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Voicing Silence 7

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Ed Fringe 2017 - Reviews

Porridge with fruit, paper version of the Grauniad and dull, wet
weather - it was good to be back in Edinburgh
There is nothing quite like theatre to make you feel quite so alive. And nowhere is this more evident than in the corpulent overdose of theatre that is Edinburgh Festival Fringe. As with every year, this year too I attended the Festival for my annual dip into the madness. And for three and a half days, I rolled with the punches and tumbled in its excess. What a glorious ride it was. I ate, drank and indulged in a lot of diverse forms of theatre. Personal and metaphorical journeys. Scripted and improvised storytelling. Technical marvels and pared down theatre.

And now that I am back, I am left wishing that I had watched more, stayed out later, braved the cold (yes, even in August, it's Edinbrrrgh) and thrown myself unresistingly into its artful melee. But I rest in the knowledge that I will be back next year and the year after and the one thereafter. For now though, here are brief reviews of  nearly every show I watched.

A Super Happy Story About Feeling Super Sad - Can you make a musical about depression and make it light and frothy while delving into darkness? This show gets the balance just right. 8/10

Eggs Collective: Get A Round - Dark side of a night out with friends. They are soon to be on BBC. Great energy but I didn't quite feel the pull. 3/10

Instructions For Border Crossing - Technical issues hampered this play. Lots of audience interaction but didn't like the actor. Was confused about what he wanted from us or what his stance was. 1/10

salt. - A searing, powerful exploration of identity. Selina Thompson, an adoptee of Afro-Carribean origin who grew up in Birmingham, went on a cargo ship tracing the journey her ancestors would have taken on a slave ship and has written a play about it. As she smashes a large rock of salt ("salt of the seas, salt of the tears"), it splinters and shatters across the stage and into the audience like the lives of those enslaved, resonating across continents, across ages. We were given a rock to take with us as we left. It weighed heavy in my hands. 10/10

Seance - Spooky twenty minutes in a pitch dark shipping container. A long table runs down the length  of the container with chairs laid out quite tight on either side of the table. The participants are advised to wear headphones, place their hands on the table, lights go out dramatically and the Seance begins. Brilliant sound design that unsettles and challenges every rational notion you have. Is this theatre? Is this art? Brilliant entertainment. 10/10

How To Act - This play by Scottish National Theatre meant its posters were plastered on buses. Pity such publicity could not save the lacklustre play. It's set as a masterclass with an acclaimed actor and whose dramatic exercise with one of the participants forms the length of the play. Gradually, the lines between reality and retelling blurs and there's a moment when something dramatic is revealed but it flops and we are urged to "speak the truth". Whatever. 1/10

Out Of Love - Writing that scorched and scalded and soared from the pages. Beautifully acted and realised. The power of female friendship, fierce, convoluted and glorious - all laid out in just over an hour's time. Oh, to be able to write like this! 10/10

Man Watching - An anonymous woman has written about her sex life and each night a male comic reads it out cold, for the first time in front of an audience. Interesting, funny, gimmicky. 5/10

Kafka And Son - Based on the letters that Franz Kafka wrote to his father that were later published as a book. Kafka was bullied by his overbearing father and this appears to have had a lasting influence on his life and his writing. The play was sensitively told by the actor playing both the father and the son to great effect. 8/10

Shape Of The Pain - What is it like to live with chronic pain? What does it look like? How does it sound? What triggers it? What worsens it? How do you live with it every breathing minute? Shape Of The Pain attempts to articulate chronic pain syndrome - something one of its creators suffers from. Its a visual, aural, technical and verbal description what must be indescribable. At the end like many in the audience left with my limbs aching, my head throbbing and my eyes stinging. 9/10

All We Ever Wanted Was Everything - A boy and a girl are born in Hull and their lives are traced over three decades - from New Labour to Brexit Britain - via plenty of live music. The evening of my show, the actor who played the narrator was given a special award by The Stage for being one of the best at the Fringe. His high octane, high energy performance was certainly a highlight but the rest was glittery and loud and distracting. 3/10

Cosmic Scallies - Skelmersdale in Lancashire is a monument to all things tried in failed. It was a town where, in the 1960s planner attempted to create a utopian housing scheme and didn't succeed. It's the setting for an unlikely friendship between two friends who go all the way back to primary school. It is tender, funny and at times brutally honest but the play is shy of going just that bit further. 7/10

EntryNoEntry - A performance art piece by a Srilankan artist who invites you into a dark cave, dances with you, asks gently probing questions of you about who you are and where you come from and leaves you bewildered and blinking into the lights. 6/10

The Road That Wasn't There - A trigger happy old woman, her concerned son, a half-torn map, a graveyard, a young girl in far away New Zealand and some puppets are among this rather Neil Gaimanesque story for children. The kids in the audience seemed riveted. 5/10
Blurrie with Guardian theatre critic Lyn Gardner 




All shows (bar one) were booked on recommendations by Guardian's theatre critic Lyn Gardner. You can read about my experience and my Primer To The Fringe here.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Voicing Silence - Feedback

Voicing Silence was shown at a film festival in Toronto some time ago and here's the audience feedback. You can read about how the animated short came to be in this series starting from 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9.



Monday, June 12, 2017

What Use Is Knowing...

...anything if no one is around
to watch you know it?

These are the opening lines of an eponymous poem by Kaveh Akhbar that I came across in The New Yorker recently. I am increasingly given to believe that people and words come to you bearing insights at a time when you were meant to read them. That it would be foolhardy to dismiss them as mere coincidences.

I read the above lines a couple of hours after an exchange on Watsapp which had caused me to wonder if perhaps I should not be giving away so much of what's going on. I began to question if the importance of the event is any less if it is not shared with others or liked by others. Is an event only valid if has been seen by others?

There was something about the culture of oversharing that made me pull out of Facebook some years ago. A decision I have not had cause to review ever since. And yet, it was precisely the kind of 'look at what's going on' that I was indulging in recently.

It was also what made me stop in my tracks to wonder if, I was taking part in whatever it is that I was doing - attending concerts, running races, visiting places - so I can share it with others? And did it matter at all if I didn't do so? Would I still be doing all the things that I was doing if there wasn't an audience? Most likely, but would they matter as much?

As for the poem itself, I couldn't follow much beyond the second stanza. It seemed like broken up and disjointed sentences which may have retained some coherence if had been written in a paragraph as running prose. But then I don't understand such obtuse poetry and I am left wondering if I should have shared with you the fact that I read the New Yorker or that some poetry leaves me confused. I will go now.

You can read all of What Use.. here

Monday, April 17, 2017

Carnatic And Chaos

The last time I attended a kutcheri was a good decade ago at a sabha in TNagar in Chennai when I spent much of the two and a half hours worrying that someone's mobile phone might go off right in the middle of a Ragam-Tanam-Pallavi or that a Nokia ringtone would interrupt the neraval. And invariably, when a phone did start to ring, I heaved a sigh of relief at no longer needing to be so angst-ridden.

A few days ago, as I sat at Kabaleeswarar temple mandabam listening to Sanjay Subramaniam sing, I
remarked how much more natural the setting was. It was part of a series of free concerts organised following Tamil new year's day and the kutcheri unfolded amidst the everyday chaos of temple occurrences. There were regular temple goers who'd stopped by to listen to a song or two as much as those who had turned up a whole hour earlier to grab a prized front row seat that made up the audience.

Large screens had been erected in the temple corridors and the audience spilt over
to fill up those spaces as well. I saw families that made a picnic of it, eating pongal prasadam on a donnai, temple bells being rung as part of evening poojai, ubiquitous blue plastic chairs scraping against the smooth mosaic tiles, coconuts being smashed in thanksgiving and a small bajanai goshti walking around in a procession clapping hands and singing. And all the time, Sanjay was belting out some of the most exquisite Carnatic music in the contemporary scene.

It felt right, it felt appropriate that the music should be played out in its most organic state. Not in a sterile environment but in the middle of everyday bustle, high art drawing from the rich soundscape of pedestrian life. In the distance, I heard a horn blare, a child behind me shreiked and Sanjay picked up a high note and somehow, in this uniquely Tamil setting, it all sounded harmonious.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Running In Madras

I'm no stranger to running in Madras. I began jogging in the early nineties, at a time when joggers were not commonplace and you only ever saw one when he (rarely a she) was chasing a bus. As an NCC cadet I used train to run 3 kms and would regularly clock 5 kms in order to improve my timing in the 3 km race.

Back then I used to be laced up and out on the streets by 0530 latest in order to beat the heat and the traffic. But the early hour also meant that I was a target for street dogs to chase and for perverts to grope or slap me under the cover of darkness.

In the intervening years, much has changed in the running scene in the city which hosts its own annual marathon and several smaller runs that it was tempting to experience it first hand. So yesterday for the first time in more than two decades, I signed up to run a 10 km race in Chennai.

The start line was brimming with lycra clad enthusiasts sporting an assortment of running gadgets that have become almost mandatory for anyone who aims to  put one foot in front of the other over a certain distance. By contrast I looked at my nylon socks that I'd borrowed from my father-in-law and the canvas shoes that I wear on a daily basis that I was now going run the race in. I looked ridiculously underprepared.

Where was my ipod? Where was the heartrate monitor, the sun glasses, the bandana, the sun cream, the petroleum jelly, the pace band, the Vibram, the leg compressor? Heck, I hadn't even had a proper pasta dinner the previous night. I'd had sambar rice and mixed vegetable and coconut curry and vaadam and thayir saadam with oorugai.

At least I'd had the good sense to pack a sports bra. I sighed, carried my mother in law's orange tupperware bottle filled with water (what? No even an isotonic sport drink?, I hear you ask) and lined up to run 10 kms at 5.45 am in what must have been at least 33-34 degree temperature. As we began running  (jogging in my case), I was struck by how different the sights and sounds are to my usual route. Bizarrely I felt like a tourist in my own city of birth. I had never taken part in a race in Madras and the novelty of running on the streets that I'd only ever driven on was striking (including on the evocatively named Elephant Gate Road).

For one, there's dodging the traffic but there's also unusual things that you wouldn't expect to find on a regular running trail. Like a horse drawn carriage being decorated with flowers by a group of women in order to carry two Jain nuns (I waved but they didn't reciprocate). Like a water lorry (I had to stop to let it pass). It was life as usual getting ready to unfurl while a motley group of runners made their way round a loop.


(edited to include photo)
And that's when I was struck by an epiphany. Running and exercise should be organic and integral to regular life. It shouldn't require fancy geekery to set it apart as if it were something unnatural. I finished the race with ease, in a less than personal best of one hour and four minutes. Or at least that's what I think it was. I hadn't worn a watch and had to rely on other people telling me the time. Not that it matters one jot.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Voicing Silence 9

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

In the days since I first posted this series, I have had several responses. The most common among them is "You're so brave!" and I thought I'd talk about that a little bit in this post. First of all, I feel a bit of a fraud for being called brave. I feel uncomfortable accepting such praise and it is not just false modesty talking here. Let me explain why I feel disingenuous about considered brave. 

I began sharing my experience at a time in my life, where, by doing so, I stand to lose very little. There is hardly anything at stake here. No lives whose course could change dramatically or limbs who could be severed by my admissions. If I had come out with these allegations several years earlier when the extended family was enjoying grand camaraderie and bonhomie with each other, and done so in such great detail, there is every possibility that the aunts, uncles, cousins and their spouses would have denied everything and reacted with rancour and rage (precisely as they have done in another instance). But saying so now, since the relations have already ruptured beyond repair, there is no new damage to be done.

I am at an age when I have been married for so long and have had children that, barring the inevitabilities of life, my life at present enjoys the gentle boredom of middle age. My current major pre-ccupation in life is figuring out if the new word that I have just learnt in German has a masculine, feminine or neutral article (Der Apotheke? Die Apotheke or Das Apotheke?*). If this had been say, 20 years earlier when, as an as yet unmarried woman I had made these allegations, the ramifications would have been much more. Any potential husband material would only have to google my name to land on this blog and then get cold feet (let's not pretend it doesn't happen, okay?) and knowing that such a possibility exists, would have made me hesitate in the first place. 

I chose to articulate what had happened to me at a time that suited me best. I have said what I have to, as to carry on any further would have eaten into me, leaving me sick, angry and bitter. What I have done is a selfish act of self-preservation and self-improvement. It is anything but brave. 

*it is die Apotheke, since you ask. 

Watch the feedback to Voicing Silence here 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Voicing Silence 8

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

It's almost two weeks since I posted the last instalment of Voicing Silence and I have heard from a number of people including some with whom I had lost contact years ago. The response has been overwhelmingly positive and it occurred to me that it might be a good idea to do a FAQs. This list is by no means exhaustive and will continue to grow. Please feel free to add to it by either commenting below or by writing to me.

FAQs

1. I cannot believe something like this happened to you. Looking at you, I would never have thought that. Are you sure you are not imagining it?

Sadly, I am not imagining it. It is true what happened to me. 

2. But you grew up in a traditional Tamil Brahmin household in cozy 80s Madras. Such things don't happen in our community. It's a foreign invention.

Yes, they do. No, foreigners didn't invent child sex abuse.  

3. I still don't believe you. I think you are out to besmirch your family. 

Okay.

4. Why have you come out with these revelations now? After all these years? Couldn't you have remained silent?

There was never a good time to say what I have said. It was always going to upset someone. I commissioned Lucy to create Voicing Silence because it was the first time in years that I was ready in my head and knew I could afford to pay her for her services. No, I couldn't have remained silent any longer. 

5. And now that you have spoken out, have you got any closure?

I don't know what closure means. If it means zipping something up and putting it away for posterity, no. I don't know if I can ever be rid of the event or stop reacting to it. But what it feels like is this. Some days, it feels as if a scab has been freshly picked open and the festering, pustulating wound has been laid bare. It will heal eventually, I hope. 

6. What do you want out of it all?

To be honest, in the course of writing it and creating Silence, what I want out of it has changed over time. Initially, I wanted retribution, then it became articulation. Now, I just want to be able to share my story in my own words. I want more of us to acknowledge to our own selves what has happened and seek professional help. It really is not worth carrying on living compromised lives. 

I used to see initiatives around teaching kids 'Good touch, bad touch' etc and used to wonder why so little was being done to address the trauma that adults were coping with. While it is vitally important to prevent such instances happening ever, it is paramount we talk about those who are living in the aftermath of horrific abuse from their past and I felt not enough was being done about that. 

From personal experience I knew that there were several in my own small circle who had experienced abuse and I knew that none had sought professional help. And all the time I kept reading about kids and safeguarding and all that. In my head I kept hearing, 'but what about me? I am not dead, know. I matter too.' I sincerely hope more adults begin talking and taking care of ourselves. 


7. What has happened since?

Lots, I am happy to report. One of the first people I shared this series with is my friends from school, including some whom I first met when I was three. My posts sparked a lively debate and it broke my heart to hear some say how they needed to borrow my words. Another friend from the same primary school group shared an incident which I have no memory of. 

She said that this happened when we were eleven or so. It seems it was my birthday and my mother had brought some sweets to the school but it appears, I had had a meltdown earlier in the day and my mother tearful when she talked to my class teacher about how I threw tantrums and how little I appreciated her efforts. Although I don't recall the exact incident, I know that that would have happened not long after the assault and it was when I started to get really, really angry. Just listening to my friend's recollection was touching. It meant that she had seen me, seen what state I was in and noted the instance when my social mask had slipped. 

I have heard from a cousin who wrote in a long email about how one can never be neutral when someone confesses as I had. And how he could not understand how anyone would doubt such an allegation. It was especially touching as it is the first time I had heard from anyone in the extended family circle in over a decade when similar allegations were first raised, which tore the family network  apart with several choosing severe ties with us. 

Long-forgotten friends and readers of this blog have written wonderful emails expressing sadness and promising support which has been lovely to read. 

8. Someone has just told me that they were abused as a child. What do I do?

Disclaimer: I am no professional or an expert in this matter. Please seek appropriate professional help. 

If someone tells you that they were abused as a child, please, please, please do not discount them. Or worse, doubt them. Listen to them. It takes a lot for someone to summon the courage and the words to say out loud what must have been whirring in their heads for so long. If they have chosen you to confess, they have placed their trust in you. Please just hold their hands and listen. And then very gently, guide them to seek professional help. 

9. All of this makes me very uncomfortable. Why can't we talk about something nice instead?

Yes, it is uncomfortable, yucky and unpleasant to talk about something so gross. For all the wonderful people who have written to me, there are a fair few who did not reply when I shared the blog series with them. And I understand their reluctance to engage with something so discomfiting. We would all rather run a mile than be confronted with something as horrific as this. We think it has nothing to do with us and we don't know of anyone to whom something like this has happened. 

There is a truly appalling statistic that says that as of 2007, nearly 53% of Indian children had been subjected to one or more forms of sexual abuse. I have no reason to believe that this number would have been less in the past, which means a majority of today's adults who grew up in India have suffered abuse. That's truly an epidemic proportions. Now tell me, do you really think there is no one in your family or friends group who has not been abused? 

We can either look away and hope that someone else will deal with it or step up and start doing something about this ugliness that pervades our every day life. The choice is ours. 

And since you wanted something pleasant, here's a picture of me and two people I am utterly besotted with. 


My babies and their mum


Read the next extract here at Voicing Silence 9

Friday, March 03, 2017

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



Read the next excerpt here at Voicing Silence 8


Thursday, March 02, 2017

Voicing Silence 6

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

One of my favourite speeches is this one that Neil Gaiman gives as the commencement address at an arts college in the US. In it he urges the students that whatever misery may befall them, to turn it into art. Use it as fuel to power their creative engine. I had decided that the best way to articulate my story was to make an animated short video of it and my friend Lucy was ideally placed to realise it. That said, how do I communicate the Madras of 1980s to someone who has never been to India?

I recorded a narrative and gave the audio to Lucy and she came up with her own set of question. Where did you sleep when you were young? Did you have beds? Did you change out of your day clothes to go to sleep? Did the rooms have windows? Did you grow up eating jam? What common insects would you find around the house? Would you sing or dance? Did you use ceramic mugs and cups? What did you wear on your feet when you went out? What sort of taps did you have in your house? Did you celebrate Christmas? Did it mean anything to you?

I started crowdsource responses including some from my school Watsapp group who were highly bemused with my request of photos of their kitchen sinks and utensils. My father sent me a whole bunch of photos from my childhood which prompted a blog post too. I sent links to Louis Malle's L'Inde Fantome which had significant portions shot in Madras but a couple of decades early. I sent links to some of my favourite Ilayaraja songs from that period and also some Carnatic music tracks which I grew up singing and listening to.

Lucy would get back to me every now and then with a line drawing or colour scheme that she was trying out and I would respond enthusiastically to it. I had left the artistic vision and the direction of the story entirely to her, secure in the knowledge that she would do it justice. She had watched the animated story of Malala and came back to the project refreshed.

Lucy wanted to bring in a sound designer and a musician that she had worked with earlier on board and as ever, I nodded eagerly. I also knew that she was juggling so many other projects and that the creative process some times takes as long as it does, so didn't want to push her too much with deadlines and demands.

Mangai introducing the Voicing Silence
troupe to gathered street theatre audience*
Me performing as part of
Voicing Silence*
I had decided to call it Voicing Silence, shamelessly plagiarising the title from a project about female infanticide and foeticide in Tamilnadu from the mid-90s that I had been a part of. It was also a lazy hat tip to A Mangai (aka Padma Arasu), whose ideas and work on feminism and theatre and gender and language I admired tremendously.

By the time Lucy shared with me the final version of Voicing Silence, I had watched the drafts so many times I couldn't react to it with fresh eyes but I knew it would be a conversation starter. Lucy had shared it with those in her circle and that prompted many to voice their own trauma which had not been spoken of for decades. But not everyone was as willing to react. It was difficult to accept that my own admission could startle and shock people that they would rather not say anything. Some people I sent the video to didn't reply and that is something I had to learn to accept.

Close friends responded with kindness and compassion. One of them called up and spoke exclusively about the film and  didn't say anything about the incident that had triggered it. She later wrote about how angry and how sorry she was that I had to go through what I had. She said that she found it easier to write because she would not have been able to say it to my face.

Lucy began sending it out to various festivals and we decided to give it year in the circuit before publishing it on the web. So tomorrow, with great joy and pride I give you Voicing Silence.

* images are screen grabs from A Mangai - a documentary (link here)

(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).

Read the next excerpt here at Voicing Silence 7

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Voicing Silence 5

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

With Leslie Udwin
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 deeply upset about the ban and couldn't understand the reason for it. I however, only got it too well. We would much rather look away and will it to go away than be confronted with its dark underbelly of entrails.

So what do I do with my experience? It had been playing in endless loops in my head and I wanted to share it with others. And the answer was hiding in plain sight.

With Lucy Lee and our respective boys
I had known Lucy Lee for well over a decade and we had worked on a few projects together. Our kids - her first and my second - were born within months of each other and we compared notes on motherhood frequently. For a while, Lucy would bring her newborn to mine on Tuesdays and we'd spend the day listening to talks, discussing pressing issues and setting the world to right.

Lucy also happens to be a talented animator who graduated from the National Film & TV School which is widely regarded as one of the best film schools in the world.

So I decided I would commission Lucy to do an animated short documentary of my experience. After all, as Lucy would often point out, the advantage with animation is that it is the medium of metaphor. You could say a lot without showing anything literal and letting the audience fill in the gaps. I sounded her out and she was delighted to be asked and we set to work straightaway.

There was only one issue. How do I communicate the world I grew up in - its sights and sounds and smells - to someone who has never been to that part of the world?

(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).

Read the next excerpt here at Voicing Silence 6

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

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.

My shorts-wearing, middle-finger raising, Guardian-reading,
mobile-carrying, pineapple-wielding (not idea why
pineapple, may be 'cause the fronds resemble her hair?)
Kali 
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 it had not undone me and I would laugh the laugh of the triumphant survivor, the defiant avenger. And I would dance the dance of The Righteous And Indestructible Kali as my nemesis lies reduced to embers.

The reality however was starkly grey.

When I told my father about this idea some time later - it was also the first time I had told him of what had happened to me - there was none of the anger I had expected (note: people's reaction rarely matches your own expectations of how they would react). There was not even a hint of surprise. He just sounded immensely tired and wearily accepting of what I had told him. He then said that he would not be interested in becoming involved in such a legal battle.

Given that he was perhaps the most qualified person for the job - I don't know of any one else who has been practising criminal law in India for fifty plus years - it was disappointing to say the very least. I consoled myself that perhaps it is because he would not be able to be objective about it in the same way as he is when he handles sexual assault cases. So I had to reluctantly give up on the idea.

But I was not about give up on the thought of retribution. It would take some time but when the thought occurred to me, it felt like a jolt of lightning passing through my entire being.

(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).

Read the next excerpt here at Voicing Silence 5

Monday, February 27, 2017

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.)

Aged ten, around
the time of my assault
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't go into the specifics of it but suffice to say that the extended family was in vehement denial of it and that caused a permanent and irreparable rift in the circles. The more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that they all been subjected abuse in some form or the other. They were either themselves assaulted or knew others who had had that happen to them and they had all chose to keep quiet about it. After all, what could they do? And who would believe them anyway?

Remember the aunt from the earlier post who'd had a nervous breakdown? She said something to me not long after the family kerfuffle. She said, "there are very many respected people in this family, many of whose photos have hung on the walls in this house. But few would believe what they got up to." and then she held my gaze for just that little bit longer. She knew that I knew what she was talking about and I also knew that our stories were far from the only ones.

Anyway, by the time we had this conversation,  I was a mother and not constricted by the stifling environs of India and I wanted to do something. And not just for my children's sake but my own. Anything that would articulate what happened to me but nothing seemed right.

(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).

Read the next excerpt here at Voicing Silence 4

Sunday, February 26, 2017

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.

A 10 year old me,
around time when I
was assaulted
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 endemic to our lives that it barely needed elaboration. Only the details of it was different. Imagine that. A group of sixteen year old girls talking about being sexually abused as if it were a dress we all owned, only in different shades. "Oh, I have that in a Dirty Uncle shade", "Mine is a Filthy Neighbour hue" or "I have many in Ugly Relative colour". Yes, that's how normal it had become, how casual our acknowledgment of it was.

Plus, it was also the time in our lives we were becoming newly aware of being targets of casual everyday assault. Like having our butts slapped, our breasts fondled, our bodies rubbed against. We were facing turbulent times nearly everyday that serious crimes from childhood were packed off to the Unwanted Archives Department. But I wasn't prepared to forget it just yet.

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

Read the next excerpt here at Voicing Silence 3

Saturday, February 25, 2017

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).

Read the next excerpt at Voicing Silence 2