As Suraksha sits in the swing which has become her most comfortable place at her home, her eyes go to her daughter who has completed 14 and has just had her first menstrual cycle. No fan fare but just a few formalities at home to celebrate this important phase in her life. She  could feel her daughter’s discomfort during these few days. It was not easy to answer her daughter’s questions. Suraksha has this unenviable task of having to pick her grey cell bank, remember her biology classes and use her own experiences to answer her daughter’s questions. This was certainly no easy task to do, as all of this had to be done simultaneously. Suraksha rewound to her childhood and in first person.

‘This ‘period’ (no pun intended) made me travel down the memory lane to my own childhood.. Many wonderful moments and some creepy moments, even as I remember them now. The creepy moments haunt me once again, as I swing. I remember I was about 10 years then. I had made friends with this girl in my school and came to know that she was staying in a street parallel to the street we were staying in. My friend’s family was a big joint family of about 15 people, staying under the same roof. When I first went to my friend’s house, I liked it immediately. There was a lot of noise and chatter all around. This was a contrast to my own house. I had 3 siblings; 2 of my brothers were studying in the US. My sister was a few years older to me and had just finished her 12th exams. She was close to me but I wouldn’t share everything with her. As for my parents, they loved us but were really busy running around to get things done for our family.

Every time I went to my friend’s house, her father would call me inside and put his hands around me and sit next to me. He would ask me questions about my school and about my parents. I felt good that someone was so affectionate to me. He would huddle me close to him and stroke my arms, depending on which side of me he is sitting. Now thinking of all the talk on ‘good touch and bad touch or rather the touch that gives discomfort’, that children these days get to hear from their parents and school, I recall the times when I would distinctly feel uncomfortable with his touch. I did not know how to shove him away. I felt that I would lose my friendship with my friend if I reject this touch. Most importantly, I was NOT aware that this was a bad touch, or a touch that should NOT happen because it gave me discomfort.

Then slowly his touch extended to other parts of the body. He was really careful to ensure that no one would see his touch. I would move away and he would move with me. He would talk so beautifully that no one would see his movement with me or the movement of his hands on me. Should I be ashamed today when I say that sometimes I found his touch on some of my body parts nice and I liked it? 

As I swing with my eyes closed, I can even now recall and visualize the many incidents that happened. As a 10 year old, I would many times recoil at the way my friend’s father would look at me and touch me. I would move his hand away from me and within a minute it will be back. There are times when I would not go to her house for days. There are times when I would go to their house and sit in between a few of the children so that he cannot come anywhere near me. There are times when no matter how much I try, I could not evade his touch. He was ‘schemingly’ brilliant in the moves he would make, to make sure no one sees his touch.

Did I come back and tell my sister this? Did I come back and tell my parents this? Did I tell my brothers about this? NO.. You may ask why!!! I really don’t know why I did not talk to anybody about it.  Perhaps I DID NOT think that it was a bad thing that he was doing. All I knew was that I did not like it many times and as much as I could I tried to stay away or move away. As I think about it, I am not able to think of any other reason for not telling my parents or my siblings.

This went on for the next 3 years. It became really bad as days progressed. He would follow me wherever I went, in my friend’s house. I was getting uncomfortable by the day. I would come back home and not say anything or show anything on my face, to my parents or my sibling. Slowly I reduced going to her house. If I wanted to speak to my friend, it will be mostly in school. At the age of 13, I got my first menstrual cycle and that was a complete turning point in my life. After that, if I happen to go to my friend’s house one of those rare times, and her father would come near me, I will move away and make sure someone was between us. If no one was around and he would touch me, I would grip his hand, push it away and run so fast from her house as though there was fire in my feet. If he would do it surreptitiously when others were around, I would grip his hand so hard that he could not do anything further. This will also give me the time to move away and quickly return to my house. Over sometime, I stopped going to her house altogether.

I have just reached the 4th decade of my life and I am YET TO  share this with anyone else. I get angry when I think about those few years. I realised that this was one of the reasons why my body just withdraws into a shell whenever someone from the opposite gender comes near me and the next few hours is agony. I shudder to think of such a thing happening to my daughter and I have a few questions that keep whirling and swirling in my mind, every now and then..

Why me?

Did I in some way give him a feeling that he could touch me? 

Should I have shared this with anyone, maybe my parents, and pulled the mask from his face with their help? 

Would he have tried with anyone else?

Would he have done it to the other girls in his family?

Did his family ever get to know about what he did?

Did he not have any shame while putting me thru this?

‘Suraksha’ means protection, and I was not able to protect myself against this vile man? 

Today when I hear that he is perhaps living his last few days of his life,and does not have his faculties intact, I cannot but feel a trifle happy to hear his suffering. I cannot but wish he suffers some more. I cannot but wish he feels really sorry for what he did to me during my precious years of growing up (perhaps to other girls as well). The human in me though thinks of the family who is now suffering along with him; and I shun away such thoughts.

There is so much anger in me now. When I look at my daughter as I swing, I am reminded of the childhood years that I lost and my own wariness at the slightest touch I get from a man, especially when the touch is extended first by the man. Wrong isn’t it? And that too, at this age. But I guess what he did has left an indelible touch in me..  My name which I at one point in time disliked, has become my insulation today. I wear the meaning of my name around me always, and this is what makes me really watchful for myself and the many youngsters around me.

Children many times don’t share with others what happens in their lives, not because they don’t want to share; but because, they may not think it is significant to share.. or because they think they can handle it as it is a small issue and perhaps a one off incident.. or because they don’t know how to share.. or because they are apprehensive of the impact their sharing would have.. The one thing that we as parents could do is to NOT to keep a paranoid watchful eye on them BUT TO be watchful to what children say and don’t say..’

Suraksha – experiencing the meaning of her name as it is said, certainly lends this feeling of protection!!!