked to life and phlegmatically began to pull out. I screamed for the OA, frantically looking up and down the platform. He was nowhere to be seen. And then I saw him wave in my face as his coach flashed by me. “Throw me that suitcase,” he yelled. And I made the coolie throw one in. The train chugged on, picking up speed and I made the coolie throw the next one in to another coach. By now the OA was far ahead, while the other coolie was running alongside, collecting his earnings and giving change. I kept running along, realising (to my horror) that the end of the platform was nigh. I might have made a jump for it but the heavy bag on my shoulder would weigh me down. I needed someone to pull me into the train. But the love of my life, soon to be husband, was riding a train and disappearing into the sunset – without me.

And then, DDLJ style, a hand shot out of the coach and a stranger’s voice called my name. It was not the OA’s hand – the OA’s ugly, stubby fingers cannot be mistaken and this was a beautifully made, strong brown, male hand – but I didn’t care. I grabbed hold and the hand pulled me in with little effort, just as the platform came to an end. I gasped in relief and looked up at my rescuer in surprise. Who could he be? He was the OA’s batchmate and had taken the liberty to help when he saw me in need. I thanked him profusely and headed off to find the OA and tell him what I thought of being thrown over for a couple of suitcases of books.

Of course, being the OA and I, we were as disorganised as ever and the reservations had been done too late, with the result that we had only one berth to share all the way back. The last couple of days in college had been stressful and he looked exhausted, so I generously forgave him and obligingly squeezed myself into a corner so that he could get some sleep. The hours flew by and we pulled into another station. He opened one eye and I asked him, solicitiously if he’d like a cup of tea. He nodded, turned over and went back to sleep. Telling myself that the poor man needed some TLC, I headed off to hunt for some tea. I found one chaiwala eventually and he was mobbed. I waited my turn and as he handed me my cups, he said, “Madam, isn’t that the train you were on?”

Were on??

I turned around to see the train was pulling out of the platform and leaving me behind, for the second effing time that day. Flinging down the hard-earned, steaming cups of tea, I ran along the train again, the speed just that bit too much for me to risk my life. I hoped and prayed that the OA had realised I was not on the train and was looking for me. I should have known better.

Once again, a voice called my name and the now familiar hand popped out. I grabbed without a thought and jumped on to the train. The OA’s friend had seen me get off the train and realised I’d not got back on when it started. I pledged my firstborn to him and rushed to wake the OA and tell him of how misfortune was following me. He opened an eye, heard me out and then, disappointment writ large on his face, said, “You mean you didn’t get any chai?”

At that moment I deeply regretted not having managed to get the chai. I could have flung it in his face.

And yes, dear readers, I married him inspite of that. Shoulda married the other guy. He’s married too, now, by the way. Too late.

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But picture abhi baaki hai mere dost.

The night before the wedding we were a raucous household. Family from all around the world was staying at our place and of course the OA too. He had to be, considering he had nowhere else to go. He was part of my mehendi, I was part of his cocktail party. As we called it a night, happy and exhausted, my Uncle who was down from Australia after a gazillion years, recklessly volunteered to make breakfast and his desi favourite, mango lassi for everyone. But he needed some help. The distinct lack of enthusiasm from the rest of the family didn’t deter him. Finally, the OA, drunk as a skunk and always up for anything food related, offered to help. Yes, you can always tell which ones are not related to us by blood, because they enjoy cooking. No one in my bloodline is a happy cook! Heck, that’s why we live in India and hire people to do it.

Anyhow, he woke up at the crack of dawn and began to help Uncle. I, naturally, after all that   train-chasing, was getting some much-needed beauty sleep. An old family friend came by to see us in the early hours of the morning. She was too old to attend the wedding and reception at night, and wanted to wish us in advance.

Ma settled her into the living room and said she’d just sent someone to wake me up and I’d be awake and down in a minute.

The lady nodded understandingly and said, ‘What about the groom? Where is he?’

Oh, said Ma, he’s in the kitchen.

Right, said the sweet old lady… ‘having breakfast, I suppose?’

No, said Ma. She is honest to a fault. “He’s cooking it.”

It would not be an exaggeration to say the old lady almost fell off her chair.”Look, I know his parents are against the marriage, but surely you can’t treat him this way because he has no one standing up for him!”

I still split my sides laughing over this one. And yes, of course we cleared that up.

—————-

Now while the idea was not to ill treat the OA because no one was standing up for him, we’re not the sort of family to stand on ceremony and give him son-in-law treatment either. And that is how he found himself on the railway station with my brother, at the ungodly hour of 4 am, picking up family coming in on a delayed train. Everyone was pulling their share of weight and I don’t think either we or he, even considered doing it any other way.

My grandmother and her siblings arrived and my brother introduced the OA by name to them. They weren’t particularly enthusiastic in their greeting and the OA and my brother put it down to age and exhaustion on their part. A lazy red glow spread as the sun rose and they drove home in silence until my granduncle asked my monosyllabic brother if he could take him to visit his old college, in our hometown. This is how the conversation went.

Granduncle: I studied in this city, 45 years ago. Do you think you could take me to see my old college?

Tambi: Actually Thatha, we’re pretty busy with the wedding arrangement and your college is on the outskirts of the city. We may not get the time.

Granduncle gesturing towards the OA: What about him? Can he take me?

Tambi: No, Thatha, he doesn’t know his way around the city. He’s not from here.

Granduncle, looking disappointedly at the OA: Oh I see. Is he here to attend the wedding?

Tambi (master of understatement) drawls: I sure hope so.

Yes, yes, granduncle realised his faux pas later, but this story has given us many a merry evening.

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And now finally, so that I don’t get disqualified on the technicality that I’m not married during these tales, I’ll share the honeymoon one.

When I met the OA and fell in love, I was rather in awe of him. He was older, wiser… and I thought he’d take care of me. Yeah, Sound of Music hangover. And to his credit, he mostly does. Except for when he doesn’t.

Poor as church mice, we took a bus from Delhi to Manali for our honeymoon. Hopes of a knight in shining armour were dashed to the ground rather rudely as the knight stuck his head out of the bus window and emptied his the contents of his stomach across the hill roads. I watched curiously, wondering how he could throw up more than he’d eaten in the last 6 meals put together. The only explanation was that he’d thrown up his intestines too. But I dutifully got him water, washed his face, begged someone to give us the seat up front and tried to (wo)manfully raise my shoulder as high as I could to give him a head rest. Too drained to care, he slept. Around us other honeymooning couples billed and cooed and necked. I adjusted the smelly puker into a corner and resigned myself to a rather unromantic couple of hours.

Half way through the night the bus stopped. It was eerie. The sounds of the jungle came closer. I woke up and being the nosy person I am, checked out the bus. There was no reason to stop. No roadblock, nothing – and the driver was missing. I waited for someone else to make the first move. Three old ladies, sisters on a holiday together, hobbled off the bus to get an explanation. It turned out that the driver had decided to strike because he was being made to work overtime and not being paid for it. He laid out a blanket off the edge of the road and was snoring before we could say ‘Manali.’

The old ladies realised they needed numbers and came back to recruit from the hordes of youngsters in the bus. Shy young brides looked up at their husbands in awe as the men got up and stretched and swaggered, ready to get down and take on the lone driver. One of them called out to the OA to join them. He opened half a bleary eye and chivalrously volunteered, “Let my wife handle him. You won’t need to send anyone else,” and went back to sleep.

Yes, yes, ladies and gentlemen, I still honeymooned with him. Not just that, procreated and continue to live with him. A silent, suffering woman, that’s me. The only good that came of that night, is that we still dine out on that story.

What mommyhood taught me

Methinks Kiran and Monika are growing old (albeit gracefully) and forgetful because I could swear we did one of these What Mommyhood taught me tags ages ago. As The Goddess of Love Jihad and Aneela are my witnesses, it might have been titled differently but I did (And good Lord, you readers amaze me, but Deepti found it. Here is the old one) and now I’m at a loss to find five new things. On the other hand, if no one remembers it, I can probably repeat a couple and get away with it – hah! Just kidding – okay so I’m going to try not to say the things I’ve said before, but it’s not going to be easy since I blog so much about motherhood, so here goes.

1. Mommyhood has taught me – to judge people more. Yes, I know I am inviting trouble, but it’s true. I judge people because everything matters that much more. As a carefree unmarried girl I was rather live and let live. But I have kids and suddenly I feel more invested in the environment, politics, society. My perspective has changed. And I often feel that there are so many people speaking up for mining in biodiverse forests, firecracker pollution, sex trade, saving the oceans – how come no one speaks up about kids being brought up by strangers, who rarely meet their parents and are just another slot in a busy day, kids who are encouraged to watch TV all day, kids who aren’t taught the ways of peace? They may not be anyone else’s cause, but they are mine, and I will speak up regardless of what others think of it.

2. Mommyhood has taught me – that ambition is a polysemous word. At some point they were to be editor or a published author. Now it’s more about spending time with family and living a fuller life. I recently read an article where a young mother asks if motherhood derails careers. Yes, I want to laugh. It does, and it doesn’t matter. I can’t remember the last time it mattered to me. I want to live slower and wilder and freer and I thank my kids for giving me a chance to re-examine my choices. More money won’t buy me more time with them and a better school or more toys won’t give them childhood memories of time spent with mama. Editorship and the responsibilities that come with it can wait. In fact as I told the OA some years ago – I don’t know if I want to do that anymore at all. Does this mean I don’t want to work? No – I get to do the work I like, but I also like to read, garden, travel and do more. Don’t ask me why, but this wisdom only came to me after I had the kids.

3. Mommyhood has taught me – to love my body and see it as something with its own set of functions (barring my aching knees and my thinning hair) not a mere mannequin. From being the slim girl with the enviable waist I’ve become the woman who respects each part of my body for the functions it performs. I’ve learnt that breasts are not a decor accent but there for a purpose. I learnt that the collar bones models starve for, cut into my children’s cheeks and make them squirm. I’ve learnt that children  don’t see my thinning hair. They just put a bindi on my forehead and say – Mama, you look beautiful. And I am hoping that someday I pass on to my daughter a healthy respect for my body and the food I put in to it and that she never hears me pass up a bowl of peaches and cream because “I’m on a diet”. I’ve learnt to get up and walk that last mile and get a bit of exercise instead. I will not glorify stretch marks to badges of valour status, but I will admit that they tell a story. They’re like the rings you see when you cut a tree trunk. Each ring tells you about an experience, so do the grey hairs, wrinkles and the cesarean pouch. The chipped nails tell of days of bum washing, the hair escaping the hastily put clip tell of more focus on the two kids being bundled into the car than self, the sling bag across the body instead of a fancy handbag tells of the need for two free hands.

4. Mommyhood has taught me – everything that I should have already learnt – or atleast gave me a refresher course. Antananrivo, Rabat, Godthab and Juneau – I revisited the cities around the world. I had forgotten what causes lightning and thunder. But the Brat asks and Google answers and I learn. I have learnt rules of grammar where earlier I only spoke instinctively. I have refreshed history and I have no doubt that as he grows I will revisit math and science and learn so that I can teach him too. I am grateful for this second chance at an education.

5. Mommyhood has taught me – humility. Just when I think I know it all, I get a kick in the face and I am taken down a peg or two and I learn that I knew nothing to begin with. Sometimes I take the judging too far, or I discipline too much, or I push too hard or I simply try too hard. I want to be the mother who bakes, who reads to her kids, who is impulsive and fun, who has a career (hah!), who cuddles babies to sleep, who is calm and firm, who is always there, who never loses her cool… And then I realise that I can’t be all of those. I can only be the best I can given my nature, my circumstances and my support system.

I’m not tagging anyone – because I want all of you to do this with me. Do it in the comments if you don’t have a blog. It’s a nice session of introspection. I’ve done this so many times and yet I feel that I learn something new each time. Thanks for the tag, Monika! This was fun.

CSAAM April 2011 – My story

A new school year begins and with it, a new reason for paranoia added to my 10-foot long list of fears. The Bean has begun taking the school bus and it has an entourage of three men (this can only happen in India where there is an excess of labour – why do we need two men sitting with the driver?). I don’t leave my children alone with strangers, I am unbelievably particular about my househelp and I haven’t gone back to a full time job since they were born. Often I am tired, stressed out and cranky and family bears the brunt because I fret about the children. The average parent is a concerned parent. Me? I’m plain paranoid.

You see, for those who read the old blog, you’d know, I was a victim of sexual abuse between the ages of 6 and 8. Every year I’d visit my parents during the summer and winter break (they lived in the tea estates and I lived with my grandparents). My brother and I loved the sprawling lawns spread over half a dozen acres and the huge rambling bungalows. I learned to cycle and play football in the corridors. The kitchen and pantry were almost as big as my last house. The living room was divided into three sections and again, massive. Looking back, it was just the kind of home that made it easy to prey on a child.

The desolate home, surrounded by woods, tea plantations and streams and rivulets was every child’s dream come true in terms of adventure, but there were no children for miles and at times we ran out of ideas. There was no TV and since we didn’t live there permanently, there was no school. Through the day you were likely to see deer and rabbits and at night the more dangerous animals like wild boar, wild elephants and hyenas came out of the forests. Ironically the biggest threat was not these animals but a human.  The perpetrator was an odd jobs man who must have been about 19 or 20 and whose main job when we were around, was to entertain us and ensure that we didn’t wander into the woods and get lost.

This guy would often break up the sameness of days by taking us for a picnic to the stream, a little walk, a game of football or hide and seek. Let me begin by saying that we loved him. He was young and fun. A strong guy from the plantations he would swing us in his arms, take us piggy back and show us how to do cartwheels.

I guess what I am trying to establish is that he fit the first rule of all molesters. He was familiar to us and we trusted him. Also, since he wasn’t the cook or the sweeper, but actually our playmate, we were used to him being physical with us, as in jumping on to his back for a ride or hanging on his arm while he turned into a human merry-go-round. But that summer when I returned as a six year old, everything changed.

Perhaps he was just a young man experimenting, but it happened all of a sudden one day when he pulled me into a corner. We were playing hide and seek with my brother and my brother was seeking. It didn’t stop and no one realised that the smile was slowly wearing off my face. I was soon terrified of being left alone with him and sought excuses to stick to my mother. Who perhaps thought I was being clingy because I didn’t see her enough. I don’t know. I can’t really say. The holidays over, I went back to the safety of my grandparents’ busy home and tried to put the trauma out of my mind.

But it didn’t end and each year I’d come back to the terror of having to deal with him trying his best to lure me into corners. At this point I’ll bring up the second rule – he was never violent – just wheedling. A game of hide and seek, a trek down the hill, a slice of halwa from the kitchen and a dark corner. This confuses a child and makes them wonder if the person doing this to them is a friend or a foe. It also made me wonder whether what he was doing was wrong or not. People often ask me why I didn’t tell my parents. Well, for one, that is a huge expectation from a six year old; most six year olds will barely tell you what they did in school. Though he didn’t threaten me with dire consequences, he did keep telling me that it was our little secret. At age 6 it is easy to convince a child something is actually his own idea/fault and a big secret. You know how kids love secrets.

Also, children are taught early that private parts are a matter of shame. Shame shame, put on your pants. Chee chee, don’t let anyone see that, you dirty boy. How are they to draw the lines and understand what is their own shame and what is for someone else to be ashamed about? They are confused about who exactly is doing something wrong. After all,  if my parents or ayah weren’t around, this guy would help my little brother with his trousers when he wanted to go to the bathroom. There was an ayah who was supposed to take care of me and she did her duty by me. But the rest of the day we ran around playing with this guy and no one saw anything wrong with that.

By the time I was eight my parents who were unhappy that they were missing out on our growing years, quit that job and moved to the old home town to set up a business. The odd jobs guy actually moved with them and I recall him trying his best to get his hands on me in the busy old house. But it was near impossible because we were a family of almost ten members and a full set of staff. I lived on edge until he decided to go back south because of the language problem. My parents and brother were sad to see him go, but in all my little eight year old life I had never been so glad to see the back of someone. The spectre of him haunted me for years to come and I was jumpy around any male help or even strange males. About five years ago I went back to our old home with the OA and the Brat who was just a babe in arms. I went around meeting all the old staff and someone mentioned that he had gone mad and eventually disappeared. Until then my only regret was that I didn’t get to see him once I grew into an adult and slap his face – but after that I can’t help but believe that it was divine vengeance for preying on the weak and defenseless. I can only hope that all child molesters come to a bad end.

At at some level the thought that getting molested was part of life  set itself in my head and I didn’t have it in me to put up a fight. Some years later there was an airforce mela and my parents sat down for a cup of tea after some sightseeing and told my brother and me that we could walk over the to the caravan that was part of the exhibition and look in. The caravan was within their sight and I was 12, the brother 11, so I guess it seemed like a safe enough thing to do. The brother and I excitedly took off and the airforce personnel who was on duty there, explaining features, took advantage of the fact that two children had climbed in alone. Pushing my brother to look into the dry toilet and see the features, he tried to slip a hand up my teeshirt. Amazingly, his voice stayed steady as his hand struggled with me, ready to move away incase my brother turned around. I stood there in shock, staring at his face.

I think that was the breaking point. I got out of the dark caravan, into the sunshine blinking back tears of grief and shame, old enough now to know that this was not my fault. I swore that no one else would touch me and get away with it. Again, I realise this is only because I am a fighter. I know plenty of women and girls who have broken down, the trauma affecting them in many ways and my heart bleeds for them.

But in the long run it made me a very cautious person. Thanks to having a brother only a year younger, I hung out with only his friends through my growing years. I thank God for never again giving me a reason to mistrust men because those boys guarded me with their lives. From picking me up from school to dropping me at a friend’s home, I never again stepped out or travelled alone. Never again was I left alone or to fend for myself until I was old enough to know how to.

The years went by and as I lay in bed one night, my belly swelling with the Brat, I felt a panic attack seize me. The memories of those two years came back unbidden and I suddenly wondered why I was doing this. Why I was bringing a child into this world when I couldn’t guarantee his or her well being. And so at some point, without it being a conscious decision, I decided never to go back to fulltime work.

I have always struggled to find flexible companies and good bosses, even if the money is nothing to write home about. The kids have their mother in the next room, tapping away at a keyboard and I only keep female househelp. They are not allowed into the kitchen with the male cook, never left alone with the driver for a minute and I never ever let them go down to play in our apartment play area without an adult watching over them. I could have begun to reinforce good touch bad touch but I am not sure they really get it (each one of us is the best judge of what our children are capable of understanding) and neither do I want them overthinking it each time an adult touches them. It is my job to protect them and I can’t shift that burden on to their shoulders. It leaves lots of room for misunderstanding and focuses too much on the whole private parts matter which I treat in a far more matter of fact way – again, this is our family policy and might not work for everyone.

The OA thinks I overdo it. Now the OA, God bless him, has never had any reason to complain. As I often tease him, male, elder son, very fair, Brahmin, MBA, investment banker – he’s the cream of Indian society and blessed with good luck. Me, I’ve faced more trouble and discrimination that I want to list here, for exactly the opposite reason. And I’d rather be paranoid and deny my child that extra hour of play after dark, than know that either of them has been touched inappropriately by one of the many gardeners or security guards floating around the compound.

I also struggle with sending the kids back to Nanna-G’pa’s home because they run their business out of the same compound and there are rickshaw pullers, labour, staff, engineers, service repairmen, all sorts floating around the place. They make a big fuss of the boss’ grandchildren and my kids are always being offered rickshaw rides, bike rides and so on. I come across as crazy when I deny the children those rides. Because I’ll never forget the friend who told me about the driver who often offered to babysit her while her mother worked. He’d keep her in his lap and let her pretend she was driving. All the while, his hand under her dress. From a distance, her mother would look out of the kitchen window and see her daughter safe in the driver’s lap and the driver would wave cheerfully and nod reassuringly. Or the friend who was brought home from school on a bike by a neighbour who was picking his niece up everyday too. It solved her parents’ problem of getting her a rickshaw home and they stayed blissfully unaware of him rubbing himself against her back.

We were all children and as innocent as they come. And  yet we all realised that something wrong was going on. Something we couldn’t explain, but instinctively knew was wrong. Can we protect our children at all times? No. But we can ensure that we avoid situations that are ripe for molestation. At this point I must point out that I am equally worried about the Brat and I don’t believe it is only little girls at risk.

For years my parents have struggled with the knowledge that their precious child was molested on their watch, in their home. By someone they trusted and employed. I told them years later and I think they were in denial for a long while. My father has a way of making jokes about my paranoia and my mother just clams up. I realise that is their way of dealing with it. But the information has been passed on and processed and they do the best they can to work with me.  It goes against their basic nature because they are simple, trusting folks who believe that the world is good to good people. Try telling that to a 6 year old who was molested.

Other than the business staff, Nanna-G’Pa always have young guys working in the house, basically a few odd jobs, grab a cycle and pick up the bread and milk, watch over the gate, pour a drink if there are guests. It works for them because they are just an older couple with no one at risk. But each time we’d go home I’d have palpitations. Mostly because the kids are very friendly and throw themselves  at anyone who offers to play rough and tumble with them. I’d run myself ragged keeping an eye on one child who is playing with the dogs and another who is crawling under the Grand Piano with one of the guys, pretending it is a lion’s den. And the more I try and tell the  kids not to throw themselves on bhaiya’s back or roll on the carpet with him, the more they tend to do it. So I now lay off and simply sit there with a book, watching over them.

This year Nanna took over. I left them there for the session break and Nanna didn’t sleep a single afternoon, watching over her precious Bean who took to one of the Bhaiyas and insisted on hanging on to his back and playing with him all afternoon. So Nanna sat there with a book, one eye on the child, letting her have her fun, doing her duty.

I’m sorry I lost my innocence and I am sorry my parents lost their trust in the inherent goodness of people. But on the bright side, we’re working together to protect my children and ensure that never again is a child from our home touched inappropriately. I know they need to learn good touch and bad touch and I do try to teach them, but with maids coming and going and school maids and what not, its very difficult to teach a child something while retaining that kernel of trust and innocence.  They might be over protected till age 14, but at least by then they will be clear on the concepts of strangers and good and bad touch – no scope for misunderstanding.

The thing with molestation is that the consequences spread like a ripples widening when a pebble is tossed into a pond. It has  reached a stage where I will not leave my children with a stranger and where I talk to every parent I can (even if it makes for a few awkward moments), about my own experience, urging them to trust few. A few quick precautions I take (there will be other, better researched posts on the matter coming up in the month ahead) with the kids.

- Don’t push your child to hug or kiss visitors, be they friends or family. A simple hello should suffice. Insisting that they allow strangers to touch them makes it difficult for the child to draw the line when they are uncomfortable or trust their gut and easy for a stranger to cop a feel.

- Never encourage games of hide and seek or dark room etc with children who are older and will be able to force themselves on younger ones.

- Drop in unannounced if the children are with otherwise trusted people in another part of the house/garden. It’s always best to keep an eye no matter how trusted people are.

- Safety in numbers. If I have to leave the children with a driver – I ensure that a maid or someone else goes along. This could backfire badly but it is safer than them being alone with one bad apple. If there is no maid available I take the day off from work and shuttle them around.

- Teach your child to say No, if they don’t like something being done to them, no matter how innocent. And please honour that No so that the child builds up their confidence to say it.

- Also, remember, there is no shame. When we were picking our topics for this blogathon, I figured that the best thing I could do for the cause was come right out and say, Yes, I’ve been a victim and I am fine, thank you (something I had shut away on the old blog). We’re not the ones who should be ashamed. The perpetrators are. Those who have survived and can smile, are heroes in my eyes.

EDITED TO ADD: This very good point from Itisha (who shut down her wonderful blog) – Ensure that you tell your children that “Mama and Dada and are very strong.  Nobody can do anything to them. Nobody can hurt them, no matter what you are told.” Because many children who have been molested have been told that if they tell, their parents will be harmed, killed or something will be done to their parents. And many don’t tell because they believe it.

I also hope this initiative that my post is kicking off today will widen like ripples in a pond. For the rest of this month we’re doing a series of posts on Child Sexual Abuse Awareness across our blogs. I urge you to spread the word and reach out to as many people as possible and help protect our children. Thank you.

If you would like to add to the discussion or know somebody else who would, please note that we welcome entries

b. posted as FB notes and linked to Child Sexual Abuse Awareness Month Page OR
c. posted on your own blog with the badge and linked to the main blog OR

d. linked or posted on Twitter tagged twitter.com/CSAAwareness OR

e. sent via some/all of the above methods

The list of topics is available here. Anonymous contributions are accepted and requests for anonymity will of course be honoured. I will probably be hosting at least one guest post and encourage you to do the same for non-blogging friends. 

Please remember to send in a mail with all necessary links or just your input to csa.awareness.april@gmail.com so that we can track your contribution and make sure that it is not inadvertently lost or something.


U can also support it simply by adding our the logo of the initiative in your blog’s sidebar. Grab the below code to do so
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Holly and Sally’s giveaway

So I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but here’s a nice desi fashion blog that I adore. Sally and Holly. Nothing outrageously expensive and a very fun sense of style. Well, they have a giveaway happening on their blog and I am hoping to win it. Mostly because I seriously *heart* that bow.

Anyway – since we’re on fashion, here are some recent acquisitions.

The hand bag is an early birthday gift from my mum and its a lovely green snakeskin finish thing. Very light, very roomy and very smart for work. The orange leather wallet is a Nine West and a gift too. I have some generous friends.

Wooden beads in shades of brown and copper. Goes with a lot of stuff. I think its from Debenhams. As is the one below. Blue and white beads and little butterflies and flowers in gold. Very delicate and looks nice with a plain fitted white shirt.

The one above is a lovely combination of purple and silver junk on a brown leather thong cord. Again, a little bit of bling on a day that your outfit feels blah.  I think it’s from Promod. I could be wrong. Maybe it was Accessorize.

Deej sent me the one above. Shades of green, blue and silver and nice and chunky. I wear it with a deep neck and it covers up the bare skin wonderfully!

What I love about this one is the combination of colours. The cheery red and the satin ribbon. I picked it up from Bizarre. Delhi shopaholics – do you love Bizarre or what? The shirt hanging below is also from Bizarre. The only thing that survived the childbirth is my waist – the tummy went to the dogs. So the nice thing about this shirt is that it covers up the arms and tummy and nips the waist in. I can’t believe I only own one.

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