A journalist held a microphone in front of Durga Devi, a frail woman in her forties. Though half of her face was covered with her veil, one could tell from the way she remained seated in the court’s yard that she was devastated. ‘They did not give him a second chance. He said he will marry her. Still, they did not give him a second chance.’ She wept.
14 years ago, on a similar hot and sultry evening, Samir had witnessed his father pacing up and down in anticipation. His uncles and aunts were sitting here and there in their small yard, discussing names of boys. Behind the poorly painted green closed door he heard his mother scream. She was in pain, lots of it, he could tell.
Over the past few months, he had seen his mother’s belly grow in an uncanny way as if there was something inside her and her skin was desperately trying to hide it. Upon asking, his father had informed him that he was going to have a brother soon. His 4 years old head could not understand the relationship between a growing belly and the arrival of a nonexistent person. But whom could he have asked? His mother was busy vomiting in between house chores. And his father seldom talked to them without yelling.
The old withered door opened and the dhai maa came out with a sullen face. Something was wrong, terribly wrong. The little boy could feel it. Was it his mother? Is she gone? His heart skipped a beat at the thought. He felt like rushing into the room but stopped as his father approached dhai maa.
‘A girl, isn’t it?’ His face was beaming with anger.
Visibly scared to her core, dhai maa slightly looked up and nodded. All the chattering around them came to an abrupt halt. Samir observed his father. His fist tightened and jaw clenched. His eyes turned red and he stormed into the room.
His mother, Durga, was lying on a plain cot, which served as a bed in most the poor, rural households. She was still reeling from the pain of childbirth. Though a stand fan, the only source of electrically generated airflow in the house was at her disposal, she was still profusely sweating. She lay there, like a patient in need of water and tending; her drowsy eyes declared her need for sleep. The dhai maa was busy tending to the newborn.
Reaching his mother, his father got hold of her torn blouse and in one rapid move, he brought her weak body forward and thrashed it hard. ‘I told you, we need more boys in the house. I told you, not a girl again. You witch, you again turned my boy into a girl in your cursed belly.’ He slapped her, once, twice, thrice… she looked moribund, too frail at that point to even utter a word.
He loosened his hold on her. She was about to fall on the ground, but he held her again. This time, grabbing her hair, he kicked her in the belly, the same belly which a few minutes ago gave birth to his child. Blood came out of her mouth and before he could curse her again, she passed out. Her body let go, she fell on the floor and he kept kicking her senseless body until the relatives ran to him, uttering cautions. From the distance, what reached Samir, again and again, was, ‘she’ll die. Leave her, she’ll die.’
10 years later, on one fine afternoon, Hans sir was delivering his lecture in school. Hans had the reputation of being a good teacher. The teenager Samir followed him religiously every time.
‘When it comes to the personification of inanimate objects’, Hans said, ‘we use the masculine gender for anything big or strong, whereas for the soft or affectionate objects, we assign the feminine gender. For example, let’s take, Ocean and Sea. Now tell me,’ he addressed the class, ‘which one is stronger or mightier between these two?’
Samir raised his hand.
‘Yes Samir’, Hans prompted him to speak.
‘Ocean. It’s bigger.’
Hans’s face lit up. ‘Yes. So in the case of personification, we use ‘he’ for the ocean. Whereas for sea, we use ‘she’.’
After the class was over, Samir turned around to look for Raja, his friend. He was, as usual, sleeping on the last bench. He walked up to him and sat beside him, waking him up in the process. ‘Why were you absent yesterday?’
With sleepy eyes, he looked at Samir. ‘I was at Altaf’s. Did you miss me?’ He uttered the last sentence with an unnaturally heavy tone.
Samir’s expression shifted. With a little apprehension, he nodded, ‘yes.’
Raja got up from his seat and started towards the school ground. Samir followed him. ‘What was there at Altaf’s?’
‘Cannot tell you.’ Raja kept walking on the ground till he reached the boy’s toilet.
‘Why?’ Samir stopped at the toilet gate and waited for him.
‘Because you are a kid.’ Raja sneered. Samir was, in fact, younger to him and smaller too. Raja was two years senior, who failed to clear the 7th standard twice. Physically he was a full grown healthy boy who could have easily been mistaken for Samir’s elder brother.
‘But you are in my class.’
He rolled his eyes at Samir before aiming his hand, which was holding his penis up till then, at him. ‘If you call me your equal again, I’ll slap you with this hand.’ Samir looked down and quietly walked away.
After the school broke, he spotted Raja hanging out on the ground with Altaf and Soni. He quietly walked pass them, but while at the gate, they called out his name. He turned around. ‘Come with us.’ Their smirking faces frightened him. They grabbed his hands and started to pull him with them. He followed without putting up a fight.
Altaf was wealthier than most of the children in the village. While most of them lived in old, withered houses with tinplate roofs, his house was small but made of rods and bricks. He even had an LCD TV in the house. There was something else besides the TV, Samir noticed, a black box short of. His curiosity was soon answered as Altaf pressed a button on the box and plate came out of it with a round shaped structure inside it. It was a CD player, Samir realized. He had read about it in his books. Altaf put a CD inside it. Samir watched as everyone’s expression soon shifted. There was excitement in them about what was going to be unveiled in front of them. It was not the same kind of excitement, Samir noticed, they exhibit when Bollywood movies were shown at the village ground using projectors. It was rather the type of excitement they show when Altaf brought chocolate in the lunchbox. ‘What if somebody visits your house now?’ Soni asked.
‘Then I’ll tell them to go away.’ Altaf sniggered. His father worked in town and was only home at night. His mother had died when he was an infant and his father had never married again. He was the only child and the second member of the family of two. Other than the night time, his house was a safe haven for them.
A movie started. A girl, too white to be Indian, walked inside a big house wearing a tiny skirt and a white top. There was something about the girl, the way she dressed or the way she walked or the way she looked, Samir couldn’t decide, made his belly churn. He had previously heard the boys in the school whisper about ‘blue films’ but he did not know what it was. He had guessed it had something to do with a blue screen. ‘Do you know what it is?’ Altaf asked him.
‘Keep watching.’ If Samir had better knowledge of this world, he could have said he was seeing the lust in the 16-year-old’s face. In no time, the girl in the movie had stripped off all her clothes. For the first time in his life, he was watching a female form without any clothes on. He was not sure if he wanted to run or cover his eyes. There was a boy in the movie too, or a man may be, who was now holding the girl tightly from behind and kissing her hair. He jumped out of his seat and turned around. But Raja and Altaf grabbed him and made him look forcefully. ‘Watch it. You’ll feel good’, Raja whispered.
He sat between them again and started to watch. He felt so many things at the same time. There was a malaise in his body, especially on the organ that he till date only used to pee. The discomfort was so much that wanted to touch it to stop it, but his friends were there. He jumped out of his seat again, this time to go to the washroom. But Altaf grabbed him from behind and in a prompt motion, unzipped himself. He handed him over his male organ. Samir felt electrocuted. He wanted to run away, but they were holding him tight and he did not know what else to do.
The following days, Samir stopped going to school using illness as an excuse. He did not know how to face Raja, Altaf, and Soni again. Shame and fear worked inside him at the same time. He wanted to talk to somebody but whom could he have talked to? Mother? Father? Brothers? Sisters? No one seemed suitable for such a thing. One day, two days, another day again, skipping school continued until one day his father beat him so much that running away to school seemed the only option. In the lunch break, Altaf placed a chocolate in front of him and stood beside silently. Samir was beaten, sad and hungry, and there was a chocolate lying in front of him. He took the whole bar in his mouth at once and they all laughed as he was now unable to chew it. When evening came, he followed the group again at their insistence. But this time they did not take him to Altaf’s house again.
Mandaar, the village in which they all lived, was as beautiful as any other village in Bengal. Paddy fields spread till the Horizon, water bodies and red soil- at sundown, it looked heavenly. The four of them cycled through the swathe to the highway. They stopped on a small bridge right over the canal. The municipality had cemented broad railings at both the open sides of the bridge to prevent accidents. They parked their cycles nearby and sat on the railing. Samir asked, ‘What are we here for?’
Altaf replied, ‘The beauty.’
In some time Samir understood what he really meant. There was a girls’ school nearby and it had just broken. Girls in groups started marching through the road towards their homes. Suddenly he heard Soni yell at them, ‘Beautiful!’ His tone was rather mocking. Soon the group except for Samir started addressing them, ‘What a size!’, ‘Nice ass!’, ‘Look at them swinging!’ Altaf collected a few pebbles from the road and started throwing at them aiming their breasts. The girls started to run. Not a single one turned back and protested.
Samir whispered to them, ‘These are girls from our village. They may know us. What if they tell their parents?’
Soni replied, ‘Girls never talk about these in their homes. Don’t you have sisters? Don’t you know?’ Between him and Soni, they both had more than one sisters at home. But Soni seemed to know much more about them.
Altaf placed his hands on Samir’s shoulder. ‘Now you, stop being a girl and start shouting at them. Pick your girl and tell her how you feel about her.’ He grinned.
Samir did not dare do so at first. But after a while, when the number of girls passing by started to decrease, and their groups started to get small, he called out, ‘lovely’. At first, his voice was too low for them to hear, but he started to raise his voice a little more every time till a girl actually heard him. She looked at him, then looked down and hurried past them. It felt overpowering for him. The ability to scare someone- as if his helplessness from the other day at Altaf’s house had been replaced.
That day when Samir returned home with his new found glory and pride, his elder sister’s shattered face welcomed him. Unable to tolerate her husband’s abuse anymore, she had left her in-laws house. ‘He rapes me, baba. He rapes me.’ She sobbed.
And the next thing he knew, his father had slapped her already bruised cheek. ‘He’s your husband. Not some other man that you’ll talk about him like this.’
Helplessly she looked at their mother hoping she would back her up. The mother, lean and pale, came forward and assured the father, ‘I’ll talk to her. She’ll understand.’
‘I have nothing to listen to.’ His sister revolted. ‘I cannot go back to that house. They’ll kill me, mother.’
‘And I shall kill you if you say another word like this.’ His father was about to raise his hand again but was stopped by his mother.
‘Give me some time. I’ll make her understand’, she pleaded.
‘One hour. And then I shall drag her back to that house. The entire village shall be spitting at us otherwise.’
The mother remained unsuccessful in her endeavor of making her daughter understand. One hour got over. The father grabbed her and started dragging her through their courtyard to the rickshaw standing at their gate. His mother protested, ‘You cannot do this.’
His father, pointing his fingers at her, replied, ‘Woman, you cannot tell me what to do or how to do.’
4 years later a full-grown Samir came to meet Altaf, Raja, Soni and two new members of their group in the afternoon by the canal. They watched the group of girls pass by. By that time, Samir had dropped out of school and used to help his father in farming. Sometimes, the five of them used to travel to town to pick the best-rated pornography movies from some clandestine street stores. They picked up category wise too. Bondage, emf-cmnf, public were among their favorites.
Amidst staring at school girls and discussing their features, Soni broke the news of Rahina’s marriage. Rahina was the village girl Samir met in his younger sister’s marriage. He stalked her for a few days and then, one day proposed his love to her. Their relationship saw a few months of innocent love till one evening, while hiding behind their school and kissing her, Samir dropped his hand on her breast for the first time. Without waiting for her reaction, he started to press it hard. Instead of pleasure, the 13-year-old Rahina, whose breasts were still developing, found the experience painful. She asked him to stop but he did not. Unable to cop up with the tremendous pain, she slapped him. Shocked at this, he hit her back. What followed was repeated attacks at each other. Of course, the thirteen-year-old Rahina was no match for his eighteen years old physique and she ended up badly beaten and bruised. When she reached home that night, at first she tried to lie about the bruises. But upon being seriously cross-questioned by her mother, she gave up, wept and narrated the whole event.
Later that night, Rahina’s parents visited Samir in his house and started to beat him. Samir’s father came to his rescue. Upon hearing the incident, he replied, ‘What was she doing there in his school with him? She went there on her on will. These all were bound to happen.’
‘Are you telling me she deserved to be beaten up?’ Rahina’s mother yelled.
‘I am telling you, you have raised a daughter of bad character’, Samir’s father yelled back.
After some more yelling, both the parties had calmed down and reached a settlement. According to that, Samir would not talk to anybody about this incident to save Rahina’s reputation and both the teenagers would never see each other again.
The following morning, Samir’s father handed him over tickets for the same evening’s train for Kolkata and said, ‘Find work and be on your own. Try sending some money home every month.’
Behind him, Samir heard his mother whispering to his father, ‘You should talk him about the incident.’
‘I am his father. I cannot talk to my son about such an issue. I have not thrown my dignity away like Rahina’s parents.’
‘That bitch could not keep her mouth shut!’ Altaf said. Patting Samir, he said, ‘I’ll miss you brother.’ The train was in two hours.
Leaving his family and friends behind, with a resolution to take his revenge against Rahina, he stepped into Kolkata. The city was no Mandaar. High risers, large cars but what struck him the most, were the women here. In between looking for jobs, he observed them all the time. They were everywhere, roaming around till late at night and most of them dressed like men. The couples wandered openly, hand in hand; the women even called their husbands by their names (back home, this would have caused much stir). The girls sat, ate and roved with boys candidly.
He was still unable to wrap his head around all these when one evening he reached a shopping mall to take up the work of a janitor. He was waiting to meet the manager when a gang of girls caught his attention. There were five of them, all in miniskirts or dresses. Their legs, up to their thighs, were visible. He couldn’t believe his eyes. He has seen heroines in movies wear these clothes, but in real life out in open in this country- it was something beyond his imagination. To add to his surprise, they were not the only ones. So many women out there were wearing such revealing dresses.
He found a girl, alone, standing by a railing, wearing a miniskirt and a top that left her shoulders on display. Her legs were so bright that he almost felt intimidated. He started to walk towards her and stopped at a few hands distance. He kept taking in her view from top to bottom. The girl became conscious. She turned to other side and pretended to focus on her mobile. Samir thought to himself, why is she dressed like that? Is she a prostitute? He looked at her again. She was breathtakingly beautiful. How much would she charge? He tried to calculate the amount of money he had with himself. Only a few pennies. He anyway walked up to her and asked, ‘What’s your rate?’
And the girl slapped him outright. And the slap was not like Rahina’s which only hurt his pride. His skin was actually hurting. ‘You dog! Go ask your mother and sister the same.’ She said and left. Everyone around them gave him a disgusted look. He previously thought Rahina had brought him insult. Now compared to this, it felt Rahina did nothing. ‘You whore!’ He called her from behind and paced up towards her. But three men dressed in black stopped and wrestled him to the ground. They threw him out of the mall and threatened to call police if he showed up another time. All these for a prostitute?
A few months later, he acquired a driving license and started working for a cab company. He started doing night duties as night time fares were more. By then he had learned women also smoke and drink here for fun. But he couldn’t bring himself to accept these. He felt lonely here. He missed his friends. He missed scaring girls away. No one here was scared of him. Every time he tried to catcall, they insulted him in return. Moreover, his female passengers- they were all over him, talking to him in a high pitch, directing him, ordering him and even pointing out an error in fair calculation. They are girls, they cannot know better math than me!
At one evening, he found another female passenger onboarding his cab. She looked vexed and was talking to someone over the phone. After telling him the destination, she instructed him to take a particular route. ‘That’s the longer route, madam.’ Samir replied. From her breath, she seemed a little drunk.
‘No it shall take less time.’
‘No madam, it’ll take you more time. I know a shorter route.’
‘Just stick to the route I said.’ She instructed sternly and returned to her phone. ‘Listen, tell your husband if he ever raises his hands on you again, I’ll take police to your house and make sure to send him behind the bars. You are not alone, okay? I’ll not let a man torture you.’
Her voice, her tone, and her words- he found them infuriating. Who are these people? What is this arrogance about? He wondered. Through the rearview mirror, he glanced at her. Her dress, her hair, and her skin- she looked regal. Does she think money gives her the power to lock men up for every usual thing? Who is she to dictate how a man shall treat his wife? Inside his chest, rage was rising. And suddenly the girl yelled, ‘Hey you, I told you to stick to the other route!’ Unconsciously, he had taken his usual route to this destination. ‘Stop the car right now.’ She howled.
His head hurt. His jaw clenched. It was getting out of his hands now. ‘Shut up and sit back.’ He screamed at her and sped up his cab.
‘Stop the car. Stop the car.’ She was getting out of breath. Through the rearview mirror, he looked. The minutes before arrogance on her face had faded away. Apprehension took over. He felt so powerful knowing he still had the ability to frighten people.
‘Stop or I’ll call the police.’ She threatened. He turned, snatched her phone away and threw it out of the window. A victorious smile appeared on his face. The girl tried to open a door of the running car. But the child lock was in place.
The girl started shouting for help which made him panic. It was late at night and there was no one in the vicinity. But still, it was a locality. What if someone shows up? He knew he had crossed the line here. He tried to think of a way to get away. There was dump yard nearby. He drove towards that.
‘You’ll not get away with this. My father is in police force. He’ll see to the end of you.’
The threat hit him and his entire life came back to him in fragments. Rahina, her slap, her father’s misbehavior, Altaf’s touch, the girl in the mall, the security guards’ threats, every girl who misbehaved- he turned to her and opened the lock. ‘Go!’ He said in a gruesome tone. The girl opened the door and ran for her life.
A few seconds later, he jumped on her from behind. She fell on the ground. She begged for mercy. He grabbed her hair just the way his father grabbed her mother’s and entered her just the way they did in those forced pornographies. ‘Do you think you can order me around because I have been quiet? You drunken bitch! You whores have troubled me enough in the past few months. Not anymore.’ At first, the girl tried to fight back. But then she gave up. ‘Remember this, I’m a man. A man.’ He thrashed inside her. ‘You don’t tell me what to do. You don’t tell me how to do.’ He had always wondered how it would feel to enter a woman for the first time. But that night, he did not give it a thought.
‘Durga Devi, are you saying she should have married her rapist?’ The journalist asked.
‘That’s what we do in Mandaar to save both the children from humiliation.’
The journalist looked furious but she continued, ‘Durga Devi, your son confessed to raping and assaulting the victim. Do you think she should have taken her complaint back?’
‘She should not have complained at all. Who goes to the police to talk about such matters? Shameless girl! Who will marry her now? Whose children will she bear? She ruined her own life and my son’s too. Now he’ll be behind the bars for twelve years’ She wailed.
The journalist motioned to her camera person to stop shooting. She took a few deep breaths to control her angst and resumed the live telecast again.