Ruchira Hoon is a chef and food writer. She has been a journalist for 12 years and has currently opened her own bakery called The Piano Man Bakery in New Delhi
It must have been mid-afternoon. It had to be. Because the sun was streaming through the back door, the only time that part of the house got any sun and nearly everyone was asleep in the house. I remember what I was wearing so vividly. A white chemise with a horse embroidered in green thread. My hair in pig tails, just how my grandmother liked it to be, and I was just waiting for someone to wake up so I could tell them I was going out to play.
Bahadur was awake though, he was sitting in the sun, playing with shells. I sat beside him cross-legged, asking him to teach me how to play. He was our cook but he was also my playmate for several games such as snakes and ladders and ludo, sometimes he’d even be our third playmate when Kavita and I needed to skip-count. But today, today I wanted to learn how to play with shells. Plus he knew everything – especially because he was 19 years old and I just 7 1/2.
He tried to teach me, but 10 minutes later, I was thoroughly confused and bored. So he asked me if I wanted to play something different. “Have you seen a snake coming out of someone’s body,” he asked me. Intrigued, I asked him to show me. Out he whipped his penis, brown, wrinkly yet long. “Touch it, and you’ll see it grow.” I did. “Where is its eye,” I asked him. “Keep touching it and it will show you its eyes too,” he said.
It lasted for all of 2 minutes. But I wondered what had just happened. By then, we could hear the house stirring and I quickly ran off to my grandmother to say I was going out.
That was the first time. Two days later, while the whole house was asleep, I crept into the kitchen for a glass of water. Bahadur was awake too, only be beckoned me closer to him and asked me to sit on his lap. I did. “Do you know where the snake goes in, in the nights? “ he asked me. I, obviously, didn’t. “Let me show you,” he said. That’s the first time he put his finger inside my vagina. I can’t remember it hurting me, but it surprised me for sure. I jumped up. But he called me back. “Don’t tell anyone, this will be our secret game.”
For months then on, if we were alone, he’d make me sit on his lap and finger me. He would ask me if I felt anything, and I would say no. He’d make me touch his “snake” and said it always made him feel better. But I did feel all sorts of confused and started to sleep in, instead of going out to play or waited till my grandmother or grandfather were awake before venturing out of the room.
A year later, I was starting new school. Which meant I had to move back in with my parents, which meant I would see Bahadur way less often. Which was perfectly fine with me. His brother, Nakul, came to work with us and I was paranoid that my sister would be left alone with him, so would make all sorts of excuses to make sure she tagged along with.
By the time I was 12, it hit in full force what had happened to me. And yet I chose not to talk to anyone. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I didn’t have the right words, or so I thought. At 17, though, sitting in a friend’s house where she talked about her abuse, I opened up about mine. It was as if a dam had been broken, the more I talked about my experience the more I learnt that similar things had happened with my friends. Atleast to 1 out of 3 of them. Scary. Sometimes it was an uncle, sometimes a cousin, sometimes it was the servant. Whoever it was, it was someone we all had trusted and it left us so confused each time.
It wasn’t until I was 35 that I actually confronted my emotions that I had piled up so many years about my sexual abuse. It took me a while to go up to a psychoanalyst and describe what I felt, because I realized I needed to help myself and just allow myself for that 7 ½ year old who had suddenly lost her innocence.
I cried for the 7-year-old me, for the 8-year-old who was paranoid for her sister, for the 12-year-old who realized she had been abused and for the 17-year-old who finally could talk about it.
Now, 20 years later, I find talking about it has not only made me stronger but has helped me fight my demons from within. I don’t cry as I write this piece, not because I don’t want to, but because I am done crying. I am done crying and I want to tell my story because I do NOT feel ashamed. If anything, I want to help others. Because haven’t atleast the half of us lived to tell this tale.