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You’ve Got Mail

20 Jul

The elevator pinged and its doors slid open. Shanti walked out into the gleaming granite lobby, almost bumping into the mailman stuffing envelopes and pizza flyers into individual numbered slots. He greeted her with his usual good cheer and asked after her family. We are all well, she replied, a half-smile fluttering around the corners of her mouth. She found a strange comfort in her daily interactions with him, brief as they were. They spoke about the weather, his children, her family’s plans for the summer, and he would invariably hand her the pile of envelopes from her mailbox as a friendly gesture. She’d leaf through them: Shanti, Shanti, Ashok, something from the children’s school, Ashok, a general request for donation, and one addressed to the both of them. Sorting them in a His and Hers pile, she’d fuss with her keys until she found the one to her front door and unlocked it.

Throwing the two piles onto the entrance console, she’d step into the kitchen for a cool glass of lassi before emerging and thoughtfully considering the stack of mail again. She was a creature of habit, she knew that. She nestled in the grooves of patterns and they rocked her to calmness. There was a secure familiarity in receiving mail from the same smiling person each morning, sorting it neatly and arranging it chronologically, newest mail first. She didn’t have to change that just because Ashok had been dead 8 months. Shanti patted his tall pile, straightened it a wee bit, and walked away to cook lunch.

Purple is the Color of Guilt

19 Jun

I often wonder why medical technology hasn’t made guilt in injectable form. It could come in a syringe, with a shiny new needle, and flood its dark jamun color through your veins.  But first, your skin would puncture, and then, not satisfied with a mere hole, a stray hissing comment would rip open a half-healed wound, and you’d be left with tattered skin, hanging frayed from its edges, and a wound that looked aggrieved at being awakened, yet again.

Oh don’t look away, it would say, as you turned to count new leaves on the rose bush. Stay. Survey the bits and blood. Study the massacre sprawled around your feet. And ooze would lap at your ankles as you stared into the distance.

Your hope lay in naiveté, in spanking new beginnings; wouldn’t striding away faster leave time further behind? An unseeing back to the gore and the guts, fractures heal even if they aren’t set right. Pain is your bread basket, tucked under an accustomed arm, a belly-filling helping is always at hand.

And there you were, golf-carting your way through existence, when the dud cracker scorched your stitches, melted them, and you were agape, stark naked, opened up for the ravaging.

So let them be done with it. Money could buy prepared pain. You know what’s coming in the glint of slivered steel. It approaches your flesh, enters at the point of contact, plunges through layers of self-numbed cyclical stories, the ones you cradle in your marrow, will escort to the grave. And the spread begins: deep, dense, soul-sapping. Then you lie back and smile. The drug is warming to your body. You know how it feels. And guilt… feels… good.

You turn the page. It’s a familiar manual. Step 7, (level: easy), heartache. Further down, something will fold, and you’ll limp back to the business of living, but you both know, as do you reading this, that it’s Never. Really. Over.

Another Year, Another April: CSAAM 2012

31 Mar

Last year, in an outpouring of stories, recollections, support and awareness-building, a very successful and necessary movement was established across the Indian blogosphere: Child Sexual Abuse Awareness Month 2011 brought survivors, parents, bloggers, readers, professionals and responsible citizens together, in a bid to spread awareness about child sexual abuse–the existence, the denial, the impact and the knowledge about how to prevent it and/or heal those already scarred.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why people–survivors as well as those fortunate enough to have been spared–were so impassioned about protecting the most vulnerable demographic in society–our children. And unless you’ve hibernated in a cave all your life, you will know/know of someone who has been through an experience of forced sexual interaction even before they reached adulthood.


Another year, another reminder that the movement needs to push on, networks need building, children need protection, survivors need to know they are not alone. The www, where we share some pretty intimate details of our lives, couched in the relative anonymity it offers, is a wonderful tool for sending these narratives into the world, for us to support, learn, prevent and heal–and, simply, offer a virtual hand that says “I have/ may not have been there, but I will walk with you.”

So how will you join us? Here are the ways you can:

1. Share a story on the CSAAM blog. It could be yours, it could be a friend’s–it just has to be true and requests for anonymity will be honored.

2. Share tips for survival, prevention and awareness-building. Your two cents could help someone immensely.

3. Pass around a video, a link, an article or an e-book.

4. Offer professional expertise if you are a mental health therapist / educator / psychiatrist / doctor/ lawyer /allied health professional.

5. Spread the word on your blog, if you have one, with the words “CSAAM April 2012” in the title. Put up the logo (you can copy the image above), link back to the CSAAM blog.

6. Tweet!  @CSAawareness is the Twitter handle, #CSAAM is the hashtag.

7. Put up FB notes linking to the Facebook page.

8. Write to and tell the folks working so hard behind the scenes what a great job they’re doing. Nothing like a line of appreciation to make someone’s day.

9. Show support by displaying the Picsquare badge on your site/page/profile. Here is the code:

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10.Participate/ask questions/ just listen in to tweetchats and podcasts by professionals and parents. Details will be shared on the CSAAM blog. I will be taking questions during a tweet chat in my capacity as a former mental health therapist for sexually abused children. Now how many of you knew that about me? Drop by, say hi, let’s talk.

11. Bring up the subject with your friends and family–the topic in general, this effort in particular. You may be surprised by what comes up when you share.


The movement this year will introduce a CSAAM app and sensitization workshops (Dilliwalas, first one’s for you!) that aim to take it offline and reach out to a wider audience.

Thank you for reading this.

Now, are you ready for April 2012?

She Shall Have Music Wherever She Goes

16 Feb

I awoke on Monday morning to the blinking light on my phone, telling me an email had arrived. Groggily, I reached out, half-knowing what to expect. “She’s dead,” I said to the Boy, and buried my face in his chest.

It was another email that had arrived the previous Wednesday that started it all. Noorjehan, said the subject, and I wondered what Mum had to say about our maid of a few years. “You remember her, don’t you,” she asked rather unnecessarily, for Noor had shared the story of her young life with me while she swept the floors of my parents’ home. In the blur of lines that followed, Mum wrote that Noor had been set on fire and was in a trauma ward with 92% burns. She had visited her and Noor acknowledged her presence by moving her lips, though no sound emerged. The prognosis was poor and her fastest relief, according to the doctor (whom we know personally) would be through death.

What followed was an interminable week of communication, police statements, counter allegations, accusations of murder vs. self-immolation, testimonies supporting both sides, and a veritable he said-she said circus as a charred woman lay in agony, waiting for death to claim her. I will not go into the details of the case here. They have made headlines in the Times of India, the Mumbai Mirror , the Indian Express,  the DNA, and the Hindustan Times already.  What I will state is how wretched and helpless and horrified I felt and still feel that a woman no older than 27, a mother of four children who was married when she was a mere child herself, lived a life of subjugation and want that ended in this ghastly fashion.

I prayed with a doggedness I am surprised to discover I possess. I resented my comfortable Californian existence that has me so far away from being any use. I sobbed at the memory of that frail, dark woman in the burkha she was forced to wear, even as I waltzed out of my home showing bare legs and open tresses. I am startled at how gutted I feel. How shaken to the core. Most of all, I am angry at myself for making this about me. And I ask you to turn your attention to her and think of her kindly—Noorjehan: self-immolator/burns victim, tired mother, unhappy wife, polite domestic, half-hearted duster of furniture, occupant of a small life few will notice has evanesced.

Rest in peace now, Noor.

Your death has brought me one degree closer to life as it can be.


17 Jan

I didn’t cheat on him.

I only thought about her.

I didn’t cheat on him.

We only touched.

I didn’t cheat on him.

Her soft, pliant skin.

I didn’t cheat on him.

Quivering under my mouth.

I didn’t cheat on him.

Legs wrapped around waist.

I didn’t cheat on him.

The arching of backs.

I didn’t cheat on him.

The moaning of names.

I didn’t cheat on him.

I’m seeing her tomorrow.

I didn’t cheat on him.

Can hardly wait.

I didn’t cheat on him.

We’ll do this over and over.

I didn’t cheat on him.

I didn’t sleep with another man.

I didn’t cheat on him.

Women don’t count.

Contentus Horribilis

30 Nov

To write poetry, something must stir.

Come undone crawlingly, raise its hydra head.

Sit by raging waters, let your dark side churn.

Toss back imaginary curls and wade into lines.


To write poetry, something must give.

A singleness of being, the dizzying freedom of time,

A torrid landscape and

anguish of heart.


To write poetry, something must fold.

Silently, dangerously, beckon you


To play.


Darkened rooms, burning spirit, the severing of all ties


Solitude, restlessness, the non-mundane

Let it storm tonight, like

I’m nobody’s wife.


To write poetry, something must shift.

If I can locate the gear

Of my charmed Californian existence and

Reset happiness, calm, to baseline with

the edge of my



Until then, love

me still,

As a being

of peace.

While the phrases float

away, on

paper boats of

my own


Bloodletting, Memory

30 Aug

I bleed the City.

With shards of rejection in my veins

The fury, the heartbreak, the

Slamming of gates.

A human wall, of

Purified hands, closing in, shutting out,

Spewing fumes of vile smugness.


I bleed the City.

The cradle, the earth,

Glass bowls that

Rock babies, among gravel and green.

Passed around communal arms, eyes taped

With certainty, stunted by fawning,

Inspecting sodden roots,

While new leaves are snipped off

For daring to be fresh.


I bleed the City.

The fabric I carry, the honks in my

Head; the corners of childhood, neon signs that scream

No, the stripping of self, divesting of entity.

Hurled into a morass of the unknown and

Unknowing, the joy and the light frame my

Dark core, the bounty that decorates

Crumbled pieces of



I bleed the City.

I bleed the City.

Through lumps in the throat and knots in the spirit

May my ministrations redeem me.



18 Jul

Some days I scoop up love in those neon-hued plastic shovels from a kiddie sand pit, scrape-whoosh, scrape-whoosh, filling the spirit, topping it up with a rare fill of generosity and compassion, so that I may lie back, eyes closed, contented, and bask in the simmer of affection until darkness swarms and she siphons me out again.

O Mother mine, dementors chant like schoolboys at your feet.

West of Madness, South of Peddar Road

17 May

I heard her before I saw her.  A loud, hoarse voice screaming expletives that would make a sailor blush. If you knew the busy street my parents’ home is on, you would be awed by the power of her lungs. She is crass, she is angry, and simply known as the not-so-friendly neighborhood crazy.

Back in the day when my parents were teenagers, hanging out with their ‘gang’ of 30 and going for summer swims to the Golwala pool, Daisy B. was a stunning young thing in her early twenties, with permed hair, immaculate make-up and outfits to die for.  The boys wanted her and the girls wanted to be her.  And admirers never left her vicinity. Dressed to the nines and aware of her power over the opposite sex, she led a life of promiscuous abandon, going through several lovers, brazenly flaunting her sugar daddies and breaking homes and marriages with nary a care. Talk of how men’s brains would turn to putty at a mere glance from her and how she could get any man to do her bidding abounded and provided the neighbors with much fodder for gossip.

Of course, for the old families who continue to live in our neighborhood (mine included), it was all her fault and no good was going to come of a used girl who refused to settle. She’s lucky to be Parsi, Jeroo said, rolling her eyes heavenward at her own fabulous fortune, or else she’d have been arranged-marriaged off, like those Hindoos do all the time.  Would’ve done her good, retorted Tehmina, to have a husband keep her in check, quite forgetting that her own Edulji wouldn’t venture any such thing with his opinionated wife. In a community of eccentric people, aberrations are more easily overlooked and Daisy B. went about her wild life without samaj, biradri or similar Hindi film constructs pointing their accusing fingers at her existence.

A generation grew up. And then another. And one evening in the year 2010, a loud, hoarse voice, screaming expletives that would make a sailor blush, rose above the roar of rush-hour traffic and floated into my fourth-floor bedroom.  There she was, a now-wrinkled woman with golden-brown curls, suggestively gesticulating toward her nether regions and screaming bloody murder at a man she accused of looking at her. I retreated from my balcony, shaken by the hysteria in her voice, and tried to focus on other things. A week later, there was that voice again, railing against a world that was out to group-fornicate with her.

The episodes began occurring with alarming frequency and she would rant and rave and verbally target anybody on the street, regardless of age or gender.  I (and half my zip code) was informed that I have ‘false boobsies’ while on my way to a workout. A passerby was almost beaten up because a group of men on the street believed she had been genuinely molested. People would stop and stare. Some men would scurry past, afraid to be implicated for merely being on the road home. Some would yell back. Most would just be stunned into silence by the lady in the frilly nightgown, who bought Coke and bread from the local vendor before turning on him viciously.

Efforts to reach out and help came to nought. Between my mum and I, we tried a social worker, relatives and a trustee of the Bombay Parsee Punchayet, but nobody wanted to get involved. I’m not sure how many of you know that a large part of my education and work experience has been in the mental health field, and it pained me to see someone so direly in need of help. Daisy B. lives alone now, after her mother passed away. Relatives and neighbors claim she was cruel to her and this madness is the cross she has to bear. Nobody is willing to entertain the notion that she may have acted in a harsh manner because of her illness. My cousin who lives in the neighborhood confirms that her behavior has expanded to screaming in buses and glaring at anyone she pleases, all the while going about her daily business. On some days, she is calm, walks quietly down the street, dressed up like the old times. She has no immediate family and nobody who can step in to help. Everybody I spoke with says she’ll only be taken advantage of if we take the matter to the police.

So Daisy B. is left to her own devices and everybody goes back to their own lives after the bi-weekly screams have stopped reverberating and the honking of jostling taxis has taken over the world again. I think of her occasionally, curled up on my ivory couch in California, and pray she is kept from further harm. But for the old families of my erstwhile neighborhood, this episode of karma beats their nightly airing of reality television. And life, twisted bitch, wins hands down against soap-saga fiction.

April for Abuse Awareness

8 Apr

All through April, Indian bloggers from several countries have come together to raise awareness about child sexual abuse on the blogosphere; sharing survivor stories, debunking myths, listing red flags, answering questions and providing guidance from parents and individuals/organizations who work in the fields of mental health, child development and media.  

Since we began 9 days ago, many, many stories and insights have been shared, along with pointers on how to shield future victims. If you hop over to the CSA-Awareness blog  (and I strongly encourage you to do so), you’ll notice a large chunk of the material consists of survivor stories. CSA, you see, isn’t just about children who were/are abused. It is as much about children who grow into adults, carrying the scars and trauma with them for a lifetime. There’s guilt, there is anger, confusion, pain, vulnerability and shame. Some move past it and cope the best they can, others struggle with their emotions every day. But everyone, with the exception of those who have entirely repressed the experience or those not old enough to consciously remember, can recollect the denuding of themselves in meticulous detail. And I say this not as a victim/survivor, (for I am blessed to have been spared that horror), but as a therapist who has worked with sexually abused children. Therapy can help retrospectively, but prevention, without a doubt, is the option we’re looking to exercise.

Here are a few home truths that can help us all:

When it comes to child sexual abuse, there is no stereotype. Not for victims, not for perpetrators. You cannot look at a person and know. Destiny experienced vaginal penetration at 9 months from her mother’s then boyfriend. Christina at age 3, from her own mother, who in turn had been shared by her father’s friends at 13. A much-loved uncle groped his 12-year-old niece at family lunches every Sunday. A teenage cousin experimenting with his sexuality, the household help who saw his wife annually, the mother of an affluent classmate. It is true, however, that in a majority of CSA cases, the child/adolescent knows and trusts the perpetrator.

Abolish the culture of shame surrounding the victim. If a friend’s home were burgled, would you be ashamed and think s/he should hide the fact? Admittedly, sex is more complex than robbery. Which is why the sense of violation is that much deeper. This is a crime, a very serious one, and it’s terrible enough that a child has to be at the receiving end of it without having to process additional feelings of shame, mortification and blame. No child invites sexual abuse, no child asks for it, no matter how “well-developed” or “mature” s/he looks. I will interject with a disclaimer here: it is not unnatural for children to express curiosity about their bodies and feel flattered when showered with the physical attentions of an older person they like. That still does not justify touching their bodies inappropriately or making gestures, suggestions and/or remarks that are graphic and sexually inappropriate.

Children need to be given a sense of personal boundaries, even in a casual, everyone-is-an-uncle/aunty culture such as ours. Talking about good touch-bad touch, naming body parts appropriately and keeping channels of communication open without showing embarrassment or disgust will go a long way in helping your child say no or tell you if someone is making him/her uncomfortable. If this means you need to get comfortable with your own body and learn to talk about touching and anatomy, please do that right away. You don’t have to launch into the how-precisely-you-were-born spiel. Keep it simple, age-appropriate and positive. Your child needs to know you’re willing to listen and that s/he is strong and important enough to say no and have his/her decision respected. In the event that the abuse has already occurred and you are in the know, don’t gloss over it, ignore it or disregard your child’s feelings. Some children will talk. Others will act out. Some will wet their bed and still others will show you through play. Don’t expect them to spell it out. It may be as subtle as “Can X drop me to music practice today instead of Y? Y laughs at me/is mean/doesn’t listen.”  

Pedophilia is typically not a one-off instance. People who use their power over children to gratify themselves sexually don’t do it just once for a lark. If it has happened to you or your child and even if you are absolutely certain you’ve done all you can to ensure your own/ child’s safety, remember the world has other vulnerable children and we’re responsible for each other to some degree. Raise an alarm, get help from appropriate authorities, but do not shove such an instance under the carpet no matter how much you want to forget about it and move on. Survivor stories frequently mention childhood victims confronting their abusers once they had children of their own to protect.

Know where your child is and with whom. If you feel more comfortable calling your child’s friends over rather than have him/her go to their home, go ahead and do that. Better paranoid than sorry in this case. Taking him/her with you is a better option if you don’t have a trusted person you can leave him/her home with. Even when your child is older (late childhood and adolescence), you still need to know the people in his/her orbit.  

The fact that you’re reading this online should tell you what’s coming next. Predators don’t just come in the guise of sweet neighbors and favorite teachers.  Monitor your child’s online activity and know what sites s/he is spending time on, the friends s/he is making via the internet and whether there is offline contact.

If you’re not sure, don’t ignore your doubts. Get professional help. Consult your pediatrician, ask for a referral to a therapist working with children, read up on the subject.  (If you want a culture-relevant book, try ‘My Personal Safety Workbook’ by Tulir Publications. It costs Rs. 25 and is interactive and informative.) Share your suspicions and information with your partner/family and remain watchful. Even if an episode of abuse has occurred, if you deal with it appropriately, it will not hamper your child from having a full, happy and healthy life.

Yes, this is a murky topic, but know that there are many well-meaning folks out there, committed to keeping a watchful eye and spreading awareness. It’s not all bad, there is much love in this world and may you and/or your child be at its receiving end.


If you wish to discuss this subject further, I will be taking questions from readers/parents/anyone interested at CSA-Awareness’ tweetchat site:   on Wednesday, April  13, 10.30—11.30 pm Pacific Standard Time, which is Thursday, April 14th, 11 am—12 noon Indian Standard Time.  You will need a twitter ID to log in. See you there.