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Voicing Silence 1

There is no nice way of saying this so I will say it as brutally and as unvarnished as it needs to be said. I was sexually assaulted when I was ten and a half years old. While I recall the precise details of what happened that night, much of what happened in the immediate aftermath, I have little memory of. In the days and months that followed, I became increasingly angry. I would smash things, kick people, yell, scream and throw a tantrum at the drop of a hat. I was labelled difficult and called names. Rakshasi was a regular epithet and it clung to me like an dirty scent.

The red dress some time
before it was ripped
apart
There were so many incidents of rage from those years and most involved destruction of some sort. I once lost a card game and went about meticulously ripping up an entire pack of cards much to the amusement of the gathered extended family. There was some other minor provocation which ended in a lovely red dress which was a gift from abroad being shredded to pieces, again to a mute audience

Word got around that I was prone to having temper meltdowns and random strangers would remark upon it - once the father of an aunt by marriage mocked me in public and few people came to my defence. It was not until I was thirteen that an uncle clocked that something was amiss and took me to see a psychiatrist. Back then no one ever went to a psychiatrist. General Practitioner, yes. Dentist yes. ENT specialist, yes. Dermatologist, yes. Eye Doctor, yes. A doctor for the mind? Never. That was strictly for those who were certified mad, and we'd seen plenty of them.

There were loads of mad ones on the streets running around with bedraggled clothes, we'd seen them in movies, always  played to a hilt by actors who always rolled their eyes too much (yes, that classic symptom of insanity) and on our annual sympathy fest when we distributed prasadams to the inmates at the Kilpauk Mental Hospital on Deepavali day.  Psychiatrists were only for those who were properly insane and no one from our family could ever become mad. We were not that sort of a family. There were those who had this mysterious illness called 'hysteria' and I certainly wasn't hysterical.

A digression. Sometime around then an aunt was sent from her marital home to spend some time at ours. She had clearly had some kind of a mental break down and as a pre-teen it was amusing for me to see her sing and play an air-veenai as she wept copious tears. No one seemed to know what had triggered the break down and everyone just assumed she'd get over it. In the subsequent years, (possibly as a side effect of the medication she was taking) her speech slowed down and her voice grew loud and people treated her like an idiot. Not seeing her for the kind and loving person that she was but as someone who was a nut job.

Anyway, we had limited understanding of mental wellbeing back then and the trauma of the assault which may have been causing me to have regular outbursts of anger was not addressed. The sole visit to the psychiatrist was an odd one. I sat on a chair next to my uncle with the doctor on the other side. He asked me why I got angry and I just mumbled something incoherent as my uncle looked on helplessly. He filled in the gaps with some of the aforementioned anecdotes and the psychiatrist said we should schedule another visit this time with my parents included. I never went back. In fact, I once ran to hide myself inside the house when I chanced to see him on the road, convinced that he was paying me a home visit. Most unnecessary, I thought and carried on having a short fuse.

(This is a series of every day posts which will culminate in publishing an animated short film - Voicing Silence that I commissioned and helped create documenting the sexual assault that happened to me as a 10 year old).

Comments

I read all 6 blogs and watched the video. BRAVO!! The more we speak about it, the more it puts the fear of shame in perpetrators and hopefully, Maybe, this alarming rate of Child abuse will reduce.
Bravo!! My question to you as a victim is this - why do we not share the name of the perpetrators? I have a hard time understanding this myself. Why dont we ever put their name out there. Even when I share my story, I only say uncle, grandpa, friends brother etc, why dont we use their names? what is your fear? maybe it will help me understand mine.
ammani said…
Thank you for the comment. You know the funny thing is, I never thought of myself as a victim, as in those exact words until now. I felt this is something that I had to do for my own sake and not feel burdened by it any more that I thought to commission the video and to write the series. And it had not crossed my mind to name and shame. Perhaps because it could distract from the main narrative and the subsequent discussions that I hope it sparks.

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Voicing Silence 7

(To get a background on this series, I suggest you start with the first post here and then scroll up)

Headphones recommended




(Click on image for link or click here)
Written and narrated by  Abhi Arumbakkam
Animation and edit  Lucy Lee
Sound Louise Brown
Music Nefeli Stammatogianopoulu & Stelios Koupetoris



Sivaji, Jayalaitha And Us

I first noticed it when Sivaji Ganesan passed away. As someone born in the 70s, much of my growing years was marked by the rituals of Sunday evening Tamizh cinema and Friday night Oliyum Oliyum. And Sivaji Ganesan was a permanent fixture in them. Anyone who was melodramatic was a 'Sivaji' and rhymes like 'Sivaji vayile jilebi' were very much part of our book of nonsense rhymes.

So much so, I remember being fourteen and being part of the school drama team enacting a popular scene from Sivaji's Thiruvilayadal. It was a plum role that we all vied to play. Sivaji played Lord Shiva in the movie and in our minds, he might as well have been immortal. So years later, when news broke that he had died, I was in utter shock. Heck, I was not even a fan. Apart from Motor Sundaram Pillai and more recently, Thevar Magan, in every one of his movies, I felt Sivaji had outacted the entire cast. As if to tell the producers, you've paid me a lot, so let me give you your money'…

Tide - 17

Part - 17 “Are you waiting for me, Kamakshi?”, asked Padmaja a little breathless from climbing the stair case. She had never been particularly slim. But lately, she had noticed a tightening of her blouses, particularly around her upper arm that she taken to using the stairs over the lift.
“Hmm? Everything okay? Why do you want me to keep quiet? What is the matter, Kamakshi?”, Padmaja reeled off questions with mounting alarm.
“It's nothing”, hissed Kamakshi between gritted teeth guiding her neighbour by the arm away from her own door. “Come in to my house. I need to tell you something, Padmaja”.
And once inside, Kamakshi's behaviour was even more erratic. She said something about a letter and answering and now meeting someone and the man waiting for her at home.
“Where?”, demanded Padmaja.
Kamakshi silently pointed her finger at her neighhour.
“Where? In my house?”
Kamakshi nodded.
“Have you gone mad, Kamakshi? I gave you the keys in case you don't see me for days a…

What Would You Do?

This afternoon, I went to our local leisure centre to use their steam room and sauna. I had an hour to kill before it was time to collect my son and the leisure centre is across the road and I couldn't think of a better way to spend a tenner and so I went. No sooner had I settled into a corner of the steam room than I heard a voice ask me, 'are you from India?'. Yes, I nodded before it struck me that if I couldn't see the person clearly neither could he. Yes, I said. To this he (by now I could make out a dim outline of a man) volunteered in a very heavy accent 'My country Bangladesh' and then went on to ask me if I lived locally and if I was living with my family (yes and yes, I answered) and told me that he worked in a local Indian restaurant as a chef and that I should visit them if I hadn't already.

Having exhausted his arsenal of polite questions to ask a rank stranger, he fell silent. Shortly, I left the steam room to take a shower before dipping into…

Tide - 7

Part 7

Dear Mrs,
With regards to your advertisement in last Sunday's Hindu. My name is Mr.S.G.Santhanam. I am 65 years old. I retired in 2007 after 40 years of service in the Indian Railways. My daughter and my son are both married and settled abroad. I am in good health except for slightly high blood pressure. Last year I have undergone an operation for a growth in my retina and now my eyesight is better than it has ever been. I follow a strict vegetarian diet (no oinions no garlic) and I have managed to bring down my cholestrol levels also. Recently I have suffered from pain in my hips and my doctor has adviced me to go for a hip replacement operation which I am due to have some time in the next month. So if you reply to my letter, I can arrange to meet you before I check in to the hospital as I will have to be in bed rest for 6 weeks after my operation. I have also attached a photo of myself with this letter. This was taken before I had my new set of teeth.
Your's sincere…

Voicing Silence 4

(To get a background to this series of posts, I suggest you read the first one here, the second one here and the third one here)

Some years ago, my mother mentioned to me that she had attended my sexual assaulter's Sashtiabdapoorthy and I was appalled. This filthy beast was a pillar of the society and had had the temerity to invite my parents to its (no human pronoun for it) birthday celebration. Suffice to say I was apoplectic.

It was also around this time that the whole sordid episode of Jimmy Savile came to light and I had a thought. I began to wonder if I could take my abuser to court on historic sex abuse charges.

For days I fantasised about dragging the filthy piece of shit to court and have it look me in the eye as I would recall in graphic detail what it had done to me. Then, I would watch with glee as it lost its house, its job, its status in the society and delight in the gradual unravelling of its life.

I would have my perfect revenge. I would be able to show it that i…

Voicing Silence 3

(To get a background to this series of posts, I suggest you read the first one here and the second one here.)

In the intervening years since my assault, the whispers grew ubiquitous. Hushed conversations from scarred friends who all talked in coded language about what had happened to them. I should have stopped becoming angry but I just couldn't. Instead I channeled all my rage into the blows I rained on the random stranger who once groped me as I was walking past him one evening when I was in my early twenties. The nonchalance with which another pervert thought he could get away with pinching my breasts made me chase after him faster. But I could rarely sustain the rage which would blaze fiercely and frequently but never long enough for anything positive to emerge. There were no planned course of action to follow through, it was largely fire fighting on a daily basis.

And then something happened a decade ago which reminded me of what triggered my anger all those years ago. I won…

Voicing Silence 2

(To get a background to this series of posts, I suggest you read the first one here)

I realised, almost instinctively that what had happened to me was not a one-off. A casual conversation with a cousin revealed that she too had been touched by the same person. She didn't give me details but all she said was, "that one, him, you know...he's a devil" and gave me an almost imperceptible nod. A secret code that meant that she knew about what had happened to me too. It was our shared language of shame, wrapped in silence and consigned to the deep recess of our minds.

Every now and then the incident would get an airing but I would almost dismiss it by making light of it. During joint studies with classmates from the 11th and 12th standard, two of them talked about the improper touching that had happened to them as children with an almost casual aloofness that I added my incident (for it was now entombed and labelled as Exhibit A in my mind) to the mix. Being abused was so…

Voicing Silence 5

(To get a background to this series of posts, I suggest you read the first one here, the second one here, the third one here and the fourth here)

For years I had been wondering how to articulate my trauma. And then, a little while after I'd moved to the UK, I'd done courses in documentary film-making and had started telling factual stories. Could there be a possibility there? What purpose would retelling a personal story in all its gory detail serve? And is this what I wanted?

In 2013 I watched Yael Farber's Nirbhaya in Edinburgh to an auditorium full of sobbing men and women. I found its portrayal in all its attendant specifics and bit too real. Even the actors playing it had each suffered horrific abuse and it was their own story that was being told. It was discomfiting and I knew I didn't want to go down that route.

A year or so later, I met with Leslie Udwin, director of the documentary India's Daughter, the day
after it had been banned in India. Leslie was de…