It was past midnight. Ten-year-old Roshan lay, his right cheek pressed against the pillow, between a cousin Tony and an uncle Satish at his home in Calcutta. His parents were in another bedroom. Yellow light lit up the upper part of the room, thanks to the lamppost on the road. The only sound was the trembling of the blades of the fan above him.
Tony raised his head to look at Satish. He slept facing the wall. So Tony relaxed. He sat up, leaned to his right, and pulled at the pyjama cord of Roshan. It loosened. He waited. There was no movement on Roshan’s part. Tony pulled down the pyjama by gently lifting Roshan’s waist. Again he waited. The boy made no movement.
But Roshan was wide awake, even though his eyes remained closed. He felt exposed because of the breeze from the fan; it raised tiny goose bumps on his upper thighs. But he also felt nervous. He knew something forbidden was about to take place.
He sensed some movement behind him, and then Tony raised his left leg, inserted his penis and brought the leg down. It remained between Roshan’s thighs. It was hot and throbbing. Again, Tony paused to see whether there was any reaction from Roshan, who remained still. Tony pressed Roshan’s thighs together and pushed his penis forward and backward, trying to simulate a vagina.
There was an urgency in Tony’s grip on Roshan’s leg and the first signs of air rushing out of his mouth. Roshan felt he was on the edge of a cliff. All he could feel was this thing moving and getting bigger, between his legs and Tony’s grip on his thigh. The movements became faster. Tony slipped into another world.
After a few minutes, Roshan could sense the organ expanding followed by several contractions. And then a stillness. Then a soft and satisfied moan, as Tony withdrew. Roshan did not understand what had happened. Then Tony lifted Roshan’s pyjamas and re-tied the cord. Roshan sensed Tony’s body turning over to the other side. Roshan lay still for several minutes, not wanting to give the faintest hint he was awake. Soon, he heard a soft snore, and realised that Tony had sunk into a deep sleep. In the darkness, Roshan reached out and touched the sheet beside him. His left hand came across gooey stuff. Roshan rubbed his hand against another part of the sheet and drifted off to sleep.
Tony grew up in Margao in Goa. His father — Roshan’s Dad’s brother — worked in the Indian Navy. Tony got a job as an accountant in a biscuit-making firm at Calcutta. He was 6’ tall, but on the plump side — a slight paunch fell over his belt. But, at 24, he remained frustrated. In the early 1970s, India was a conservative place. There was little chance of an interaction between the sexes, let alone the thought of having sex. For that, you had to go to a prostitute. But Tony knew there was a risk of contracting a sexual disease.
The next morning, when Roshan opened his eyes, Tony and his uncle were not in the room. He glanced at the place where the sperm had fallen and, sure enough, a yellowish stain could be seen but it was not noticeable, unless you were looking for it, because of the maroon sheet. Soon, Abdul the servant would come and place a counterpane over the two beds. At breakfast, Tony, dressed in a long-sleeved white shirt and black trousers, and shining black shoes, smiled at Roshan.
He said, “How is school?”
Roshan said, “Fine.”
Roshan realised that Tony felt sure the child did not know what had happened the previous night. ‘He must be dumb,’ thought Roshan.
Roshan drank his glass of milk, and ate his omelette and toast, using a spoon and fork. His mother helped him put on his white shirt and grey shorts. Then she combed his hair, left to right, while holding his chin with her left hand. Then it was off to school.
For the next few months, it continued like this. After midnight, Tony pulled down Roshan’s pyjamas, placed his penis between the boy’s thighs and had an orgasm. Roshan thought of telling his parents but couldn’t muster up the courage.
Anyway, relief came when a marriage proposal came for Tony. The girl, Lisa, a daughter of a wealthy businessman, lived in California. Tony said yes because he always wanted to go to the United States and what better way than by marrying a citizen? And so Tony married Lisa and moved off to California. Roshan was relieved that his nights had become peaceful. Now he slept on one bed and uncle Satish on the next.
However, predators remained close by. In school, the English teacher. Fr James told him to come to his room with his English composition paper after classes concluded for the day. Roshan had got five out of ten, which was better than many students. So it puzzled him about why the priest had called him.
Roshan knocked on the door. Fr James opened it. He smiled. The priest had large eyes, which had a hint of lasciviousness.
When Roshan entered, Fr. James took off his white cassock and placed it on a hanger. Underneath Fr. James wore khaki Bermuda shorts and a brown T-shirt.
“Come sit on my lap,” said Fr. James.
Roshan was too timid to say no.
He sat on the left knee. Fr. James said, “You have to improve your grammar.”
As the priest leaned forward to look at the paper spread open on the table in front of him, Roshan fell between the thighs of the priest. The boy realised Fr James had not worn underwear. He felt the priest’s penis press against his lower back. Soon, it became hard. The priest pressed harder.
But Roshan was lucky. The priest did nothing more than that. After half an hour, Fr James allowed him to leave. When he stepped out, he saw Shyamal Mitra, a classmate of his. He wore thick-lensed spectacles. They were the smallest boys in the class.
The next day when Roshan asked Shyamal what had happened, his friend said that Fr. James took out the boy’s penis and stroked it forward and backwards.
He kissed it many times.
Roshan decided that if Fr. James called him again, he would tell his parents about what had happened on the first visit.
Shyamal was not upset.
“I liked it,” he told Roshan.
Roshan did not know what to say. He knew it was wrong.
As for the priest, he also knew that one complaint would destroy his career. So, he had to be very careful. He realised Roshan did not have gay tendencies, but Shyamal seemed okay. Fr James would give him some gifts now and then to keep the boy happy. He came from a lower-middle class family.
Just like Fr. James, whose father worked as an accountant in a small firm. When James turned fifteen, he realised that he liked boys rather than girls. He had his first sexual encounter in school when Mark, a gay like him, took him to the back of the building in the evening, and jerked him off. James remembered it as painful as Mark pulled too hard. He was not able to come.
Then Mark pressed down on the shoulders of James, who sat on his haunches. “Suck,” Mark whispered as he opened his trousers. For James, it was novel and exciting — the musky smell of the penis, mixed with the sweat, and the way it grew inside his mouth. James moved his mouth forward and backward. Expectedly, Mark came. James swallowed the sperm and wiped his lips with a handkerchief. Thereafter, James sneaked into the school toilet and masturbated silently, his breath going in and out with a rising speed.
After they parted, Fr. James pondered over the experience. And he enjoyed the throbbing penis in his mouth. He decided he would become a priest. This had been a vague thought, but now it became an earnest desire. There was an advantage of joining the celibate Catholic clergy; nobody would ask him why he was not getting married. He could always be with gay priests. Or seduce children. Fr James did not call Roshan to his room again. Shyamal went often, but Roshan did not ask him about it. He did not want to know.
At home, his mother said a new servant, Freddy, had come from Goa. He would sleep on the floor near Roshan’s bed. The 25-year-old wore sleeveless banians, so Roshan could see the bulging shoulder muscles. But he spoke in a quiet voice. So Roshan liked him. They became friends. Thanks to his presence, his parents and Satish Uncle went for film shows at night.
One night, when they had gone out, Roshan was lying in bed. Freddy lay on the floor next to him. Freddy sat up and told Roshan to come to the edge of the bed. The boy did so. Then Freddy took Roshan’s hand and placed it on his penis. Roshan’s eyes bulged out, to see how thick it was. He caught it like you would hold a tennis racket. Roshan sensed the trembling in his hand. He felt less scared than when he was with Fr. James. And Shyamal’s reaction had emboldened him. There was nothing to be afraid of.
But soon, his Jesuit upbringing — Roshan studied in St Xavier’s school — reared its head. He pulled his hand away, fell on to the bed and rolled to the other side. Freddy did not press him. He switched off the light. After a while, Roshan went to sleep. Freddy pleasured himself to an orgasm and used tissue paper to remove the sperm from the floor.
Fifty years have passed since that moment. Roshan, who had a shaved bald head now, stood in the verandah of his fourth-floor apartment in Calcutta and smoked a cigarette. He exhaled in a lengthy breath, to lengthen the pleasure. It was a leafy neighbourhood — trees on both sides of the road. The road remained deserted even though it was a Monday evening, thanks to the coronavirus. Roshan was in isolation at home. The entire world was in isolation at home, he thought.
It gave him the opportunity to journey back into the past. And people like Fr. James and Freddy came floating to the surface of his mind. He had heard that Fr. James had retired a decade ago. Nobody had filed any child abuse charge against him. ‘A smooth operator’, thought Roshan. As for Tony, he died in his thirties, in a car accident in Los Angeles, and left behind a wife and daughter. Roshan did not know where Freddy was. That was the way with servants. Nobody knew where they went and what happened to them. Did he marry and have kids? And was he doing well? The middle class only kept track of their middle-class friends. They did not care about the poor but idolised the rich. As for Shyamal, he became a well-known theatre artist, and an avowed gay.
Roshan knew that he suffered far little molestation, as compared to so many others. His wife, Srimati, so stunning with her porcelain skin, grey eyes and sumptuous breasts, had been a victim.
She slept next to Kaushik, a cousin, when they were teenagers during a sleep-over. Kaushik grabbed her breasts, tried to force-kiss her and got on top of her. There were other cousins in the room. But it was pitch dark, so nobody saw anything. Srimati whispered, “I will scream. I will tell your parents.” But he just covered her mouth with his left hand, pushed up her skirt, she was not wearing a panty, and pushed himself in. And he remained inside her for a long while, almost prompting Srimati to vomit.
It scarred her. For years afterward, when she was in bed with Roshan, she would kiss for a few seconds and break away. Unpleasant feelings arose in her like lava erupting from a volcano. She trembled and tried to shake off the terror and helplessness she had felt all those years ago. The mood collapsed. Roshan took her to a psychiatrist. Many sessions took place. She wrote about the experience on white sheets of paper. It went to several pages. Step by step, the poison seeped out of her mind and body.
One reason Roshan remained patient was because he loved Srimati. Her beauty enthralled him. She was the only child of a Bengali professor and an English writer. They had met in college in London, fell in love, got married and returned to Calcutta.
For a Goan like Roshan, to get a goddess like Srimati was unbelievable. Over the years, she unlocked her sensuousness. And discovered the tigress within. Roshan remained a grateful beneficiary.
Srimati never moved against Kaushik. It remained their one and only encounter. He stayed away from her. They grew up. He became an architect, got married, had two girls and lived in New York. Did well for himself. A house in the suburbs and a BMW in the garage.
Roshan heard Srimati’s story many times in other lives. As a creative head of an advertising company, he had several women employees. Over time, they told him their tales of abuse — the culprits being family members, or strangers, on planes, trains, buses and trams, on the dance floor, and one even said, her own father was the abuser. Another said it was her grandfather.
One colleague said that when she was on an aisle seat in a crowded bus, people packed like sardines in a tin, a man took out his penis and rubbed it against her shoulder. She stood up and slapped his face. Her hand stung from the impact. She had to shake it several times.
As for the offender, he pulled in his penis, pushed himself through the passengers, ran to the entrance, pulled the chain, jumped out and fled. A vanishing act at Superman speed.
So, with their shared history of abuse, Roshan and Srimati vowed that they would protect their children, a boy and a girl, at all costs. So, they did not allow them to spend the night away from them, even if close relatives invited them for sleepover parties with their children. They knew the greatest danger came from relatives.
So imagine Roshan’s shock when, one day, Srimati came and told her that when their 16-year-old daughter had gone to the Quest mall, she moved among a throng of people. And from somewhere, a hand came out, and it went between her daughter’s legs and rubbed her vagina. And the hand was pulled away and his daughter did not know who it was. It shocked her and gave rise to unpleasant feelings within her. For Srimati, history was repeating itself. Again, she wanted to vomit. Roshan hugged her and kissed her on the forehead. They remained like this for a long time. Her heartbeat slowed down.
As he stood on the verandah, Roshan realised there was no chance of 100 percent safety. An attack could come from anywhere. Roshan’s only hope for his children — if an attack came, it should not be something horrible, but something mild, although there is nothing mild about molestation.
Maybe, he thought, Indian society should open up. Relations between the sexes should be free. But in a free society like America, there were too many instances of violence against women.
There are no solutions to the man-woman imbroglio, he thought. Roshan crushed the stub in an ashtray, placed on a low table, turned and walked into the apartment.
Srimati had called out to say she had made the evening tea.