Every night if I am not writing, I read myself to sleep. Last week, as I finished reading the second essay “My Hanif Kureishi Life” from the collection of essays penned by Amitava Kumar-Lunch with a Bigot, I was intrigued.
I was fascinated by author’s admission about his ignorance towards Homosexuality. He had a “shocking introduction to homosexuality” by a newspaper report about a tragic incident of a young boy getting sodomized by an upper-caste barbarian in an act of revenge. Later he goes on to admit of having never met anyone in his life who was gay until he emigrated to United States of America. These admissions by Amitava got me thinking-how sexuality was a revelation to me while I grew up.
I recall reading local Hindi daily newspapers that Dad would bring along with him every evening. With the hindsight I could now confess to growing up reading some very flimsy and dramatic reports that were unconducive for the malleable minds of an 11 year old. During those years, Mumbai was caught up amidst several waring gang lords and these dailies would be replete with stories of police encounters that would result into killing of some dreaded gangster. Each of these narratives had a tone and tenor that would be so monotonous and unaltered that two decades later I could still recapitulate the tenor of the report with ease.
As much accustomed I became to these stories of gangster killing, there was another kind of reportage that had proven incomprehensible to me till then. Every other day bottom half of the front page would report some incidents of rape. Often driven by inquisitiveness I would plough through the account, but it would prove unintelligible to me. Repeated scrutiny of the published reports and observing my parents perform a grim discussion convinced me of the egregious nature of these incidents. One evening, to put my curiosity to rest, I recall asking mother what did ‘rape’ mean and it had evoked a dispassionate and evasive reply from her. As I persisted with my query, she cajoled me into believing that with passing years wisdom would do justice to me and I would be more educated to discern many such worldly matters. Thus my innocuous query was left unanswered and the matter was put to rest in the fashion most Indian parents would do.
I do not recall now the exact sequence of events that led me to wisdom and when did I finally began to understand the true meaning of the deplorable act but I do recall very vividly the events that unfolded that fateful Sunday afternoon in the month of May when I had my first encounter with homo sexuality.
I was 13 that May. Scrambling up the subway stairs that led to the entrance of CST station, I rushed towards platform number 4 or 5 to board Karjat bound 12.35 PM semi-fast local. I remember wearing a half sleeve sky-blue shirt, a navy blue short that ended just above knees, a formal black colored shoes tied by round laces and a ribbed knee navy blue socks that ended just below my knee. Having worn out physically after a day that would typically be packed with multitude of activities like parades, rifle drills, rope drills, canoeing and semaphore classes, I treaded laboriously and boarded one of the compartment that had a vacant window seat. The cadet cap embellished with a tally that proudly exhibited the name of my Sea Scout group imprinted in gold ‘Sea Cadet Corp’, rested on my lap as I dozed off with my head leaning on the wall close to window. As train nudged along, I was jolted out of my siesta. Excitedly, I watched train switching tracks, a mundane mechanical activity that continues to allure me till this date, when I felt a graze of hands.
I had a company, a pleasant one it seemed. Sitting close to me was a person who must have been in his early forties with slightly wrinkled face and grey sideburns, much like my father. Adorning a congenial smile on his face and an amiable look in his eyes he convinced of his friendly presence. My flailing memory is not doing me a favor as I am trying to reproduce the conversation I had with that person whom I came to loathe by the end of those ninety minutes of my ordeal. He initiated with some friendly enquiries about my family, my hometown about which to my surprise he seemed to know quite a bit. He convinced me into believing that he knew my family and that must have been my first mistake that afternoon. During these talks, to my horror, he surrounded my palms between his and I squirmed. Disapprovingly I gently pulled back my palms and placed them on the thin iron bars securing the windows. With hindsight, I can now tell, most victims in such situations commit themselves to a glaring mistake of being benumbed, of retracting into a shell- something on which these depraved bastards thrive on. With faster receding and approaching stations, compartment was thronged by people and possibly for the first time in all those years I felt relieved with sea of faces around me. Feeling distracted I must have dozed off for few mins when I felt a brush of hands on my torso, then my thighs. Shunning his overt display of sexual depravity, he was now resorting to covert tactics and I felt helpless one more time. The acts of that degenerated sick man never felt right to me, but what should a 13 year old do when put in such situation was never taught to me. My parents gave me a learning of love but never made me aware of disgust of depravity. My teachers had apprised me of morality but not how one should respond in the face of such immoral acts.
As train chugged into my destination, I felt relieved and rushed towards the door where the breeze of air seemed infusing a new lease of life in me. I jumped out on platform feeling safe but the pervert has still not given up on me. He came out of nowhere, placed his hands on my shoulder and murmured “You like homo?”
Quite candidly, that word did not make much sense to me, but what was evident from the tone and tenor of that question was depravity and lechery that was rooted into it. I remember scooting out from the station with utmost urgency. I never had felt the urge so strong of going back to safe confines of my home.
I remember telling my Mom and my sister about a man whom I met on train and who has posed this vague question to me. I recall quoting that question verbatim to my sister who was as stunned as my Mom was unaware. Ignorance of the ‘English’ word had saved my Mom from feeling the shock and turbulence, but I know my sister must have translated it for her in Hindi. Though I was not witness to the conversation that transpired that afternoon between the two ladies, my sister conveyed me in no uncertain terms that I should be more vigilant of such sickos.
A new dimension of sexuality of the society had come face to face with me that afternoon and had made me more aware.