Wednesday, October 10, 2018

After The After

Years ago, when I was a member of the Rajeshwari Lending Library on Kutcheri Road in what was then still called Madras, I would pick up Mad magazines and one such edition had a series called After The After. There would be an image titled 'Before' followed by an image titled 'After' and a third image titled 'After The After'. Typically, the images would be like this - a large woman in the first, a thin woman in the second and a larger woman in the third. The whole series would roughly follow the same pattern where the 'After The After' would be significantly worse than the 'Before'. Bald man - full head of hair - balder man with no eyebrows, and so on.

I was reminded of this series following the several 'coming out' stories of historical sexual assault in India. It must feel terribly empowering to all the women and men who have shared their own stories in public, both anonymously and while fully disclosing their identities. How must it feel to have the oppressive weight of their own secrets finally set free into the sunlit world of the living! Fly away truth! You no longer hold the power to pin me down and suffocate me! The disclosers may even feel a moment of hope and freedom and believe that fairness and righteousness will prevail after all. They may even want to chastise themselves for holding their tongues for so long. Why had I not spoken up earlier? What had I feared? How could I have not trusted this kind and supportive world? How could I have feared demons around the corners which only hold friends?

The disclosers will be hailed as 'brave', 'truth seekers' and 'path breakers'. Their stories will be held up as shining examples for all to follow. There will be meaningless words like 'closure' bandied about. They may as well call it 'band aid'. As if, speaking up aloud is going to be some kind of retribution and payment for all the suffering. As if we could burst into applause, draw some curtains around it and disperse while noisily analysing the movie. 

But once the initial burst of excitement following the disclosure dies down, the fangs begin to come out. Don't expect support or kudos from those closest to the situation. There will be a lot of scepticism, lot more denial and incessant doubting. What took you so long? What did you do to provoke? What proof have you got? I cannot believe this happened in such a respectable family as yours. Are you sure you are not imagining it? (True! The last from a classmate.) You may be prepared for bile and rancour of the sourest sort but what will surprise you is the silence. Stone cold betrayals and helpless shrugs from those whose support you had banked on. 

Following my own disclosure, I sought my father's assistance to see if there was any legal recourse that I could seek. But his reaction was one of cowardice. He did not wish to be drawn into it (I see him cowering behind his hands begging to be left out of it). My mother may have shown more anger if a stranger had reported a lost handbag. "Why did you not say anything then?", she demanded," "your father would have hit him with slippers." No Amma, even if I had found words to describe my ordeal as I did 32 years after the incident, Appa would have done nothing about it. 

No, After The After is often not the rosy picture we believe it to be. It is sometimes a lot worse than the Before. But wait, there is an After The After The After where eventually, once the debris from the disclosure and the ugliness that spurts in the immediate aftermath has cleared up and the heady rush has given way to a kinder way of dealing with things. There are no hushed conversations or embarrassed euphemisms - a friend who found her way to my blog once remarked, 'you know, your incident' to which I asked, 'which one? The one about my sexual assault?'. 

After The After The After, there are only loud acknowledgments and hearty, bold stories of strength. From the bitterness that once clogged the mind now flows a gentler, calmer spring. Where there was once heaviness, now a briskness. A vivid, thrilling anger that knows what it can achieve. An anger that singes and can burn if it wants to. It knows its power and it is within.

Click on image to watch a short animated video I worked to document my own sexual assault.

Also you can read the 'Voicing Silence' series of blog posts here