Trigger warning: This article contains details about child sexual abuse which may be triggering to survivors.
My mother did justice to the duality of her role. She was father-like when I asked for permission to watch dramatic romantic movies and mother-like whenever I asked if I was fat.
The movies though, sooner or later, were traded off for extra hours of studying.
In class 4, I believed that our own paths too would be like those onscreen stories. Even as the overly fantastical love stories remain fictional, the other bits – which were mostly put on fast forward on DVDs and avoided on the television – were not unknown to me for too long after.
Being a single parent, my mother received my undivided love and attention as well as a strong support system from her parents. Living with my maternal grandparents, I was pampered enough to not miss having a fatherly figure in my life.
I was never too affectionate towards any of my father’s relatives but for one – his sister. I had spent multiple summer vacations at her house with her daughters – who were much elder, old enough to take us to movie halls by themselves.
My cousin’s father, a lean, sharp-featured man, stayed reserved in his room upstairs with its bare necessities and a fancy showcase that would hold glass bottles with coloured liquids.
He wasn’t too friendly with every kid in the neighbourhood, but maintained a steady sweetness around me. Cotton candy, ice creams, cold drinks – all things sugary, anything that gave us a rush – were readily supplied by him during our days there.
I never knew that there would be a price to pay.
One summer afternoon, while everyone was cribbing about the stifling North Indian humidity, my mother and I contemplated our various interfering relatives and settled on my ‘summer vacation’ house.
There, we were received with the usual hospitality: sweets and high calorie snacks. I looked around to find my uncle missing. Though I knew he liked his privacy, I bounded up the stairs to his room.
An unpleasant smell lingered in the room. As I approached closer, the smell got stronger. My uncle quickly got up from the bed and capped one of the familiar bottles from the showcase.
He asked about my studies and, then, as was the norm, he asked me to crack his knuckles.
When a minute passed, he asked me to get more comfortable. He then sat on the bed with his legs folded and lifted me and put me in his lap.
His breath at the back of my neck made me feel uneasy. The smell was much more pungent now. As I thought about it and tried to ‘adjust’, I felt his palms sliding up my feet to my calves, and then further up till he was cupping my inner thighs.
It seemed to me to be so close to what I had seen in movies – when the channel was flipped.
It was very different from all the times he had hugged me before.
Maybe I moved. Maybe I didn’t. I don’t remember. But I recall him telling me, “Ghabrao mat (don’t be sacred).”
In a mere attempt to hide what I felt, I said it – a lie.
Uncomfortable, I got up, and ran downstairs to my mother. She asked me, “Did you meet your uncle?”.
I smiled in response.
Later that night, I told my mother about the incident. Contradictory to so many stories one hears today, she didn’t tell me that it was ‘okay’. Instead, she was furious.
I don’t remember another summer vacation at my cousin’s house after that, neither have I spoken to that man again.
But have I made my peace with it? No.
Childhood scars aren’t like heartbreaks, they never completely heal.
Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty