When I was a student in college, our Professor teaching Contemporary Issues set us a unique assignment which seemed like a drudgery at first. He asked us to visit the Kalaghoda Art Festival and document our experience of it. We were told to write an essay or poem about any one of the art pieces that touched us the most.
On my return from my visit to the Art Festival I didn't need to rack my brains much to decide what I wanted to write on. The sculpture had been unnerving and scary to say the least and I couldn't imagine what must've gone through the artist's mind while creating it.
I wrote a poem about Child Sexual Abuse on seeing the sculpture based on child molestation. What I wrote was mere fiction, putting together stories I had heard of before. But the result startled me.
Handle with care
When people brushed past her, she flinched
The touch of another’s hand would often cause her to cringe
Her brown eyes would follow their footsteps intently watching their way
She’d learnt her lesson in her younger days, she wasn’t going to fall prey
Though her mother missed her, she liked living on her own,
She was glad she had left her nest and away from it, had flown
Her mother had showered her with love and provided her with care
But the thought of home brought revulsion, there was no way she was going back into that lair
This was her own turf where she had to fend for herself
Away from the place she had fend off monsters who had hurt her little ‘self’
The memories of those monsters had left her bruised and scarred
She tried to hide them under her clothes and her tired but brave façade
She remembers when she was four,
Awaiting her cousins sitting at her front door
Hunched in a circle, they would tell each other stories at night
But these couldn’t compare with the ones that gave her fright
The youngest in the family, the apple of everyone’s eye
Pampered and loved beyond measure, then, she wasn’t shy
Of all her beloved relatives, her paternal uncle had been the best
Bringing her gifts and food galore, he cared for her, at least more than the rest
He came visiting a rare day, when she was home alone
Bringing delicious jalebis, fond of which she had grown
No one refuses such sweet delight, to herself she had thought
As she gobbled up and enjoyed the entire lot.
But then her whole world went hazy. Had she relished it too much?
She fell to the floor, and then recoiled, as she felt her uncle’s touch
There was a look behind those eyes that she had never seen before
A tighter grasp that roughly caught her and pulled her off the floor
Her hands went numb and feet went cold, she stared blankly, totally aghast
Seeing his face inches from hers, was the moment she remembered last!
When she woke up to her senses, she felt so ashamed
What was she to tell her mother? Could she be the one blamed?
Her body wasn’t hers anymore, it felt impure and defiled
She felt dirty within her own skin and couldn’t wash away the memory even if she tried
Her heart pounding, she made her way to her mother’s room
Hard as she tried, she couldn’t describe how she had just been consumed
Gradually she lost her voice and turned into a shell
Barely alive, she was living a different kind of hell
Her soul had been tampered with, it could never again be whole
With her body and her mind, her innocence, he stole
She tried to come to terms with it and bravely faced all
When he turned up home again, with his usual charm, calling her a doll!
The terror that ran through her heart, she hid away petrified
She tried to speak to her mother again but remained tongue-tied
“How can that demon stand there, so brazen and so bold?
His desire has turned me into an object, an empty shell, so cold”
The words remained in her heart and did not make it through
His terrible act kept recurring till the age of twelve she grew
Bearing this heavy burden, she had turned into a ghost
She had lost faith and hope in the people she loved the most
Since she couldn’t find the words, in a letter she wrote
That she couldn’t live life anymore and planned to slit her throat.
This set off the alarm and brought attention to her call
Her parents found the letter and saved her before her fall
Now she lives in the city, she has left behind her past
A meagre income, a simple job, but enough for her to last
The memories still haunt her, she cannot get over the scare
She now walks around with a signboard saying, ‘I’m broken. Handle with care.”
When we were finally asked to submit our assignments, the Professor chose mine as one of the pieces that had struck a chord with him. He read my poem out loud in class and people appreciated it later.
What I remember to this day is when one of my classmates called me aside and asked me whether I had experience abuse as a child to which I replied "No' in quite a carefree manner. After all, what I had written was an amalgamation of stories. I had written fiction. She replied, "What you wrote about is what happened to me. It's eerie the way you wrote about exactly what I experienced and felt."
That sculpture at the art festival had inspired me to write about something I had never experienced which in turn helped my classmate break her silence for the first time about the abuse she had faced as a child. That's the power of art I guess.