“I don’t agree. Strong girls don’t wait so long to come out.” “How can you say so? You need courage to speak up, even if it means after years.. And how many people do you know Sneha, who have shared their stories with their own folks?” “Well Tripti, I guess Veena will agree with me, right?” “well..uh..Sneha, I don’t know.” “Oh c’mon you two, we are the privileged ones who never had to face all this,” said Tripti, firmly continuing her argument with Sneha on the latest #metoo debate in India. “Guys, um, our train is here, and as much as I love being with you two, I don’t want to miss it,” giggled Veena, as she quickly hugged Sneha & Tripti before bidding adieu with teary eyes.
Sneha, Tripti & Veena met in Delhi during their post-graduation days and soon became an inseparable lot. They didn’t share the same classes but had one common interest – bunking! Cafeteria was their gossip & hangout zone. They’d plan outings, movies and even their future. Tripti got married in Bangalore soon after; Sneha moved back to Pune to join her mother’s business, and Veena chose to stay back in Delhi despite resistance from her family in Mumbai. After a short getaway near Bangalore, it was time for them to return. On their way to the railway station a serious argument broke between Sneha & Tripti. But Veena chose to stay out of it.
She is usually a strong & courageous woman. But today her mind was triggered with some haunted memories of the past. Stories she never shared with anyone– not even her best friends. She kept seeing those eyes that pried on her as she undressed to take a shower.
It was 11.00pm and Veena wanted to crash soon. Other passengers were still settling down, or so they pretended to. So, she exchanged her lower side berth with upper side berth and went to sleep. Hours later she could still feel the gaze. Her eyes were heavy with sleep but she tried to open it anyways. It was pitch dark and silent. Everyone in their coach seemed to be sleeping. But she knew there was something off. As she looked towards the adjacent compartment, she saw a fat man gazing at her with only the phone lights on. For a second she felt numb, her heart started to pound fast. She ducked under her blanket and tried to go back to sleep. “Soon, I will reach Delhi and resume my routine,” Veena was thinking as she tried to sleep.
It was a bright Sunday afternoon in Mumbai. Veena was 17yrs old. Her parents had left town for a weeklong vacation in Nainital. For women, Mumbai is known to be among the safest city in India. Actually, we all feel safe at our homes.
As soon as Veena saw those eyes prying through the half broken glass windows of bathroom, her heart raced, but mind worked faster. She didn’t react, turned off the shower, got dressed and screamed “mom, dad, please I don’t want to bathe. My friends won’t mind.” She quickly ran out of the bathroom, and went to meet her friends, way before the meeting time. Veena didn’t want to come back home that night, or all the nights until her parents were back. She would lock herself in the bed-room and switch the TV on loud. She hadn’t bathed for a week and ran to open the door for her parents. She was crying, but couldn’t share what happened. “What happened beta?”, “nothing, I just missed you two a lot.”
It was not the first time that Veena’s privacy was violated. It had happened at coaching classes, sports practices and even shopping centres where she was accompanied by her parents. But it was the first time at her house. She was called the ‘ugly duckling’ by friends & relatives, so she wasn’t sure if anyone would believe her. After all, why would a predator choose gullible, thin and dark but a young girl who’s always fighting for her rights?
Today, Veena is 27yrs old. She is sharp, beautiful and bolder than ever but she is highly sensitive to unknown touch, standing too close to people irrespective of their gender and dreads going anywhere alone. Sometimes, people laugh at her and she laughs along with them, for no one knows that those ‘prying eyes’ follow her everywhere.