By Mad Marx
I was surprised by the pervasiveness of the #MeToo confessionals and the women who spoke about sexual assault. And then I began to hear the experiences of my male friends who had been similarly violated.
here we were, the four of us, sitting on the balcony having a smoke after the party was long over. Gone were the last dregs of beer and the pork chops. “Stairway to Heaven” had just ended and the conversation had reached that odd point in the night where it turns from recounting drunken tales to more sombre introspections on life.
“What do you mean?” Bhargav asked.
Ramesh was quiet. “Some men face this too, you know. But it’s tougher to talk about it. You know, with all the bravado?”
There was something about Ramesh’s tone that was unnerving. And the rest of us had not missed the hint of a quiver in his voice or his downcast expression.
We waited for him to continue. Finally, after a long drag of his cigarette, he spoke.
“It happened at my aunt’s house. She was a wonderful lady, always inviting friends, family, and neighbours over for parties. While she would introduce everyone to a new cuisine every time, my uncle would regale us with stories and jokes reserved for the older generation. That day, after the cursory introductions, I rushed off to my uncle’s library where I had a special corner, the one with the latest comics and magazines. And it was there that the bastard caught me.”
Nobody said anything. We all stared at him as he continued speaking.
“I must have been 11 then. It was not the first time that I had met him. He was this young 25-year-old guy who seemed like a good sport. He engaged the kids in their games and was always there for neighbours in their time of need.”
I was beginning to get a sick feeling in my stomach that I hoped would go away.
“That day, I found him loitering in the library with his new wife. They seemed to be lost in books but I could feel his eyes on me. He started fondling his wife. Embarrassed, yet not willing to leave the library, I hung around, sitting quietly with my book on the couch. Part of me found it exciting. I was just ‘discovering the world’ at that time. Soon, the wife left to join her sorority in another part of the house. He headed my way, fitting into my small couch. He took out a porn magazine, telling me I could keep it as I was grown up. I was excited to be called a grown up. Soon he started talking about the kind of stuff he does to his wife and before I knew it, I was trapped in a whirlpool of adult talk that I didn’t quite understand. His hand had suddenly made its way into my pants. I was stunned, but too paralysed to run or raise the alarm. As some people trooped in and out of the library discussing the state of the world, we sat on our couch in the corner. Never had I felt so far away from the world. The presence of other people seemed to excite him but when the last of them left, he locked the room, switched off the lights, and pulled my pants down.”
Every vacation, I would track the bastard down, follow him for a whole day to check his routine, to find out how and where I could make him pay.
There was stunned silence on the balcony. We didn’t look at each other. “Stairway To Heaven” began playing again but our friend was caught in his private hell.
“I tried to resist,” he continued, not looking at us, “but, I was trying hard to focus on those black-and-white rotating concentric circles that our science teacher used to show us. If you focus on those for too long, you go into a trance. That was my state. He was careful enough not to force too hard, but yes, he raped me.”
There was nothing anyone of us was capable of saying. Ramesh stubbed out his cigarette. So much about Ramesh suddenly made sense. Did he not stop David from taking “special sports lessons” with an instructor who promised to show him some cool gadgets? And was it not Ramesh who had intervened when someone we knew to be a little shady wanted to give us “tips for the exams, but only if you come to my house as we have to keep it a secret.”
“Let’s cut the bastard up,” I blurted out. The slight foolishness of boyhood had perhaps still not left us. Bhargav stood up silently, his six-feet rock-like frame ready for vengeance. His plump counterpart, David, barely able to speak, held back his tears.
Ramesh laughed, shaking his head.
“Well, I thought about it a lot. Every vacation when I came home from university, I would track the bastard down, follow him for a whole day to check his routine, to find out how and where I could make him pay. Hate had kept me alive after all. I had grown up hating the world. Hating the idea of being touched. I hated the sound of my sister giggling. My mother pecking my cheek. I hated my father for not barging into the library that fateful day and saving me. And there were times when I hated you guys as well, for escaping my fate.”
“Where is he now?” I asked Ramesh.
“Dead. But, I met him before he died. His wife had left him and he was just a lonely broken man, seeing life ebb away every minute, as stage-three cancer took over. Once, I made my way to his dingy room. Thin to the bone, haggard and unshaven, he recognised me. He shuddered, his eyes a far cry from the devious ones in the library. I felt a deep, black rage unlike anything I have felt before. I leaned into him and whispered in his ear ‘I’m not brave enough to take you to the police, and I’m not merciful enough to end your suffering and kill you right now. You need to suffer and I hope that this is only the beginning of what the Maker has in store for you.’”
“Kyun, sahi bola na?” he said as he smiled at all of us. We all wanted to hug Ramesh but that’s not how things happen with boys so we all made a few inappropriate jokes about setting fire to the rapist’s nether regions and eventually we went home.
Over the next two days, however, I was still troubled by Ramesh’s story and I reached out to many of my male friends, trying to find out if this was in any way their story. Their stories came, hesitant at first, but eventually they told me of elderly smiling gentlemen who would “rub them” in a crowded bus; of
teachers putting their hands into their shirts as a joke or hitting them on the bum that sometimes ended with a playful pinch; and that one “family friend” whose hands found the wrong places while offering toffees.
If I was surprised by the pervasiveness of the #MeToo confessionals, I was utterly shocked by the experiences of my male friends. Gender, I realised, has nothing to do with assault. It hits us all the same way, leaving us angry, shameful, and distrustful of love. Even as women come out with their stories, empowered by the solidarity of others like them, the men continue to remain mute.
For young boys, a misguided idea of “masculinity” also plays a part in the deafening silence. Our gendered existence still plays a lead role in the way we deal with sexual assault. Until that doesn’t change, men who are victims of assault will have to be like Ramesh: Men who cheer on for the women who are speaking out but remain silent themselves.
Featured image courtesy: Akshita Monga/Arré
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