TW; this article contains mentions of child abuse
An ordinary Sunday night at home, 2005.
My cousin, talented and older as most cousins and children of neighbors are, had picked up the guitar with enviable ease. His soft mumbled singing paired with the lilting notes of his guitar had everyone floored, my parents included. Naturally, my 8-year-old self wanted to reclaim the throne she was previously entitled to by way of cuteness; I wanted to be the center of attention again. Many chores and puppy-dog-faces later, I found myself signed up for guitar lessons.
An ordinary Wednesday evening, 2005.
The first day of guitar class. Having quickly traded my boring uniform for a new set of clothes, my lucky pink glittery hair clip firmly holding my fringe in place, I eagerly waited for 5 pm.
My mother and I set out, the obvious bounce in my step betraying my excitement.
Sir’s house was like any typical house in Mumbai – small, disorganized, had a stack of empty cardboard boxes kept in the corner for some reason, and the smell of these old boxes wafted throughout his house.
The sounds of him and my mother discussing technicalities sounded muted, like a backdrop to the constant thought repeating in my head- I want my guitar. After what seemed like endless small talk, he handed me my new guitar whom I lovingly named Ed.
There’s no other way to say it; Ed was beautiful, a glossy black and maroon Hobner, and he fit snugly in my arms. Carrying Ed on my back was a precarious balancing act; At a mighty 4 feet 3 inches, even bobbing my head to either side would have both me and my beloved piggy-back-rider sprawled on a Mumbai sidewalk.
The night I got Ed home, I had him practicing poses with me in my bedroom, award acceptance speeches rolling off my tongue because I was (obviously) on my way to become the Indian Hannah Montana.
This became a Wednesday routine- school, and then guitar class. Sometimes I would wear my lucky clip too if I felt my day was going to be good.
Just another ordinary Wednesday evening, 2005.
I proved to be as quick a learner as my cousin; Sir marveled at my knack for rhythm and how quickly my tiny, nimble (and now callused) fingers learned the basics. Wednesdays were, in my sure opinion, the best day of the week. I took great pride in being Sir’s “favorite student”; he was my favorite teacher. No one ever interrupted our classes; he had no kids and his wife was ‘always busy at work’. Now I wonder whether how much of that was true.
During our breaks, he cracked jokes that had my 8-year-old self in stitches but this delighted us both; he said I had a smile “which would drive men crazy.”
A strange Wednesday evening, 2005.
I wore my lucky clip, glittery paint starting to peel, and was off to class. The weight of my guitar now felt imperceptible, the strap resting easily on my shoulders.
Sir asked me to keep the guitar down- he wanted to talk, to get to know me better. Feeling nothing amiss, I made my way to the couch. He sat next to me, the cushion tilting under his weight, and began praising my work with the guitar- my heart swelled with pride. The compliments didn’t stop– it felt as though my award acceptance days had come early. His hand resting on my back, he said that I was looked pretty, that my legs looked nice in shorts. His other hand grasped my thigh, and suddenly the compliments sounded heavy and distorted in my ears. My body was in shock, every sense both dulled and acutely aware of what was happening. The touching didn’t stop- he continued reiterating that I was his favorite student. That I had a smile he would kill for.
What is happening? Why was I unable to move? Why did it feel so wrong? Did this happen because I was his best student? Is my lucky clip not lucky after all?
Walking back home that day, Ed felt heavier than he ever had. The places he touched me- my back, my arms, my thighs, burned like his hand had been aflame. Guilt, shame, an overwhelming sense of ‘ickiness’ filled my being. My eyes had welled up and my vision was blurry, my steps faltered under the weight of my emotions. It felt like a lump of coal was stuck in my throat. I didn’t process what exactly had happened- all I knew is that I wanted this heaviness to go away.
After that incident, I stopped going for classes and never touched Ed again. My parents never understood why, and I couldn’t articulate the reason either. My body remembered everything, but my mind just wiped all the memories out.
An ordinary Wednesday evening, 2020.
15 years later, I came to realize and process what had happened- the #MeToo movement compelled me to introspect and retrieve every detail that I had buried below the floorboards of my memory. The stories of men and women who went through something similar, sometimes less harrowing and sometimes more, prompted me to view my memories through a new lens- I wasn’t the culprit or accomplice, I was a blameless child placing my trust in an adult, as every child is dictated to.
That night I removed Ed from my cupboard, his glossy, black and maroon body dulled by the coarseness of time, and dusted him clean. With every speck of dust leaving his body, my own body felt lighter- The ickiness no longer consumed me. My thighs didn’t burn with the heat of a thousand flames, my senses felt sharp and my hands were steady. Ed felt light in my hands, almost as light as I felt.
Is this what healing feels like?
Written by Sanjana Shastri for MTTN
Edited by Mihika Antonia Dean for MTTN
Featured Image by Sudeep Shaw for MTTN
Artwork by Pragathi Sampath for MTTN