Category Archives: Harassment & abuse
How many things shall I grieve?
I was watching THAPPAD. I thought about the people who have hit me. In plural. I had experienced enough of it before I touched adulthood. Yet, at 23, when a man I loved hit me, I knew something was wrong.
Was it the force of his blow, right across my face so my ears rung for six minutes straight, giving me a full stop in time to register the wrongness of it? Or was it the public nature of it – a movie theatre, yes in the darkness but surrounded by hundreds of people? Trying to reconcile all these thoughts with the ringing in my head, the stinging on the side of my cheek and jaw. Or was it the desperate humiliation of it because a second before I had been kissing him? It was all of it.
Yet, almost a decade later, older, carrying the confidence of having lived through that experience, I didn’t register the wrongness of being hit when it happened again with a different man. Not even when he threw me across the room. Not even when I hit the wall, my head a mere two inches from the corner of the glass shelf I’d cleaned that morning. Not even when I slid to the floor, registering dimly that this doesn’t happen in slow motion like in the movies but in an ungraceful bounce, even with my low-fat boniness. Not even as I sat, breath knocked out of me, thinking the bones in my butt were broken and remembering it’s only one bone – the pelvis.
I didn’t. Because I was too preoccupied with him punching the wall, having to worry about how I’d carry him down three flights of stairs to a hospital if he broke something? Finding a way to get up and pull him back, push him onto the sofa, sniffing in irritation, hating that my nose runs when I’m upset, only realising I was bleeding when I saw the drops on the floor.
I still didn’t see it. There was never time. I went from caring for him to cleaning up the mess, readymade ran-into-door excuse in place, Google search for ‘self emergency procedure’, dig out emergency money stash in case it was needed for medical expenses. And then there was reassuring him, reassuring my family, explaining why we were having difficulties, begging him to let me come home because I’d been standing in the sun for 6 hours on my period and I was afraid I’d faint, crying as he began screaming about the garbage smelling the minute I walked in to the house. I don’t evem remember coming to where I live now. Only the screaming voices, demanding to know what happened, judging me for not making it work, calling me names for a failed engagement, saying I would destroy other people’s marriages, calling me jealous when I said don’t joke about bad relationships. There was no time to hear the voice in me saying, it hurts, this is wrong.
I didn’t register the wrongness. I can register how wrong it feels to be shamed for it, to be blamed for it, to be villified for it. But I am still in shock about not registering the wrong of it when it happened. Was he just that good, better than the ones before him, better even than a small child who could hold the idea of dignity despite numerous attempts to punch it out of her? Am I just getting weaker as the world convinces me that I am wrong? This is what fear looks like.
This is a very different kind of pain from sexual violence, another grief I know too well from 11 and from 22 and from 38, secondhand as I held dozens of MeToo stories.
This is also different from the wounds of speech, from mouths that have carried poison that lingers. It blurs into the body of the man that threw me across the room. It sounds like the man who violated me, then called me dark, ugly and that the only reason a guy would want me was because I looked desperate. It swells into the words of all the people screaming at me since then, telling me to be dignified, to shut up, to not be a man-hater, not be a feminist. It’s a world of screaming pain and I’m disgusted by it all. This disgust is the only thing that lets me distinguish that this is a different grief. I am not disgusted by the people who hit me. I am frightened of them.
I don’t know if rage, fear and disgust are all forms of grief but they feel like it. I can only carry one at a time. And tonight I play chariot to the one that punches, kicks, shakes and throws. All I am is blood.
Last week, I was trolled about my looks. Some men friends said they liked how I look. The troll’s attack is based on the idea that a woman’s worth is in her looks and that anyone can boost/undermine it with words. My friends, however well-intentioned, were reinforcing that idea. Strangers like salespeople have felt entitled to comment on my dark skin and suggest ‘cures’. Romantic partners have been able to establish authority over me by calling me ugly, desperate and in need of their validation.
These were possible because my body has been seeded with fields of shame, ripe for whoever wants control over me. My nose shape, my bony frame, my foot size, my rounded tummy, my skin colour – these have been snatched from being my body organs/traits and turned into free access areas for other people to rule me. I say NO. My body, my rules.
My body image & self-esteem are not based on other people’s opinions. My body is mine, the only thing that truly is. It is my home, my vehicle, my canvas. It works in a way that enables me. It is beautiful because I say so. I refuse to let shame be a guest in this body. This is how I get to walk out of my home wearing bold lipsticks, sarees & hoodies, colours deemed too bright, hair considered too stylish, dresses called too slutty or young. My femininity, my beauty, my sexuality, my identity – these are not for anyone else to judge. They are what I say they are. Body Pride because it is my right.
When you feel shame over something that you can’t control (like your body), remember it is external. It’s a festering wound someone else inflicted on you. Wash that wound of foreign bodies like other people’s words. Clean it by distancing yourself from people who would wound you (deliberately or not). Tend it to it by remembering the ways your body serves you well. Heal by honoring all that you are and have, just as they are. Cauterize your vulnerability to other people’s opinions because yours is the only one that matters.
I met somebody recently. Someone who has known me for nearly a decade, only I can’t remember them at all. All the references check out, the dates line up, the stories match. And yet, there’s a gaping hole in my memory where this person should be.
All I can find to explain this is, that when we first connected, I was sunk deep in a toxic situation. I could barely keep my head above water and also put on a cheerful front (because it always feels like the world is full of vultures waiting for a chance to pounce). I have a way of buckling down to the business of survival when this happens. And clearly this happens often enough for me to have a way, a system even and one that happens on autopilot. It involves minimising contact with other people, including what I let into my mind because everything, everything hurts so much. I still haven’t gotten over the shock, the grief of losing so many years, so much to such painful experiences.
A friend and I talked about how surviving an abusive relationship can involve a form of PTSD. Disjointed memories, feeling violated by things that happened years ago and you thought were long resolved, confusion when you know fully well you’re a very intelligent, high-functioning person — aren’t these signs of PTSD? Yes. I struggle, I still do. I probably always will.
I’ve run away. It’s too hurtful. This person’s existence is a reminder of horrific things in my past. It’s a reminder of how badly I fail to erase a monster from my narrative, how ridiculously I crash in my intention to not let it define me. Trust feels dangerous. I never want to enter a minefield again and it doesn’t matter how many times I’m told it’s a crop field, not a minefield.
I made the mistake of watching JOKER last evening. It’s a mistake because I’ve been more careful these past few months about steering clear of triggering stories. And this one came gift-wrapped with all the forms of toxicity popular media has — toxic masculinity, white male privilege, glorifying rage, escalating abuse cycles, violence. I’m so tired. I just thought it would be nice to watch a movie.
It’s time to go to sleep. I don’t know if there is anything else one can do with shell shock. For now, while I can still fall asleep, I will.
Some admit it’s a thrill to be desired by one who isn’t supposed to feel that way, to feel wanted despite knowing it’s wrong.
Cheating is rarely about the person being cheated on. The world abounds in people cheating on attractive, intelligent, popular, successful partners. “Because they make me feel bad about myself” is about the cheating person’s feelings and how they deal.
Cheating is not about love or sex. It’s not about the boredom we inevitably experience in longterm relationships. When the price for entertainment is so high but someone is willing to pay it, that’s not the need they’re seeking to fulfil.
Cheating shows poor impulse control. It has to do with unwillingness to take responsibility for one’s own actions & emotions. These are traits of people who haven’t evolved beyond rudimentary emotions. Things happen to them; they don’t create or cause anything.
We are all driven by a desire to control because it makes us feel safer in a world of uncertainty. Adults express this by anticipating the future & preparing. Control is an illusory idea. There are too many variables, too little truly possible to manage. The ones who try believe they have no choice – that the alternate (to surrender to not knowing) is harder.
A person who cheats either failed at their attempt to control or never believed they had in them to try. They feel small, weak, powerless and finally resentful about it. A person who cheats is effectively punishing the world for their bad feelings about themselves.
Cheating is about power. There is a kick in knowing one can cause hurt. It’s the instinct that makes small children stomp on ants, kick animals or break plants. It’s shallow pleasure, humiliating someone who doesn’t know they’re being insulted – akin to kids making faces behind the backs of adults. Anyone who gets off on that, has never really tasted the pleasure of owning a moment.
If you’ve ever been cheated on, remember they saw you as bigger, better and felt that they did not really deserve you. And of course they didn’t. We all deserve big lives, huge joys and the right to reach for them openly.
I met him at an event I was hosting. The growing crowds and reactions told me I was doing well. It was welcome respite from the morning’s fight, a common occurrence in the horror story I was living inside.
I was aware of him through the whole day, even as I juggled conversations and thoughts, feeling the headiness of a juggler who knows she’s good at it. He stayed in the corner of my vision, never intrusive, his questions informing the direction of my talk and my secret thrill at being understood powering me on. Then he stopped mid-question and said, “Sorry, I feel like I’m monopolizing your time.” That’s when I realised I wasn’t humming a solo.
When the event ended, I turned my back, willing myself down from the day’s high, steeling myself to return to hell. I turned again when I thought everyone had left. He hadn’t. He was moving to the exit, very deliberately not looking at me. He paused and said, “I feel like an Irish coffee. Do you feel like having Irish coffee?” That is the moment I want to pause. It contains so many layers. The climax of the day’s dance with words and looks. The culmination of things felt and not yet named. The promise of…well, just promise.
I saw him recently, our first interaction in many years. He’s married and a father. He looks happy. Still does. They all do.
It doesn’t bring me comfort or insight to think about how things are meant to be. I focus on the thought that something nice existed for one proming moment. That someone saw the possibility of attraction in my wit, my ideas and my personality rather than in what I could do for them or how I could make them look. It’s nice.
Are you wondering what happened back then? I told him, “No. I have to get back to my boyfriend.” And I went back to a man who hit me, abused me and told me it was all my fault. I didn’t succumb to temptation. I did The Right Thing. I always do because I never want to look back in regret. The thing is, I don’t know if doing the right thing and avoiding regret have anything to do with each other.
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REGRETTING DOING THE RIGHT THING I met him at an event I was hosting. The growing crowds and reactions told me I was doing well. It was welcome respite from the morning's fight, a common occurance in the horror story I was living inside. I was aware of him through the whole day, even as I juggled conversations and thoughts, feeling the headiness of a juggler who knows she's good at it. He stayed in the corner of my vision, never intrusive, his questions informing the direction of my talk and my secret thrill at being understood powering me on. Then he stopped mid-question and said, "Sorry, I feel like I'm monopolizing your time." That's when I realised I wasn't humming a solo. When the event ended, I turned my back, willing myself down from the day's high, steeling myself to return to hell. I turned again when I thought everyone had left. He hadn't. He was moving to the exit, very deliberately not looking at me. He paused and said, "I feel like an Irish coffee. Do you feel like having Irish coffee?" That is the moment I want to pause. It contains so many layers. The climax of the day's dance with words and looks. The culmination of things felt and not yet named. The promise of…well, just promise. I saw him recently, our first interaction in many years. He's married and a father. He looks happy. Still does. They all do. It doesn't bring me comfort or insight to think about how things are meant to be. I focus on the thought that something nice existed for one proming moment. That someone saw the possibility of attraction in my wit, my ideas and my personality rather than in what I could do for them or how I could make them look. It's nice. Are you wondering what happened back then? I told him, "No. I have to get back to my boyfriend." And I went back to a man who hit me, abused me and told me it was all my fault. I didn't succumb to temptation. I did The Right Thing. I always do because I never want to look back in regret. The thing is, I don't know if doing the right thing and avoiding regret have anything to do with each other. #theideasmithy #thematehunt #nostalgia #regret #choice #cheating #relationships #attraction #dating #flirting #blackandwhite
Last week India’s #MeToo / #TimesUp movement rose (again), sparked off by Mahima Kukreja’s outing of standup comic Ustav Chakrobarty sending unsolicited dickpics and badgering underage girls for nudes. It set off a chain reaction examining the complicit parties, the enablers and patterns of predators. Thread:
Since then it has spread to other performance spaces, to advertising, to media, to journalism, to publishing and more. All these alongside Bollywood’s own filth outing with Tanushree Datta’s allegations against Nana Patekar. And across the ocean, the US is grappling with the same issue over a man named Brett Kavanaugh. Sharing this video here as the only positive note of this story:
On one hand, I am so glad that these stories are finally finding their voices. I cannot even begin to comprehend the trauma of carrying these toxic secrets for so long and there are so many, so many of them. Every morning I’m waking up in fear over which man I’ve known, read, watched, applauded, appreciated, spoken to, smiled at will be outed as the next sexual predator. We are in so much pain.
It’s forcing a mirror to all of society and not just its toxic males. A few men I know have been outed at predators. Did I know? Did I suspect? Was that action that I shrugged off, actually an indication of something more sinister? Should I have laughed at that joke? Should I have warned this person? I introduced these people; what if one person took that as a trust guarantee and do I carry some responsibility if anything happened? What am I missing in the world and about the people around me, today?
So many of the stories I’m hearing have not even made it out yet because the victims fear that they are too young/unimportant/powerless and that their predators are too famous/rich/powerful. I am grappling with recognising that the victim of an assault or harassment can build an unreal sense of the perpetrator’s power while trying not to invalidate their feelings. How can you say “I believe you” and “No, that’s not true” at the same time?
Then there was the outing of someone I knew slightly and hadn’t really liked (though not because I had an encounter of this kind with him). He was outed by someone who in the past, has enabled my own abuser despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The question that hung over me was ‘Should I support someone who did not support me?’. It was a time of personal reckoning, figuring out who I wanted to be. I’d thought these aspects of my character would be set and figured out by this time in my life. Clearly, character is a lifelong process of testing. I passed. I don’t know that I feel good about it. Is feeling like I was denied justice, a better feeling to live with than guilt and vindication?
This same person, along with a lot of other people also put out a call asking to be told if they were friends with an abuser. It made me really angry at first. And then I realised, people don’t know what they’re asking for, when they ask for that door to be opened. When the sheer magnitude of this truth hits them, many recoil and their reaction is to assume they get to judge whether they should take action or not. No, I say. The minute you ask for the truth, you are asking for the victim’s trust. And the minute you bring judgement in, you are violating that trust. Complete trust in return for total lack of judgement is the deal. Here’s my thread on this matter:
Having said this, I’m realising that maybe I invite confessions and sharing from people just by talking about these issues. Over a decade ago, when I wrote this post about child abuse, it provoked a volley of reactions that I did not expect and did not know how to handle. I considered quitting blogging. A friend told me that I had stood for something and that mattered to the people who were sharing with me and that I had a responsibility towards them. I interpreted that to mean I’d have to be a space of listening (since I’m not qualified in any other way to advise, heal, police or protect). If you read the above post, please also read this as the conclusion of that. I am rethinking this now.
I asked a close friend (a survivor and an activist) for advice. This person asked me how many people who were spilling their truths onto me and expecting me to rescue them, showed up for me back in 2012? I could argue that some of them were too young, some too married (like this is an illness that renders one incapable of logical and just thought towards unmarried people), some not strong enough (as if strength is a talent some are born with and which becomes public property to exploit). My answer was…NOBODY. I have tried hard not to become cynical about people since then and I’ll admit I often slip up. I cannot forget that I live in a world that enables and applauds my abusers for the same things that they attack and condemn me for experiencing. It is so hard to feel empathy for enablers, even harder than feeling it for the perpetrators.
And finally, I am realising how easy it is going to be vomit, to dump, to offload resentment and rage. Neither of these are logical or fair-minded. They just are — powerful and unstoppable. I’m trying hard not to talk about my own experiences partly because I do not want to co-opt the narratives of the people speaking up for the first time and partly because it might become a case of Chinese whispers with people blaming my perps for things they did not do as part of the pervasive ‘Men are trash’ feeling. As justified as that feels, I know I cannot live with those feelings. I just can’t.
Mercifully a friend who’s been away from all this rescued me in a single conversation last evening by asking me to remember to retain my capacity for joy. That’s all. We each have to live with the consequences of our actions, our emotions and our words. What’s most important in the long, long run of life? I choose joy.