Alors! I am now a prize winning author.
Note: I said prize winning, not award winning. There is a difference.
What happened was that IIPM conducted a creative writing competition wherein they wanted a short story of about a 1,500-2000 words on a ‘socially relevant message’, so I participated – and won first prize.
It was fun, because I had to miss one of my trimester exams and go on an a ‘all expenses paid for by the college’ trip to Bombay (IIPM Bombay had conducted the event) to attend a seminar on creative writing, at the end of which they announced the winners.
The seminar was interesting, there were quite a few nice people there–like Ruchi Narain,who wrote ‘Haazaron Khwaishein Aisi’ and Tuhin Sinha, who wrote ‘This Thing Called Love’, and Gregory David Roberts, who’d written ‘Shantaram’. All the speakers were good, and G. D. Roberts was entertaining–although his story about the convict in solitary confinement who’d shoved a thermometer up the eye of his penis just so he could go to hospital and talk to the people there, was a little disturbing, to say the least.
Anyway, here’s the prize winning entry – but be warned, it’s a little dark and disturbing – but then it deals with something very disturbing. [Trigger warnings for sexual abuse.]
Any constructive criticism is most welcome.
The girl took a deep breath. Up here, the view was enough to induce vertigo in most people, but she felt at peace.
A slow smile spread over her face.
She was standing on the terrace of a fifteen storied building. She had left her workplace after her shift, and like always, she had waved goodbye to her friends and told them that she’d ‘catch them later’.
But this day, instead of making her way home as she usually did, she had climbed to the top of the building.
There had been nothing special about the day, no proverbial straw that had broken the camel’s back, no ‘sign’ of any sort. She had simply woken up in the morning with one thought running through her mind: that today she was going to kill herself…and it was the best day of her life.
She was twenty-five years old.
Standing fifteen storeys above the streets, she felt detached from the whole world, like it was by a very thin thread that she was hanging on to her life—the life where she went to work everyday, laughed and joked with her friends and came home to her parents—and all it would take was one small step forward, and she would disappear from the world, as utterly as if she had never existed.
She had never felt more free.
She wondered briefly if she would be missed, whether there would be anyone concerned enough to wonder why she had done it.
She checked that bitter thought. She knew her parents would be devastated by her death.
They would wonder why.
But she could never tell them.
She was aware enough to know that her continued silence was not helping her—that none of what had happened had been her fault—yet she felt unable to speak up, shackled to her silence, like any other victim.
She hated that word.
She tried never to use it, even in the privacy of her own thoughts. When she did, there was no chance for escape, that one word brought home the truth of what had transpired, it made her face that one thing that she couldn’t confront. She had to acknowledge what had happened to her, what had been done to her.
And as soon as she started to think about it, she started to think about HIM, and that was such torture that that was usually when she slammed the gates of her mind shut, refusing to dwell any more on what had happened.
She didn’t know whether she spent more time thinking about him when she was actually thinking about him…or when she was actively trying to deny his very existence.
The worst part of it was that she could not even remember exactly when it had all started.
Maybe because it was always there, came the thought. Simmering below the surface, in the way he looked at you, the way his eyes followed you around the room, or the way he always drew you to his side and made you sit in his lap.
She had been too young to understand what had been happening at the time. But she wondered now, as she often had earlier, why she had never mentioned to anyone else what he had been doing to her. She had been taught the concept of personal space and privacy at a young age, like all children. Yet she had never spoken of what had been happening at the time.
Possibly it had been because the perpetrator was an adult, and a family member. She had still been young enough to hold fast to her childish innocence and had believed that her family would never betray her.
She had been brought up to trust her uncle.
I was too young to even know what was happening!
How could anyone do such a thing? To take advantage of a child’s innocence and a family’s trust… what sort of depraved monster could even conceive of such a thought?
As always, she checked the shudder that raced through her, choking down on her anger and revulsion as she clenched her fists, her breath leaving her on a shaky exhalation.
One of her favourite fantasies that she lived out time and again—when she spent so much effort not thinking about him—was that of turning up at his doorstep one day…with a sledgehammer.
In her fantasy she was an avenging angel, filled with the fire of fury, and she forcibly attached his hands to a table—how she did it was never clear, only that it was done—and then she proceeded to break his fingers one by one.
She dreamed of continuing to swing her hammer at him long after his hands had broken—those hands that had touched her through those endless nights…those hands that had taken her innocence and tortured and twisted it into a strange new shape of fear, hatred and vengeance all at once.
In her dream, there was no sound, not even the swish of the hammer through the air. There was very little blood and none of it was ever spilt on any part of her person. His family was never present. There was only the two of them, as it had always been in this hellish dance.
It shocked her sometimes, that she could have such bloodthirsty urges, but then close on the heels of her alarm at herself, came the stone cold thought whose logic she could never argue with: he deserves it.
She did not believe that she had done anything to ‘lead’ him on. It had been his moral corruption that had lead to this turn of events. But that was no comfort, not when she had to deal with the consequences of his actions everyday, waking up in a cold sweat from nightmares of burning eyes and grasping hands, spending her days in the grip of speechless dread.
Her greatest fear was that someday, someone—perhaps a co-worker or a new boss—
would try to push themselves onto her…and instead of filing for sexual harassment, or knocking them out and running away—or something—she would allow them to do whatever they wanted, crippled by her own weakness.
She shuddered, wrapping her arms around herself and rocking back and forth. At times, she felt like ripping her brain out of her head and cutting out the portion which held those memories.
Then, she thought, maybe…just maybe…I might have some peace.
But then again, I would not know about his evil so I’d let my guard down around the monster. And then here I’d be again, standing on top of a building, waiting to jump.
She wondered what had first drawn him to her. Any particular physical feature? Or just the fact that she was handy?
She wondered if he had done this before or since—neither would have surprised her much.
Did the parents of his next victim know him; was he someone they trusted their child with, like her parents had?
Again her thoughts ran down a familiar, torturous circuit.
How could her parents not have seen what was happening to her? And even if they had known what was happening, what would they have done?
Would they have turned their back on him completely?
Or would they have disbelieved her, said that she was making things up, that he was a nice man, an honourable man, after all, he was FAMILY—
She screamed, a loud anguished scream coloured with a tinge of raw hysteria.
Mostly, she just wanted this maddening, endless cycle of thoughts to be quietened. She wanted to spend one single day without thinking about HIM, one day where she could have true peace of mind.
She’d begun to think that she could never find it, the only peace she would ever have was when she was dead, free of the thoughts of the man who had ruined her life.
She sat down on the edge of the roof and held her head in her hands. She was starting to breathe in great heaving gasps, and she raised her fingers to her face, surprised to feel cool wetness on her cheeks.
She tried to remember the last time she had cried.
She could not.
How long she cried, sitting up there at the edge of the world, she never knew. It was only fitting, after all. She had a lifetime of tears to cry.
After a while, she slowly got to her feet and looked down again. She had made her decision.
She closed her eyes, took a deep breath and—
-—pulled out her cell phone.
She had made her decision—the decision to stop allowing him, even now, to dictate the course and manner of her life…and death.
She would not give him that much power over her.
It was time to take back her life.
Her silence was what had led her to this place, it was what had left her living in that same hell for fifteen years, unable to move forward and leave it all behind, as she had so desperately wished.
The phone was lifted off the hook.
‘Mom, it’s me.’
She took another deep breath and stepped back from the edge. It was time to break the cycle of silence.
‘Mom, I have something to tell you…’
[music| In my head: ‘Agni skalani’ from ‘Chatrapathi’]