The tuition classes have ground to a halt and in many ways, Padmaja is relieved when she acknowledges it during a telephone conversation with Sanjana. “Their loss, Amma”, consoles Sanjana, “let's see how many other equally-experienced, patient and affordable teachers they can find for their children”. Padmaja does not tell her about the new tuition centre that has opened two streets away which seems to be doing rather brisk business judging by the number of bicycles parked outside the building.
The rains have finally stopped and there is even a reprieve from the stiflingly dense, humid weather. It is the one time of the year when Padmaja actually enjoys living in the city. Evenings are cooler and days gentler. Soon there will be music concerts all over the city drawing visitors and performers from across the world. Sanjana buys her a seasons pass to concerts at music hall which has good acoustics for a change. It is a little far from home but if she walks briskly, Padmaja can cover the distance in less than an hour. “If it gets really late”, suggests Sanjana, “you can always ask Pazhani to bring you back”.
In retrospect perhaps that is precisely what Padmaja should have done. It was T N Seshagopalan's cutcheri that evening and he held forth profusely in Thodi ragam for a good ninety minutes. So much so that the concert over-ran by almost an hour. She did not wish to wait by herself at the bus stand and after unsuccessfully trying to flag down an autorickshaw, Padmaja decided to walk home instead while still looking out for any passing empty rickshaw.
She was hurrying along a short dark stretch when she spotted him about hundred metres away. He could not have been more than twenty years old. He was wearing faded jeans rolled up at the ankles and a pale blue t-shirt. He did not look menacing or threatening. Padmaja noted him but carried on walking. As she went past him, he put his hand out and let it brush against her side. “Eeiii”, Padmaja called out stepping aside and quickening her steps. The young man was now behind her wrapping his arms over her shoulder and fondling her breasts. Padmaja screamed out and he jabbed his fist into her mouth. He whipped her body around, yanked her by the hair and jammed his crotch into her. Padmaja thrashed about, struggling to throw him off. By now he had ripped her saree off and had thrown her on the ground. He was pushing his hand up her legs while pinning her twisting body with his other hand. Padmaja could feel the strength fade away from her as she was crushed under the weight of her assailant. With both her hands held above her head, Padmaja tossed her head, lurching blindly this way and that, tearing into her assaulter's face with her teeth. With all her might, she lunged and hurled herself on him biting gnashingly into his nose. All she remembers later is the enormous weight rolling off her as she gathered herself and stumbled away. It would be several months before she would leave home again.