Monday, September 23, 2013

What can then?

The following piece is an assignment I wrote as part of the Bangalore Writers Workshop. We had to write 2 to 6 pages with the following conditions:

  1. We had to construct a scene in the room where our workshop sessions take place
  2. Have real participants of the workshop as part of the story and
  3. Talk about a cause
“How do you arrest the attention of the reader right from the beginning?”

“Do we need to?”

“I thought, it is absolutely necessary”

“Maybe. But honesty and a genuine voice can make up for an ordinary start”

“I concur. What is important is that even if the start is arresting, what follows should be equally compelling!”

It was the fourth session of the bangalore writers workshop and I had begun to love the motley group, I found myself a part of. Sarayu had sparked the interesting discussion about, how possibly, a writer can capture his reader’s attention powerfully in the beginning of his piece. We were beginning to discuss our first reading for the day – an excerpt from Color Purple. I had volunteered to occassionally click pictures during the course of our discussions. When I focused the camera on Diya, her eyes were keenly scanning the course material. In a black shirt and blue jeans, Diya looked simple and elegant but something was bothering her. I was trying to read her expression.  Sitting in-between pulp specialist Manjula and Rheea,  she clearly looked flustered.  

We had been the first few people to reach the class. Our facilitators, Bhumika and Rheea must have been catching up with the news as the television was tuned into Times Now.  Manjula was recounting how her kid was not letting her go to the class by refusing to eat. Diya had walked in when the television was beaming images of a shocked girl who was subjected to abuse by her own uncle. The girl was clearly a minor and had no clue how to tackle the nosy media. Apparently, her uncle had forced her to strip when her parents were out of town. He had fondled her on earlier occassions and the girl was too confused to resist his advances and weird behavior. Bhumika had switched off the television with a sigh. 

Colour Purple is the story of a poor, uneducated, black girl and the extract dealt with her rape and abuse at the hands of her own father. The coincidence with the television news could not be more ironical.  

“I find that not much has changed from the 1930s”, said Anindita. A big fan of Lionel Messi,  she couldn’t have put it better, much like the sharp penalty kicks by her favorite player.
“One of my friends went through something like this”

We turned in unison toward Diya. There was a deathly hush. Rheea switched off the AC and it was as if, the air in the room was getting sucked out. I focused on the calendar hanging on the wall right opposite.  The cover for september showed a little girl clutching the hands of her mother and smiling shyly toward the camera.  It could have melted anyone’s heart. 

“It began when she was eight. He would kiss her hard on the lips, squeeze her bums and press her breasts. He would lift her high into the air in mock joviality. We were good friends since childhood and poor thing, she did not know why her father was doing this.” 

“Did her mother not know anything at all?”, Gitanjali asked, all curious and wearing an incredulous expression. 

“She eventually got to know but not when Teresa was eight. Teresa finally realized that something was not right! At fifteen, if your father says he can hug you only by fondling you all over,  oh no, why am I talking all this now?”

 The door opened and Anna came in to see if any of us needed coffee or tea. As if a spell was broken, the chairs creaked. None of us ordered anything. With a “Thank you sir”, Bhumika saw him out. 

“It is okay Diya, it is always good to talk about these things”, said Rheea. 

“I am frustrated that many of us go through things like this and yet remain silent.”

“Not any more. We should not. What is the use of our freedom if we continue to remain silent!” 
There was a faint urgency to Gitanjali’s voice. 

“Every other day, some guy or the other drives his bike so close to me”

“And some guys stare and stare with no shame at all!” 

“Please don’t think all men are the same”, interjected Pradip. 

“Ofcourse, we are not saying that!”, Diya was quick to respond. 

I could not resist any longer. “Perhaps, as a society we are going through a phase of transition. We have more women entering the workforce, sometimes displacing men, we have more girls passing out of our colleges…but this incident is just not about women. It is about child sexual abuse” 

“A society that tolerates child sexual abuse is a society that can tolerate rape! We are just not punishing these animals enough”, Diya was fuming. 

“No Diya, I am not defending anyone, sorry, if you misunderstood me. We heard yesterday that four men have been given death sentence for raping Nirbhaya. Do you think, it will change the way men look at women?”

“Hardly. It is a change that has to begin at home, that has to come when growing up. It is sad, but I think death sentence will not change anything”, Rheea’s voice had a tinge of calm assurance. 

“What can then?”

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