On Thursday evening life was on schedule with everything. I looked forward to husband’s and mine Friday date-night. I attended a video call with my instructor and classmates from the Stanford program. We read short parts of different readings and discussed about use of different Point of Views.
And then, appeared a new reading. Even before my eyes could scan or my brain could comprehend, a word jumped out, on the first column, last para, somewhere in the middle. It wasn’t highlighted or bold, but it was there, as if, just for me. In a flash, I was back to my past, reliving everything. Tears rolled down as I tried to concentrate on the happenings of the video discussion. But my brain was stuck, just staring at the word “Lajpat Nagar.”
All my years of therapy, self-control, telling myself that I have moved on, that I am emotionally strong, thinking that I am the boss of me, that I can contain this thing, all, all of it, disappeared in a puff. While wiping my tears, it didn’t bother me what my classmates or instructor would think of me. Nothing mattered, but that word. I never imagined I will read the name of my hell on print in any context.
Lajpat Nagar—the refugee colony. Where my parental grandparents build row-houses when they moved to New Delhi during India-Pakistan partition. Where everyone knows everyone as they all lived together for years in refugee camps at Old Fort. Where for years my mother and father beat me with slippers, belts, hangers, fists, rods, brooms, and anything else they could. Where all my extended family, who lived in adjoining row-houses just stood and watched me being degraded. I place where I was sexually abused by more than one. A home that reinforced in me that I was dumb ugly useless. A family that wished for my death. Parents who addressed me as bitch and whore and servant. And a sister who shunned me as untouchable. Lajpat Nagar where not one person ever showed me any kindness.
After the video call, I called my husband, sat in my closet and cried until he returned. He held me as I cried more. I rationalized. He summarized. It is because you haven’t visited New Delhi for ten years. Because you were stubborn to wait for your American passport. Travel as soon as the class ends. But December is too foggy and smoggy and the allergies will kill you. Visit next year, for those 13 or so days between your classes. Summer will be too hot, worse than Vegas hot. Okay, I will book your tickets, just make a quick trip. There is a direct Air India flight from San Francisco. Get it out of your system.
He was right, kind-of. I thought the same—I was missing New Delhi/ Lajpat Nagar—when I overshared with my classmates and instructor on the video call. I felt I had to say it. Probably, I shouldn’t have. Not the best idea to show your vulnerability during the second week of class. But at that moment, nothing made sense. It was as though, my parents and every asshole of Lajpat Nagar had popped out of my computer screen and invaded my safe secure home.
Since then, I went out for my comfort food— high-calorie burger and milkshake, shopped for cleaning supplies at Target, watched crappy TV, deleted all Amanpour shows from DVR, rearranged my closet, watched more mindless TV, consumed more fattening food, and started reading the assigned book for the course.
My tears ebbed and flowed, at their own will. As if there is a tear vault, which, once open is impossible to control or shut. I am trying to figure out this new thing. Okay, I agree, I have zero control on my tears. When I visited a Hindu temple for the first time after 13months in America, I had cried. Other Indians wondered at the western looking weirdo in a temple, crying. And my boyfriend (now husband) worried people would blame him for my tears.
On Thursday, I wasn’t crying because I felt helpless or ashamed about my past. I accepted it and me some time ago. I was crying for the un-necessary pain my parents and society put me through. Their abuse didn’t make me stronger or a better person. Telling me that sexual abuse was my fault and was part of life didn’t absolve them for intentionally putting in dangerous situations.
I was crying because I have unfinished business with Lajpat Nagar. The place, where the entire neighborhood heard my screams for help, where my predators roam free, where I was dragged by my hair on the street, where people pointed at me and said, “That girl”, where nobody wanted to be my friend, where everyone took a hit on me because they could, where I was a girl waiting for her parents to ultimately kill her, where the ironing-woman who lived in temporary hut on the roadside, laughed and made fun of me.
It is Thursday/ Friday morning as I write this. And the pit of my belly still hurts, tears still roll down, sometimes in drips and sometimes in a rush. I keep on seeing the young Sheena, in a bright blue towel t-shirt imprinted in black with two tennis rackets crossing at handles over her unbound developing breast, a polyester bright red A-line knee-length skirt, walking 30 minutes almost everyday to Lajpat Nagar market (because her mother needed something everyday) through deserted roads and neighborhood and municipal drains, strange men zooming past her on bicycles leaning and pinching her breast and pulling her skirt.
I wish I could go and hug her and show her some kindness. I will tell her that one day everything will be fine, but it will take a long-ass-time.