Read on how to enrich your life by purpose, i.e. to find depth and, a reason to get out of bed each morning, your own Ikigai.
She did not blink. She did not care that he could see her tears still seeping out profusely out of her eyes. She kept them locked with his in a threatening manner, as a fair warning.
Sneha developed late.
She was in ninth grade before her chest started to swell up. Little round mounds where there was perfect flatness. Sometimes she could count her ribs underneath the flatness. The breasts came suddenly, as she remembered. She was taken by surprise. She had studied about the male and female anatomy, the life processes lesson had taught them about male parts with candid diagrams. In theory she knew everything there was to know about her own reproductive organs and secondary sex organs, the breasts and male penis and ejaculation. She had studied all of it. But when the breasts actually arrived on her own body, she was as if struck by lightning.
She was not happy. She saw girls around her with full blown round ones clasped in a bra. She did not need a bra. They were firm and rather small and had she not tucked her school shirt into her skirt, she doubted anyone including her would have even noticed them.
She hated this new development. They bounced awkwardly when she played basket ball or ran a marathon. She was conscious that their erratic behavior was noticed by every eye that was cheering for her or just gazing. Guys slapped her back hard and made jokes about her not wearing a bra.
She did not want to wear one, besides how could she even find one. She was too embarrassed to ask her mother about these things.
She stayed in denial for a while. It was soon that she would learn other things the breasts could do to her.
She was still in school and as such was allowed to play with friends in the neighbourhood. She wasn’t allowed to travel alone after school hours by her parents.
She would always keep testing their boundaries by asking them if she could go out with her school friends in the evenings to the mall or some place cool enough for her to hang out but the answer had always been a strict, straightforward, “No.” It was always the expected response.
So when her parents agreed to let her attend her friend’s birthday party later in the evening all by herself, she was thrilled beyond all comprehension. She was guided by her sister about the local bus numbers that plied between their house and her friend’s. Her friends had assured her mother on the phone that they would come over to the bus station to receive her so she didn’t get lost. And all was set.
She wore a purple turtleneck that belonged to her college going sister which she had secretly craved for. Her sister had very generously loaned it to her with a few warnings about not spoiling it. She paired the same with her jeans. She always wore her T-shirts tucked in. It was the fashion in those days.
She left home a little early in order to not miss the bus that her sister had told her about. Her breasts were showing well under her turtleneck and for a change were not bothering her so much that day.
The bus arrived 20 minutes later than her sister had told her, it would and she boarded. It was late afternoon, so it was rather empty and she got a window seat to sit on. The buses in Delhi were not neat by any standards. There were red paan stains on the windows, the seats were torn and the entire bus smelled like a sweat pot. She had travelled in local buses before with her mother and knew too well that she needed to avoid resting her elbow on the edge of the half broken window lest she spoil her sister’s beloved turtleneck with some stain or the other.
She sat quietly and stayed alert, carefully counting the number of stops before she would reach her destination. One, two, three, four…seventh stop was her destination. She got up and quickly stood next to the exit door in the front after the fifth stop. She held on to the pole tightly as she had fallen a couple of times during her previous journeys owing to her carelessness. The bus drivers drove as if they owned the road and the lives of everyone in and outside the bus. There had been too many accidents with the Red Line Buses, so much so that the Government was compelled to change the colour of all buses to Blue. It was a general belief those days that the colour red was a bad omen and all the accidents were readily attributed to the colour of the bus. The Red Lines plied on the roads with the same rash drivers in a coat of bright blue. They were proudly named the Blue Lines.
She knew, there was no safety in colours. Her best bet was her own carefulness. The bus sharply turned the corner and she swayed into the seat of the conductor. Who held her by the waist and smiled, “Dyahn se Madam.” She was embarrassed but quickly upright herself and hoped to get off the bus in one piece. For the next five minutes she was very aware of the fact that the conductor was gazing her way and she did not like being the object of his attention. Luckily the bus pulled at the seventh stop soon after. She could see her friends Riya and Somna looking inside the bus, of course searching for her.
She got off and they all smiled at each other and hugged. The chattering began and the plans for the birthday girl Rosy were being discussed. The distance between the bus stop and Rosy’s home was short. A few turns and there her small Catholic home stood amidst big bungalows.
The area she lived in was apparently a slightly affluent one. Her parents had inherited the home from her grandparents and done sweet little to make it look worthy of its place amongst pretentiously chic mini palaces surrounding it. At best it was an eye sore.
It was all forgotten once she entered. Aroma of freshly baked cake filled up her nostrils. Rosy’s mother would often bake delicious cakes that all the friends got to salivate over during lunch hour at school. Rosy was a kind and generous girl. She would fill up her lunch with cake pieces for everyone and would never complain if she did not get to eat any of it, which was the case everytime. She knew she had a whole lot more waiting for her at home.
More friends had already arrived and a few were still on their way. The usual chit chat continued while the wait was on. Rosy’s mother had left the kids in the living room with cool drinks and fruit salad while she prepared the rest of the snacks in the kitchen.
Once everyone arrived, Aunty emerged from the kitchen holding a beautiful cake on a tray. It was a rectangular cake with another smaller rectangle on top. The icing was fresh. On top of the cake were the same words that were seen on most cakes. “Happy Birthday Dear Rosy- Love Mama and Papa.” The sides of the cake were decorated with soft blue flowers made of sugar and in between the flowers shone little white edible beads.
Everyone gathered around the cake as was customary and Rosy blew the candles out as she made a wish. “Happy Birthday to you,” everyone sang in unison.
Rosy was handed her birthday gifts and aunty cut the cake into equal pieces for everyone.
Once the cake was done with. Snacks were laid out. Sneha ate to her fill. Her mother didn’t prepare snacks like Rosy’s mother. It was good food but Rosy’s mother made different stuff. There were hand rolled spring rolls, A pasta salad, home made wafers and delicious chicken stuffed patties.
Rosy’s mother organized games like passing the parcel. Everyone played eventhough they all realized they had outgrown the game a few years ago. Rosy realized that her mother’s lack of good planning for the games would cast a shadow over her otherwise mouth-watering food preparations and took charge. She played some latest songs on her deck and everyone hit the dance floor.
Sneha danced the longest not caring for how her newly filled up chest bounced around. The party was rocking. They danced till it was dinner time. Everything everyone had stuffed their faces with earlier was digested with all the dancing and they were ready for replenishment.
A mutton stew with bread for the non-vegetarians and sweet and sour vegetable noodles for the vegetarians were laid out neatly on the dining table in buffet style.
It was almost 8.30 in the evening before parents started arriving to pick up their own. Some friends that lived close to each other called for autos and left together, others walked back home. Sneha realized it was time for her to leave else she would miss her bus. She thanked aunty and hugged Rosy, wishing her a happy birthday once again and left with Somna and Riya for the bus stop.
Her bus arrived five minutes after Riya’s and Somna’s. She could see that the office crowd was stuffed in her bus and she would need to squeeze her way through the peels of sweaty people in order to find a safe spot to stand. There were no seats available and the bus was overflowing from both openeings where there were supposed to be doors. Boys usually enjoyed hanging out near the stairs at both ends making lewd remarks and teasing girls on roads.
People inside the bus stood quietly standing their ground, not giving an inch. Everytime someone gestured to vacate their standing spot to get off at their stop, the people around him/her would miraculously expand and take up the vacant spot alongwith their own. Sneha found a spot right behind the bus driver. The metallic partition between the passengers and the driver became her support grip and she was at a safe distance from the door, enough to keep her from falling out of the bus but not too far in for her to not make it to the exit when her stop arrived.
It was dark by now. She had never been out this late all by herself anywhere before that day. She was extra alert with her bag, which had just a hundred rupees, her emergency cash over and above the exact change she had carried for the to and fro bus ticket. She was being smothered further into the corner with each passing stop. She decided to turn her back to the crowd and face the back of the bus driver, holding firmly to the metallic partition with one hand and her bag with the other.
By the third stop she was pressed against the metal and her breasts began to hurt. She could feel the nipple perk up owing to all the unwanted stimulation. She was sweating and suffocating and trying to keep alert to the number of stops.
Something soft, suspended was pressing against her bottom. She could feel it but could not turn to see what it was. Very soon she felt a paunch pressing against her back and what was soft became hard and violated the crevice of her legs at the hip. She was suddenly scared, nauseated and disgusted at what was happening to her. She wanted to scream but then she would be shamed in front of so many people. She did not know what to do. Her insides were crying and she stood in that position unable to move with the hardened penis of an old paunchy pervert between her legs grazing her where her female parts were. Fourth stop arrived and many people got off giving her some room. The penile perversion stopped perhaps because it was getting less crowded. Sneha immediately shifted her entire body in a desperate attempt to save her hips from being abused. She was now face to face with her perpetrator.
It was a middle aged man with a thick moustache wearing a white kurta pyjama with a morose expression and a big paunch. He was looking straight at her as if nothing had happened. She wanted to slap him but she could not bring herself to.
He smelled of cigarettes and paan. She could feel his breath on her face. The driver pulled in the breaks too hard at the fifth stop and the pervert was touching her with every part of his body. His face was touching her right cheek, his arms were around her as if in an embrace, his chest pressed against her little mounds and his penis was now stiff and squeezing against her zip. She pushed him away with all her might almost instinctively. She did not know what to do, who to tell. She hoped and prayed to get off. “Two more stops and I’m home.” She silently told herself.
She shifted her position again, this time she shoved her shoulder in his chest to keep him from violating her. She could still feel his penis on her waist but it was a negotiation with herself. It was better than where it was before, she convinced herself.
The old pervert was blowing her hair into her face with deep breaths and his penis would stick against her harder each time he inhaled and exhaled.
Such humiliation and her sister and mother never thought it important to guide her about it. The bus numbers, stops, duration, bus fare, they remembered it all but this. Or maybe this was just something that was happening to her. Maybe it had never happened to them because they were good people. Maybe it was happening to her because she was a bad person. She was dying of shame.
The bus stopped at the sixth stop and she knew it was time to begin moving towards the exit.
She shoved her elbow into the old man’s chest as hard as she could hoping to pierce his chest and tear through his heart to kill him, and began to advance towards the door. The crowd was unrelenting and she had to keep requesting everyone to move aside so she could make it to the gate.
“Make way people, madam has to get off,” she heard the pervert say as if he was the only gentleman onboard. This while he was again pressing his organ against her hip.
She reached the exit just in time for her stop. She pushed and pushed to desperately make her way out. On the last step of the bus as she began to descend, one foot in the air and one on the step, time stopped.
Her shameful mounds were being crushed with two big hands like clementine and the tender yet to fully develop nipple was pinched so hard that she heard herself scream in pain.
Her humiliation was now complete. She walked back home rather slowly not knowing how to collect her broken self. Something really wrong had happened to her and she had no idea why. She sat on the pavement for a few minutes and cried. There was physical pain in her breasts and another kind of pain that she had never experienced before. She was shivering of fear or was it anger, she couldn’t tell.
“Why are you so late? This is the first time I allow you some freedom thinking you will be responsible and you go ahead and misuse it. Weren’t you supposed to be on the 7.30 pm bus?” her mother scolded her.
It was regular scolding. She had heard her mother use this tone and similar words in different situations. She was used to it.
“Give me a break. I am home aren’t I? Don’t always get on my case Ma,” Sneha barked turning all her anger, humiliation and pain onto her mother. It was her fault that everything bad had happened to her. She hated her breasts. She hated that she was looking pretty that day. She even hated her friends who thought their breasts were guy magnets.
She stormed into her room, the one she shared with her sister and threw her bag on the bed.
She felt a sharp slap on her back and her head. She turned still grasping what had hit her. Her father stood in front of her. He was looking straight into her eyes, just like the old pervert in the bus. And before she could react, he slapped her across her face.
Her sister sat still not knowing what to do. “Good, this will teach her a lesson. She will learn how to speak to her mother. Give her a nice thrashing today.” Sneha heard her mother say to her father.
She wanted to tell them what had transpired but she stood there looking her father in the eyes, quietly letting the tears roll down her face.
It was not the impact of the slap. It was at best a small tap on her cheek compared to what her mother used to lay on her every once in a while. It wasn’t the scolding either.
It was the humiliation, the sense of violation of her personal space that hurt deeply. She didn’t feel safe in her own home. Her father whom she had loved and respected dearly did not respect her personal space and thought it fit to touch her inappropriately. It wasn’t the same touch as the pervert in the bus but it was trespass all the same.
As her father raised his hand to strike her again, her pain transformed into anger and need for self-preservation.
She raised her hand to meet his before it came down on her. “You will never do this ever again to me. I am a grown up now and I will not tolerate such behavior from you…. any of you!” Her eyes were red with tears and anger and her entire body was trembling, everything except her hand that gripped his wrist.
Her mother and her sister were grappling with her grip as her father stood there feeling belittled, and even a little scared at the turn of events.
She let go of his hand slowly but maintained eye contact for a few more seconds.
Mother murmured curses as she took her father away. Sister scolded her about her lack of respect for her elders and added some more curse words to those of her mothers.
She changed into her night clothes. Her nipple had swollen and was hurting, but she did not want to think about it. She applied some aloevera gel and got into bed.
When the lights were out, Sneha cried making small sniffling sounds that if her sister heard, she did not react to.
Realization of her womanhood had come in the most unexpected way. She had realized she was going to have to deal with men of the world and fight for herself, her own survival, her self esteem. She promised herself that she would protect herself.
She was a grown up and her thoughts, her body, her personal space needed to be respected. It was hers and hers alone to give.
She cried some more and then with her hands across her breasts slept.
Image source: pixabay
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