Trigger warning: This article contains details about child sexual abuse which may be triggering to survivors.
On a summer evening in 2002, eight-year-old me waited restlessly for Moti, our street dog, to vanish from the front gate. Moti and I had a complicated companionship. With my forehead pressed against the glass window, I could see a flock of sparrows crowding an Ashoka tree. A clear sign that dusk was ready. It is tough to catch a dragonfly after twilight. The darkness tends to bring their disappearance.
The moment Moti left, I flung open the gates of my home and ran out bare feet with a glass bottle in my hand. The dirt track under my feet was still warm from the summer sunlight. I dashed towards the temple, leaving a trail of dusty clouds behind.
The temple had a tall Palash tree that was blooming with orange flowers. The dragonflies were floating and hovering over the scattered Palash flowers on the ground. Nothing surpasses the beauty of a golden dragonfly hugging the orange petals of Palash flowers.
I wanted to trap this magic.
I got on my knees and focused my attention on the iridescent tail of the dragonfly. As I moved forward, someone tapped my shoulder. I turned and saw a young man looking down at me.
The young man could speak with his eyes. His eyes told me to follow him. Despite having a limp, he traversed through the tall grass with ease. As I followed, I could see the sun setting in the background.
When we reached the broken side wall of the temple, the young man pushed me into the corner. After reprimanding me for trespassing on the property, he pulled his cane out and held it against my chest. “Hush is the rule now,” he said. I could feel his pulsating cane flash like the flames of Palash flowers on my chest. The glass bottle fell from my hand as I tried retreating into myself.
The colourful changing sky over the Palash tree became steady when the young man forced his cane into my mouth. Its constant thrust blurred my vision. To withstand the pain, I groped the leaves of the tall grass. The sharp edges of the grass gave me cut marks. I tried screaming, but my voice died in my throat.
I was left gasping for air when the young man finally dragged his cane out of my mouth. Tears cascaded down my face as I tried to get my breath back. I felt disgusted. A wave of trembling shivers followed the feeling of disgust.
That wave of shivers silences you. It silenced me.
The young man wiped his cane and whispered, “I am the Nightwatchman. I roam through these streets at night. I will be lurking around your place at night. I prefer silence over screams. If you remain silent, I will protect you. If you do not, I will gather you at night and take you far away from here, where there are no dragonflies.”
The evening air was now mute and still. My hands were too unsteady to pick up the glass bottle lying on the ground. The young man picked up the bottle from the ground and gave it back to me. A dragonfly had made its way into the bottle. I turned the bottle upside down and dumped the dragonfly out.
I walked back home feeling dizzy. Clouds of dust on the dirt track had now given space to the clear night sky. I walked beneath the stars with stains of blood on my palm. I wanted to be invisible that night.
I tried sleeping, but the distant thud of Nightwatchman’s cane kept me awake. Whenever his cane hit the ground, a ripple rose from the road and crawled up my spine. Every time he whistled, he blew petals of Palash flowers down my throat.
I was sick for a week, but I kept my lips sealed. Hush was the rule, and I played by it. I stayed amiable on the outside, but a storm of terror swathed my soul on the inside. As an eight-year-old kid discerning such a traumatic experience is impossible. So it gradually sunk in that I was sexually abused that summer.
For years, I suppressed any thought that would take me back to that summer evening. With time, I have healed, but I have often thought to myself – would that evening have gone differently had someone taught me as a child to distinguish between a good touch and a bad touch? Had someone told me as a kid that it is unacceptable for anyone to touch your genitals or for them to force you to touch theirs?
I wish someone had schooled me on a course of action to take if someone touched me inappropriately.
Moti later died when an over-speeding van ran over him. His guts fell out from his stomach due to the impact. It was ugly, sickening and disturbing, but it was right there in front of us. Everyone side-eyed dead Moti but then walked or drove right past him. The most common reaction was that it is sad, but that such stuff happens every day. Some blamed Moti for his fate.
We then left his dead body on the road. Everyone agreed that the municipality ought to dispose of the body. Moti was already gone by the time the municipality arrived, torn to pieces by moving vehicles and crows. Moti was then swiftly forgotten.
The death of Moti and the issue of child sexual abuse has a lot in common. We are failing each other by not talking about it. Hush can never be the rule. We need to scream together.
Nikhil Kumar completed his masters in Law and Development from Azim Premji University. He is a writer by night and a reader by day.