The author, Nandishi Shriram

The author, Nandishi Shriram
Colors myriad, yet a land unexplore

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Shakti, the scent of a woman

SHAKTI

In a man dominated world, can I, a woman, find a place, free of shackles of fathers, brothers, husbands, pimps? I ask my sisterhood this. I request you to question yourself and the world around you and I want you to stop today and think. We require a world change and I will you, my sister, to weep for me, yet weep for the individual in you that got hidden somewhere in her role towards life that existed outside her and around her.

Today, I question the very morality and the weft of the societies of the world. Tell me, what gives anyone the right to target the feminine gender as an objectified piece? Do you, my mother, my female sister, promise to stand & cover me when I am being led without any clothes in a village? Do you, O Sister, promise to castrate that man who raped me every night?

I now write a story that might shake you, from your very complacent world. I beg you to rise with me and be one in that voice that says...ENOUGH.....I do hope that you will do this for me, your sister, your mother, your wife, your girlfriend. I am Shakti and I promise to destroy you if you do not protect me.

I am today in a position to undermine your every strength and make it my tool. I am a Woman, of today. My past has long left me.

I was 2 when I first got beaten up for no fault of mine.  I had peed in my underwear and Dadi had complained to my father. He thrashed me so badly that I had to be taken to emergency at 2 am in the morning. The doctors were told that I had taken a toss down the stairs. This is how life started for me.

 I was an unwanted girl child. I now write and reach out to all you women out there who allow this kind of injustice to be meted out to them. If you know of someone who has been through even a fraction of this, please reach out and help them.

My father beat me every day. I was a girl child, a second child born in a conservative Indian family. I would get harassed every single day for no fault of mine. We were rubber part traders. My father had a small workshop in Patparganj. Every day he would take his battered brown briefcase, tuck it into the scooter net pocket and fit his corpulent body on the 2 wheeler and ride off to do some trading. The whole day I was made to slog. I would be cleaning, mopping, washing the toilets. We had no help. My Dadi did not want to keep hired help. She felt that it was the girl's job to care for her family, never mind that they did not care back. By the time I would finish cleaning the flat, I would then be toiling in our tiny kitchen, cooking breakfast,  lunch & dinner for my family. I was very young when I was initiated into domestic housekeeping.

My grandmother was the karta dharta of the family, the matriarch, so to speak. A strong woman with a whiplash acerbic sharp tongue, she ruled my father in an insidious way that he never saw through. He looked up to her. My Dadi had hated my mother. My Mother had died when I was one. She had developed a low grade fever, and due to negligence and lack of care, she had passed away in a brief span of ten days. She had not been provided with ample medical care. My grandmother and father felt she did not deserve anything, they let her die. Ram was 6 at that time. He did not miss his mother as he was never allowed to get attached to her. My grandmother kept him away from her and had started brainwashing hm against his own mother. My mother died alone, in her bed, with no one beside her. Her family was informed the next day. They had hardly kept in touch in any case. They came for the last rites and went back to Kolkata. That was the last we ever saw of them.
My grandmother was happy when my mother passed on. Now she could do what she liked. She loved my brother Ram, he was her angel. She made sure he was well fed, well clothed, and that his studies went well.

My schooling was stopped when Pitaji lost his job with the insurance company. The company shut down so all the people were asked to leave. I was all of ten when this happened. My brother Ram carried on going to school. They never stopped him. After all, he had to keep the home and hearth going eventually. My father then got the idea of starting the workshop. He had a nest egg so he utilized that. With the help of a friend, he managed to start securing some small time orders. It was when he lost his job that he and Dadi decided to stop my education. According to them, I did not need to study. I needed to learn all the things that a girl needs to know when she enters her marital home. So begun my training. Everyday I had to sew a piece of cloth, or cook a specialty, or do flower arrangements. I was sent to the local beauty parlor for removing my armpit hair and my little bristly mustache. I was being prepared for my trade off. I knew that what was happening to me was no fair. There was not much I could do. I learnt all about gender discrimination later when I started my Women's Empowerment Group. I got to know about certain sects of Indian castes that believe in this strange culture. I studied it, specially the conservative ones in North India.

Even today, in mid level income North Indian families, women are treated as second class citizens. They never become the breadwinners. They are to marry and go to their husbands’ homes and it is a curse to be born a girl in a conservative family. I know that as I experienced this curse every single day when I was young. I was beaten regularly by Pitaji. I had zero idea why this was happening. I would shed tears of physical & emotional pain, but there was no one I could turn to. Pitaji took out his frustrations on me, and only me. After beating me, he would lie down on the bed, with sweat beads trickling on his fat rotund, bald head. I would then have to press his legs. My body was always bruised and hurting. While all this was going on, Dadi would quietly retire to her room, as if nothing had happened. She shared the room with Ram. He would get royal treatment from Dadi. Ram would wickedly grin & look at me when Dadi would bring back choicest mithhais, samosas, toys for Ram. Ram would happily be tucking in while I would be busy cleaning the kitchen, or mopping the floor of the house. Dadi was a control freak. She would many times kick me when I would slow down. I would say nothing. I had nothing left to say.

We lived in a 2 bedroom BHK, so not much room to avoid anyone. Pitaji would scowl every time when he would see me. He hated me, he hated feeding an extra mouth and having to work doubly hard for this. He many a times wished that I had also died with my mother.

When I turned 12, I was shown to an 'Uncle', who lived in Dubai. 'Uncle' came to visit our measly home one Saturday. I was made to dress in a shiny satin dress, with pink flowers. My toe nails were hastily painted by Dadi, and my hair combed back. I looked quite pretty. My little lemons had started sprouting. Dadi made sure that that feature of my body was accentuated.

He looked at me up and down leerily. I was being selected for his son, who was then 16. It was decided that I would be sent to my husband’s home after my ‘Gauna’, a tradition that was followed in the olden days, by conservative families. I knew what was going on. I had no choice in the matter but to acquiesce, else another beating would follow.

I started bleeding when I was 15. Dadi saw my underpants drying on the terrace, they had a funny brownish stain on them. I did not want to tell anyone that I started my chums. After lot of questioning, it came to light that I had now become a 'big girl'.

Dadi told Pitaji when he got back from office. I had tried to hide the facts and she once more squealed to my father. I was prepared. That day, I was given a thrashing so bad that I ran a fever for three days. No one came to rescue me. Dadi and Ram watched as I was thrown on the bed and beaten with a leather belt. I cried, shrieked, but my screams fell on deaf ears. My bleeding became worse. I had to stuff 5 sanitary napkins in my underwear, lest it got soaked through. No one bothered about me.

Plans were now being made to shunt me off to my marital home. My bridal gear was hurriedly bought, one cheap sari from Om Prakash in Chandni Chowk, fake gold sets, one pair of sandals, that was all I was to take, apart from the bare necessities. With me also went a photograph of my dead mother. No dowry was being given for me. My father could not afford it and he wanted to wash his hands off me. What he was getting in return was an agreement that I would be now no longer his daughter, that my new family could do what they wanted with me, and a hefty sum of Rs. 2 lakh.  My father was great at negotiating, trading. ‘Uncle’ agreed to the sum. He had plans too. I had no idea. All I knew was that I was being traded in as cattle.
With very little ceremony, I was banished from my maternal home at a raw tender age of 16. No one shed a tear for me. I was very numb. I had been beaten again on the day of my wedding. My periods had started at the wrong time, my wedding day. A bride is supposed to be treated with tender loving care, and here I was, being bashed up by my own father. I prayed to God with all my strength. I asked him to show me the way.

I left my father’s home silently. The groom came in a car decorated with marigold flowers. We were taken to a small motel in Karol Bagh, where we would stay that night. The room had a strange, musty smell. It was 7 pm. My husband opened a cheap bottle of whiskey, and started downing it. I quietly watched him. I was still in my wedding sari. As the wedding night approached, I started shivering with fear. The groom looked way too hefty for me. He was a Peshawari Pathaan and I, a slight girl with hardly any flesh for him to cling on to. I did not know what lay in store for me.

My wedding night was not one to remember. I was forced to do all kinds of things which bordered on sodomy. My husband tore off my sari and heaved himself onto me, breathing rapidly. His body, with copious amounts of flesh on it, was massive and my frame, tiny. He literally forced himself into me. I shrieked in pain. I had been beaten but this pain was like my insides were being ripped apart. He dragged me to the toilet after he was done with me and ordered me to bathe so he could force himself on me again. I bathed. Pools of blood were forming in the chipped lacquer tub, big clot-like bodies were leaving my body. I felt very faint and barely managed to wash myself when he lumbered into the toilet and dragged me out and forced himself into me once more. I was left bleeding for hours.

We left for Dubai the following day. I was bundled in the economy seat while 'Uncle' and my husband sat in business class. I looked out at my land for the last time in a few years to come. My tears had totally stopped. I was a child woman, who had been sold.

There was no one to welcome me in my new home. We entered and I was shown the kitchen by 'Aunty'. I had barely any time to wash up when 'Aunty' dragged me to cook the day's meal for the hungry men. My eyes were heavy with sleep but no one seemed to have any mercy on me. I was a glorified servant, a whore, a slave.

My husband would ravage me every single night. I would sometimes bleed for days after he was done performing all kinds of perverse sexual acts with me.

Many nights he would go out & get drunk with his buddies. Sometimes he would come back with them, and would force me to fornicate with each one, one by one. I had no choice. There was no one I could turn to. My family had cut off ties with me. ‘Uncle’ would not bother about me and neither would his mistress, who I called 'Aunty'. They were too immersed in each other.

A year later, my husband left to go the US of A to study. I was alone, with just ‘Uncle’ and his mistress  'Aunty' for company. I was sent everyday to the market to buy fruits, vegetables for the house. I would come back and frequently find that I was locked out of the house. I would sit on the steps, nibbling on the end of a carrot, waiting for 'Aunty' to step out to go for a walk, and then I would scuttle in. Meals were usually eaten alone, in my little room. I was made to stay in the store room, I was relocated shortly after my husband left. To do my daily ablutions, I would have to go out to the outhouse bathroom meant for servants and labor class. The bathroom door barely could shut, many a times I would see 'Uncle' leering at me. He would quietly just stand there and look. I had no dignity left.

I started reading. 'Aunty' was a teacher in a small time school. I would many a times quietly borrow a book from her bookshelf, and would spend hours learning the English language and its basics. I had a friend. The little servant boy, Ali. Ali would look after me when I would get fever. He would quietly make me a broth from the left over meat bones, and would tenderly give me cold compresses. Many times when my tears would soak my pillow, he would give me the end of his shirt to wipe my face. These are the kindnesses I could never forget. Ali became the brother that Ram could never have been. We would talk late into the night. I told him how I had come to be here. Ali was a kind soul. He gave me his home address where his folks stayed, in case I ever lost touch with him. This chit of paper was kept safely with my passport.

Ali was hired by ‘Uncle’ to clean the house and do all the menial jobs.  The meals were cooked by Aunty and I. She would make deer kebabs, haleem, gosht. I would sometimes get a small portion of these delicacies. ‘Aunty’ would throw in some dry, stale afghani rotis in my steel plate. I would hungrily lick my plate dry. I needed every bit of my strength for the days to come.

 I had now turned 18. I was turning out to be quite attractive. I had honey like molten skin, I was skinny, 5’3”. I would always wear churidaar kameez and would keep my head covered with a dupatta. I kept my modesty intact.

‘Uncle’ now decided it was time to use the trade off. I was sold to a rich Arab, for a hefty sum of Rs. 25 lakhs. This would cover the cost of my husband’s education. I was once again bartered, for no fault of mine. I was paraded in front of the Arab in  ‘Uncle’s’ bedroom. The Arab took an instant liking to me. I was packed off in a hurry, that very day. I said a teary goodbye to my little friend Ali. I left my marital home with just a bagful of my belongings, the ones I had brought from India. I was not allowed to take anything else. Aunty had bathed me that day, combing my long matted hair out and sprinkling me with some strange incense like insidious scent that made me retch. Aunty made sure that I looked presentable enough for the Arab. When I was leaving, no one came out to say bye. I was bundled into the car by the Arab and taken to a far away district. I had no idea about where we were going. I tried to ask the Arab, but he kept his glassy eyes on the road.

The Arab kept me in his outhouse, secluded from the eyes of the world. Every day he would come back from his office, bathe, be fed dinner by his wife, Nasma and then he would come to me. He would do all kinds of things to me. But he was not a mean man. He would sometimes get me gifts, churidaar kameezes, lingerie, night dresses, make up. I had a fascination for aromas, so he would get me attar of roses, sandal. These would be poured into beautiful handcrafted perfume glass decanters.
I carried on with my studies. I requested the Arab to get me books in English. He was kind enough to do that. I could now read, and was slowly trying to learn how to write. A plan started forming in my mind. I started saving up the money that he would sometimes give me. The money would be locked away in my steel box. The box had a key. This had my wedding jewelry, my passport and a few letters that I had written to my family but never posted. I now had a nest egg of Dirham 2,500, enough to earn me a passage back to my country, and more. I was nearly 21..

I was now waiting for an opportunity to escape. It was not long before the opportunity presented itself. The Arab was travelling overseas on work. He traded in dry fruits. I knew he was going only for two days, yet there was no way I could let the opportunity pass me by. I heard him discussing his travel plans on the phone when he came on his nightly visit to the outhouse. I did not say anything. He mentioned 9 am, on the Saturday that followed. I understood a little Arabic. I had only 3 days to make my plans. We were at Wednesday. I had to somehow hide in the car when he was leaving. I knew that formalities at Dubai airport were not such a problem. Visas were usually granted on the spot, provided one had the requisite paperwork.

That night, I searched in my little steel box for the invitation letter. The letter was yellowing at the edges. It had my home address and my father’s name. In my spare time the next day, I  managed to gain access to the Arab's typewriter. His wife Nasma was not home. She usually stepped out every morning to go pray at the mosque. I slid in a sheet of paper and started typing out a letter, stating my home address in New Delhi. I then went on to mention that I was being invited to visit my home by my family. I signed it in my father’s name. I slipped out the sheet of paper, tucked it into my kameez and ran back to the outhouse. I had only 2 1/2 days to plan how to hide in the car without being caught. The boot only had so much space and I knew that the Arab would be taking his cartons of dry fruits too. I knew that if I got caught, I would never be allowed out ever. When the Arab got back that night, he made love to me and left shortly after. I waited for an hour. I then ran to the car in the dead of the night. I gently prised the boot lid open. I looked around for a place to hide. I could see nothing. I was feeling around when something gave way. It was the flap covering the stepney tire. I looked at it carefully. If I could curl my body in a foetal position, then maybe I could manage to squeeze in that space. I was pretty thin and flexible, thanks to the yoga that I did for the years that I was alone and the wierd stuff that the Arab made me do in his bed.

I eased the heavy tire out. It nearly slipped out of my cold & clammy hands. I clambered into the car, raised the flap, and squeezed my tiny frame into the round space. It was an extremely tight squeeze. I covered myself with the flap and lay there. If I could hide in there for an hour or two, I could manage. Beyond that, I would suffocate. I had to somehow make sure that the boot would not fully shut.

The edge of the boot was lined with a rubber part that was like a shock absorber. I eased & slid the part around a little bit with my hand so it would not allow the boot to fully shut. I quietly shut the boot, the boot just about closed, with a crack where the part was, enough to let some form of oxygen in. I now had a game plan.

Saturday dawned. I had not slept a wink. I had made a flat cloth envelope in which lay my passport, the forged letter, the old invitation letter and my Dirham 2,500. I stitched this into my shirt. I also had made a small packet of sweet butter almond biscuits which I had stolen from the kitchen, and a small bottle of water and some camphor oil in case I could not breathe.

I could not afford to take anything else.

The Arab was to leave for the airport at 6.30 am. Which meant that I should have hidden in the car by 6 am latest. I was generally never summoned in the morning. I very sliently had my last shower in the outhouse that morning, at 4 am when the whole house was suspended in a state of sleep. I changed into my garb, packed up my things and stealthily walked through the grove at 5.30 am. Sunlight had not broken through. A hint of orange had started streaking the sky. I did not have much time. To avoid being spotted, I had worn black. A pair of black lycra tights and a long black tee shirt and a black dupatta.

I ran to the car in nimble quiet steps, opened the boot and quickly slid in. The stepney had been removed by me the previous day. I kept the boot open for half an hour, it was open just a crack so that I could take in some air. Finally I shut the boot, leaving it just a bit open in an undetectable manner. An hour later, the Arab walked to the car. I could hear the boot opening. I felt something very heavy being kept on me, it seemed like a box filled with stones. I had to stop myself from yelping pain. I lay still, with sweat beads trickling down my every pore. The boot slammed shut. I was now plunged in darkness. There was just a crack of light, I moved my face closer to it, with great difficulty. I had on top of me, the Arab’s suitcase.

The car started. It seemed like an hour before we reached somewhere. The car stopped. I heard two voices talking. The boot opened, the heavy weight was removed. I could finally lie in peace. The boot slammed shut once more. Silence. I lay still for half an hour more. I had begun to feel quite dizzy. The lack of oxygen had begun to take effect. I managed to slide out of the round space. I eased the boot open with the inner handle and climbed out. I teetered. I gasped. My body was stiff. Oxygen rushed into my lungs. My head spun. I had to take hasty gulps of water to come back to life.

I looked around. I was in a parking space. There seemed to be no one here. The Arab had parked his car right at the end. I slid against the cars so no one could spot me and manage to reach the exit. I found my way out of this place.

I came out and saw Dubai airport teeming with humans. I opened my little packet and I hungrily gorged on the soggy biscuits. I had now not eaten for nearly ten hours.

There were signs in Arabic and English. My knowledge of English came in use. I looked at the signs & found out where the travel desk was. I asked for the fare to Mumbai, India. It was all of Dirham 1800. For my visa, I had to have 4 passport size photographs clicked. I asked the man behind the desk in Hindustani where I could have this done. He seemed kind. He pointed out the photograph booth. I walked to the booth to have my photos taken. The attendant made me sit on a stool, placed a red cloth behind me. A moment later, she handed me 6 passport size photos. I kept 2 for any more paperwork I might have to do. I walked back to the travel desk and the folder was given to me to present to Immigration. I was asked to fill out a form. My ticket was issued. I was handed back a wad of notes and some loose coins. My flight was to leave four hours later. I had yet to be issued my Visa. I knew from prior experience and from conversations heard that Visas are generally granted at the airport itself. I stood in the queue for my visa. I was really really scared. What if I got caught? What if they arrested me?

The authorities did not ask anything that could implicate me. I presented the invitation letter. I kept a straight face and made sure I looked confident. I had had the foresight to look presentable. I had combed my hair and had washed myself in the airport toilets.

I had no problem getting the visa. I was 21. My marital status appeared as single in my passport. I had with me the letter that had allowed me to stay in Dubai as an attendant to an ailing aunt. My residential proof was in the letter. That letter was now nearly 4 years old. After ten minutes, my photograph was attached to an empty page in my passport, a tear off slip from the Immigration form was attached, the page was duly stamped by the sour faced Muslim gentleman behind the tall desk and my visa was granted. I could now walk away free. I walked to the lounge. I waited. My flight was three hours later. I used the loose change to buy myself a coffee and a mutton roll. I needed to stay awake to get on the flight.

Three hours later, I was on the aircraft, on my way to Mumbai. I was directed to my seat in the Economy section. The plane was full. I slid into my chair and clamped my seat belt shut. I put my head back on the head rest and stared out of the window. I was finally leaving the land that had left me with only bad memories.

A while later, the stewardess brought me my dinner and a cool drink. I had not eaten in nearly 24 hours. I thirstily gulped down the rose sherbet, gobbled my dinner and went to sleep. Few hours later, I was being shaken awake. We had landed. I was back in my country. I left Mumbai airport with only memories. I had no idea where to go. I asked the auto rickshaw man if he could take me to a place where I could be safe. He was clueless.

I was not scared. I was back in my home land and I had no one that I was answerable to. I stayed at the railway station for two nights. A kind soul took pity on me and directed me to a hostel. I got a bed for Rs. 50 a night. The hostel was over-run with rodents. The bath rooms were unusable. I could not stay there. The stench was unbearable. I searched the dailies for places to stay. I found a PG that would charge me Rs. 1000 pm, with triple sharing. It was tiny flat that had a small kitchen and a very small loo. My room-mates were two nurses.

I was now to find work. My roommate Sita promised to help. She knew of someone who was looking for a junior assistant in an exports’ firm. I could read & write. I had no qualifications, but I was sharp & intelligent so I landed the job. My boss was a sensitive and open man, he liked my ambition, my calm, my ability to suss out situations. My salary was Rs. 4,000, more than what I had ever seen. Work was tough initially. I had very little idea what to do. I would ask a lot of questions. I learnt the ropes pretty fast.

Over the next few years, I worked very hard. My boss was pleased. My pay was raised. I now took evening classes in English, and a correspondence course in Export Management. I started rising up the ranks. I was 23 when I got promoted as Executive Assistant to the Chairman, Mr. Subhash Dhandekar. Our company was exporting hand crafted Persian Carpets to the Far East. I started travelling with my boss, overseas. I wanted no memory of my past to come in the way of my progress. I was determined that I could achieve success, despite the fact that I was a 'woman' and that I was supposedly of a gender that had zero rights. I wanted to prove the world wrong. I did that eventually.

I was 29 when I started my own company, Mirage International. It took me 5 years to get it to the position it is now in. A lot of networking, dealing with the right people, pay offs were required. I went to a lot of lengths without compromising my dignity to get the company to its current position. We deal in import/exports of automotive parts. My company has now grown to a medium size enterprise. I hire 40 people. My annual turnover is Rupees 5 crores. I am happy. I see myself as a success.

My father has been sent clippings of my success, pasted in a scrapbook, along with a check of Rs. 25 lakhs, my end-trade off price and maybe the cost of my upbringing. In the scrapbook is the photograph of my dead mother, a reminder to my father, what he had lost. Dadi has been long gone. God bless her miserable soul. I find it tough to forgive her or my father. Ram is forgotten in the recesses of my mind.

No one ever came to know my past. I made sure that no contact was kept with anyone. I traveled a lot on work. My company kept growing. I was featured in all the top business magazines as The Woman Entrepreneur of the Year. I was invited to every prestigious launch, dinner, convocation. I chaired many conferences. I came onto the board of educational institutions. My hard work had paid off. I smiled when I saw myself in the mirror. I was now 36 years of age. The time had come to find a life partner. I wanted someone who came to me with no holds barred, who had a sensitive side to him, and someone who would never question me on my past. I waited. My wait took seed. It seemed that the Gods were kind. I met my match soon after my 36th birthday.

It was when I took a singles cruise to the Nordic Isles that I met Sameer.

We hit it off instantly. He fell for my sultry looks. In the last few years, I had managed to gain a few pounds. My skinny frame had now filled out at the right places. I visited the gym regularly and had a masseuse come in every single day to massage a plumping cream on my molten gold body.

It was a pleasant, cool evening when Sameer first set his eyes on me. I wore an off shoulder white dress, no jewelry. I was dining by myself, when Sameer stood before me and asked me for a dance. He looked every inch a gentleman. The band was playing ‘Strangers in the Night’, my favorite song muse. Sameer and I waltzed, we gazed into each other's eyes. It was a moment that stretched into lifetimes of eternal bonding. We fell in love. We decided to marry within 2 weeks of meeting. We had a grand wedding at the Leela Kempinski. The who’s who attended our wedding. Our wedding was splashed all over the dailies. I moved into Sameer's house. My own pad was given up on rent. The monthly rental went towards the upkeep of my magazine.

Today I have a daughter, and a son. They are my joy, my everything. Sameer helps me in my business, while running his own Tablet chain of Hotels.

I traced Ali somehow through the little scrap of paper he had given me years back. We are now in touch. Ali is the Manager in a restaurant in Hotel Marco Polo in Dubai. He and his family visit me once in a while. I tie Rakhi on Ali. Ali never mentions my past to anyone. He knows. ‘Uncle’ is bedridden, in Dubai. While my ‘husband’ had found another poor little woman to tear apart.

I now have no contact with my father, or anyone from my past. I have no idea where they are anymore and I have no love for them. To me, my past is left behind. I am part of a Women’s Empowerment Group and I help women find their own place under the Sun.

My name?? I am a woman, that is more than what you can ever be.

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