Under the Shade

(This is a graphic story, reader discretion is required.)


“Sunayana,” my mother’s voice rang from the other end of the hall, “come and greet Inder Uncle.” I sighed and began to walk across, running a random check about Inder Uncle and drawing a blank. Did I know him? I had not a clue and the name meant nothing. It was probably someone I had met in passing years ago and that was about it. It was five minutes to eight.

I stopped short before him and managed to keep a neutral expression. It couldn’t be him that my mother wanted me to meet! My eyes met his in a cold fury. Mother had long disappeared to attend to other guests at the party and I was left alone to face him. It was so typical of her.

He had not really changed much in appearance, except that he was older and the beard was more of salt and pepper, his turban as immaculate as ever, starched and precise in folds. He stood there with that genial smile of his. The Inder Uncle was someone I had met when I was seven years old. The memories began to flood me…drowning…

“Sunayana…” I was playing in the rain with Bhav and was trying to ignore mother’s calls. We managed to do so for another couple of minutes after which she dragged both of us into the bath, scrubbed, bathed, dried and clothed us in fresh dry clothes. An hour later father had arrived with a young man whom he introduced as Bittu Uncle, his cousin who stayed in Delhi. Both of us were happy to find another person to play with. He was perhaps thirty-five then. 1 remember what followed, ever so well. The memories are imprinted in my mind, each tiny detail so unmistakably lucid. 

The family had eaten amidst jokes and narrated past incidents that made my parents laugh while Bhav and I shared our own amusement at Bittu Uncle’s expense. The fun and laughter was over and it was time to go to bed. Bittu Uncle was to share the room with us. It was all very fine and we were used to the arrangement. There was a lack of space at home and most visitors were accommodated with us. In extreme circumstances I used to move to the sofa. Bhav was asleep in a matter of a couple of minutes after the room was aglow in the light of a night lamp. I had more difficulty in falling asleep that soon. There was more to come that hot sultry night.

I lay with my eyes shut next to Bittu Uncle, unable to sleep. I felt Bittu Uncle run his hands through my hair and in the innocence of a seven year old snuggled up to him. It is a terrible feeling to know today that it was all he needed. He hugged me to him and I resisted feeling uncomfortable. He kissed me on my lips and pushed my mouth open with his tongue. I was terrified. I could hardly move as he pinned me and ravaged my body, damaged me without my being aware of it; his hands groping all over my body, demanding and what happened later was something I have been unable to get over. A man, who was older than my father as I see then, sexually abused me, a seven year old. I remember the threats he gave and I was too frightened by it all. I pushed the memory of it all to the recesses of my mind and never told my mother about it. I never was able to tell her anything. She never had time to listen to me and thought I made up things to seek her attention. 

I grew up understanding what had happened and as I grew older I blamed myself for not seeing it. But then, how could a seven year old understand the act. It was beyond comprehension for a long time and I had pushed it far back so I could put it all behind me and work my way into this world without much damage. I had succeeded…so far…

“Mamma” my daughter came running and threw her arms around me, snapping me out of my reverie. I picked her up and kissed her chocolate smeared cheeks. 

“Is that your daughter?” he asked. I nodded looking at him with disdain.

"Come to Dada beta,” he held his arms outstretched. Naina looked to me for approval.

I shook my head and she stayed where she was.

“Why Mamma?” She asked with the curiosity of a four year old. 

My time had come. I looked at Inder Uncle directly, hate filling my voice and my eyes and said, “Because he is not a nice man and you must stay away from him.”

“Why?” he asked, taken aback at my venom. He did not even remember. How many girls had he...? I even refused to consider beyond that. I felt leaden, sick.

“If I see you even touch my daughter, I will make sure you have never been sorrier in your life.” saying so I walked away with my daughter. For the moment I had been able to protect her. The clock chimed eight. I felt truly heavy-hearted.

“Sunayana…”

Ah! My mother.


© Sandhya Suri

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