Imagine a basket of shiny grapes, go ahead and pick out the sour ones by plain sight.
I was 7. Cycling with a friend on the street where I lived. “Heyyy, sexy. Get in, will you?” You said cruising past me repeatedly in your yellow Alto.
Sexy. I was 7.
“What does sexy mean, aunty?” I asked my friend’s mother.
Stunned, she asked me why. Once I explained, she told me to stay indoors till your yellow alto wasn’t seen around anymore. It took weeks, weeks of no cycling because of you. A sour grape at 7.
Done with college submissions, we decided to chill at a public park for a bit before heading home, my friend and I. Fixing fake nails from the gulmohar tree on each other, we sat there entertaining ourselves. When I felt like I was being watched for a while now. I turned around. There you were behind the banyan tree, only eyes visible, a piercing stare.
“Dude let’s go.” I told her and dragged her by the hand.
“Oh, fuck.” She said realizing on her own.
You followed us, one hand on your genitals which was out and exposed in a family park. You were jerking off to two girls fully clothed and just talking in a family park. A park I’ll never step into again, because of you.
Seated on the ladies seat in public transport, a novel on hand and ears plugged-in. No, I didn’t listen to music, I only read. The earphones were on so no one would talk to me. I loved that one hour of travel-time to college. You came and sat beside me though there were seats in the unreserved section. I didn’t bother, I mean as long as you didn’t talk to me, I was good. Looks like ‘talking’ wasn’t on your agenda. Arms folded, you slid your right arm under your left and onto my waist.
I moved, shrugging it off as a mistake. You moved closer. Closer this time than the first, you grabbed my waist this time.
No boy, you don’t get to disrupt my reading time and get away with it. I stood up and slapped you the hardest I could. My first ever at a boy. You stood up stumbling, gave me the scariest stare with those bloodshot eyes, yelling in a language that I didn’t understand. Then you ran. To your luck, the bus was stationary. I can still picture that face, red with anger and embarrassment. Nerves popping, and eyes filled with rage. What you yelled that day, seemed like a threat to me. I stopped taking public transport because of you.
Dressed in Gujarat’s traditional skirt, my flatmate and I were riding to the most talked about garba in town. Unable to find a fitted blouse that matched the skirt that I had picked up, I felt ridiculous wearing a kurta over it. At least I won’t be cold, I convinced myself.
A couple of blocks away, I noticed you. Constantly riding parallel to us with one hand on the bike. The other hand, I couldn’t see it. You were throwing glances at me once every few seconds. I looked away.
I looked back a minute later and you were closer this time. Eyes fixed on my breasts that were beneath layers of mirrored fabric. I saw the other hand this time, rapidly stroking yourself, you didn’t even see my disgusted face.
“Dude move-move-move! Ride fast!”
“Don’t look to your left.”
I screamed in a trembling voice at my flatmate. A night that I looked forward to all week, you ruined. I sat and watched everyone else dance while I shivered in disgust. I was cold.
“Take us around this city. Show us the place.”
Mum said on reaching the city I’d been living in for the past one year. A famous stepped-well in the city that’s know to be the safest for women in the entire country. I decided I’d take them there, I loved that place. Flanked by mum and dad on either side we walked in. I felt a brush on my butt and saw you run past with two other boys. A mistake obviously, you looked like you were 16. I ignored and carried on explaining the place to my parents. When I felt another touch again and the three of you’ll running past. I felt weird and told mum something’s odd about you. She stared at you and moved closer to me so there wasn’t any space for you to do it again. But you did, from the behind. This time it was a grab and you ran. I simply darted towards you and slapped you as you stopped. You abused me verbally. A 16 year old, 7 years younger than me. Dad hit you too. You didn’t learn your lesson, nor were you embarrassed. I thought you did, because you ran.
I booked a cab to leave the place ’cause I couldn’t enjoy it anymore. Waiting for the cab to arrive, I told dad he shouldn’t have hit you because you were a child. Mid conversation, there you were again. Approaching us with a gang of boys. Cab arrived. I left the city.
Today, I sit back thinking how much control you men have had over my life and what I do. So, no, you don’t get to say “not all men” and defend yourselves. Because in a basket of shiny grapes you can never tell which ones are sour.