This past week, when I read the scathing letter of complaint by the father of the SXU student who was looking at his professor’s picture in a swimsuit, I was pushed into a past I never wanted to revisit.
It was 2010. I was 15 and in Class 11. I had a private tutor for a particular subject. She was not tutoring commercially, only a handful of students who lived nearby, at the request of their parents. In my time slot, there was a boy, I’d assume the same age as me, or maybe a year older. Let’s call him Ashish Kumar.
We became friends. I say this because he insisted on buying me those Rs 11 SMS cards that would last only about a week. He was the only one I ended up texting – socially awkward as I was, I didn’t have a lot of friends) Months later, the conversation took a sudden turn from movie stars and pop songs when he texted me one morning around 10 am with the question: “Do you do fingering?”
A little bit of context here: I grew up in a strict home without access to the internet until after my Class 12 results in 2011, and didn’t have friends I’d visit outside school or at internet cafes. Additionally, not only did I grow up in a nuclear family, our family, for a myriad of ‘legitimate’ reasons, remained either completely shunned or somewhat side-lined by relatives for a large chunk of my life. As a result, I never had access to the wisdom of precocious cousins. So, when Ashish asked me if I fingered myself, I was understandably lost, having never heard the word ‘fingering’ before.
He explained that ‘fingering’ meant putting my finger in my vagina. I thought that was a rather strange question to ask, and replied that of course, I did. How else would I clean myself? There was no sarcasm on my part and he seemed to understand that as well. He clarified that he was asking if I masturbated. And again, having never heard the word before, I asked him what it meant. Frustrated, he changed the topic, and I went off about my day having put the rather pointless conversation out of my mind.
A few weeks later, Ashish stopped coming to class and our tutor informed me that he would be studying in a different time slot. I was surprised and asked why. It took a while, but I eventually figured out that my mother had insisted upon the change.
I confronted my mother. She neither denied nor accepted having done that.
However, I remembered the bitter incident and years later during my time in law school, confronted her again, accusing her of interfering too much in my life. My mother then disclosed the missing chapter which is in several ways jarringly similar to the letter of complaint in this case, and possibly a whole different kind of disturbing and perverse.
One day, while I was taking a shower, there was a call on my phone. My mother had answered it, and out spewed a barrage of insults and the most offensive curses known to the Bengali language. Confused and furious, she confronted the caller. As it turned out, it was Ashish’s father.
Apparently, Mr. Kumar, much like the father of the SXU student, was “shielding his son” from this “indecent girl”, because the only way his son could ever engage in conversation with a girl on such vulgar topics was if she enticed him and brought them up first.
My mother confessed she didn’t want to traumatise me at the time, but she spoke with the tutor and the two of them had told Mr. Kumar off in whatever way they could.
To this day, I continue to be grateful to the two women, but I shudder every time I realise that Mr. Kumar had always intended to insult and curse me directly. It was sheer coincidence and a stroke of luck that my mother answered the phone instead and handled the garbage.
As I recount the memory and reread the news that prompted this write-up, I cannot help but wonder if such holier-than-thou reactions are typical of parents to boys who act anything but holy. Conversations and debates have erupted all over social media and rightly so. I pray there justice is served, but I believe at its heart lies the issue of how boys continue to be raised even in today’s times.
Tejaswinee Roychowdhury (LL.M.) is an Advocate at the Calcutta High Court, as well as a writer, poet, and visual artist; she is on Twitter as @TejaswineeRC.