Oblivion: Boon or Bane?

Once, while meandering about the library my mother had accumulated over the years I came across an old, battered copy of a book called ‘Princess’, a troubling story of a pre-pubescent sexually abused middle-eastern princess.

This book was my first encounter with the idea of ‘sexual violence’ per se. Of course, growing up in a country like mine, I would later hear many ‘tales’ of harrowing sexual abuse and violence, but I hadn’t even tiptoed around such happenings yet. As I grew up I began to hear of such incidents more and more, to the point where my mind would objectively make me feel secure by separating such incidents and reducing their demographic to an alien, almost invisible populace. This space consisted of people who were victim to terrorist attacks, or held as hostages or who were routinely raped and sexually abused. These weren’t normal people like you and me, they were strangers, they were somehow a differentiated lot, ones who I was almost certain I would never have to meet.

My first encounter with ‘domestic violence’ was with someone who I was close to, a family I had practically resided with for many years. I had come scarily close to the idea of violence by this time through literature & daily news, but I stubbornly continued to live in the ‘this-doesn’t happen to us’ bubble. I lived in a three-story house in an upscale neighborhood in capital state-city of New Delhi. My parents had started receiving multiple complaints from the neighbors about our upstairs tenants. Apparently they were seen beating & practically torturing their minor housemaid. Upon questioning, these allegations were repeatedly denied & dismissed by them. Soon their activities went deeper underground, so much so that we wouldn’t hear even a shuffle from upstairs. Deeming it as a slight hiccup in their routine lives my parents moved on. A few months later, a terribly bruised housemaid had been found by the local authorities & sent back to her hometown, never to be seen or heard from again. Who was to blame?

A happening so close to home, literally at home had a lasting impression on me, it had singlehandedly redefined the notion of that ‘invisible demographic’ my mind had fabricated.

It wasn’t much later that year, after a night of copious drinking, my elder sister relived a bizarre tale that had given to her many years of troubled sleep & endless array of disturbing images. At age 14, she had witnessed our middle-aged neighbor hang himself from the ceiling fan in his living room. She mulled over the reasons as to why an uppity military man like himself, with two beautiful children and a homespun wife, would’ve had to have ended his life so abruptly, in such an undignified fashion. Of course, upon witnessing a death, my sister dashed to my father, who at the time revered the military man for all he had done for our country, and gave an account of the story. My father ran to the house next to ours, climbed up on the table in their living room and loosened the noose around the inanimate military man’s neck. What had happened? Multiple stories went around, with passersby often ringing our doorbell for a definitive answer.

He had sent his ‘child prodigy’ son to study engineering in Moscow. Russia had kept his son in a warm embrace for two months and spat him back with dementia and a permanent mental disorder. Two months of violent sexual and mental abuse had rendered a whizz kid permanently deranged and mentally handicapped for the rest of his life. The proud military man, devastated at his son’s lost youth hung himself. Although their family never confirmed their story to anyone, after time had run its course we found out.

We often forget, or force ourselves to forget about the occurrences around us. Living in oblivion, building barriers, and impenetrable bubbles is the easier choice. But soon, we find ourselves in the midst of the very things the existence of which we denied all along, and then it is almost imperative for us to accept that they exist. But it is upon us to carry the burden of such untold secrets or to spill them over to the world, so that some, like me, who try to shy away from the obvious, would stumble upon it and give it some thought. I have now come across a sea of tales such as these, but it is most unbecoming of me to call them ‘tales’, as they are real, as real as you and I.

“We live in a privileged and an evolved society, we’re far far away from these massy problems. I suggest you distance yourself from these stories and focus on yourself”- advice a fellow classmate gave me a few years ago. I wonder what to make of this, now that I find it’s not a lower-class-massy-problem.

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