Today my best friend Rhea told me her story, a small part of it though. But it left me with many questions. Questions on the hypocrisy of the society and our conjectured minds.

After months of caging her like an endangered animal in her house, with visitors flooding in to catch a glimpse of her, today she was finally allowed to be a part of the so called civilised society again. She came to college, and we were seated on the same bench in front of the canteen as usual. We are students of the Psychology department of University Of Calcutta.

The sun was about to hide behind the unknown horizon spreading its delectable crimson rays across. A bunch of migratory birds were flying in a straight line across the heart of the evening sky. The tea vendor in the canteen was busy serving tea to a bunch of noisy fresher. And few guys with unknown faces were casting us with questioning glances and releasing puffs of smoke in the air. The eastern part of the country sees the setting sun early, besides it was winter, it was mid-January.

Rhea was silent; she was silent throughout the day. When professors and friends had asked her about her health condition, she had answered them with an awkward affirmative nod, meaning she was fine. Her clumsiness had refrained them from shooting a few more undesirable questions. I did not ask her anything, I did not want to discuss what the newspapers were buzzing with these days and I just wanted her to be fine. So I brought her to our favorite corner in the campus, hoping to see her brightened face. For a reason completely unknown to me, I was unable to look straight into her eyes throughout the day. But then I did, the dying rays of the setting sun fell on her doleful face, I could clearly see the dark circles and also a small scar on her right cheek, I immediately looked away.

After few seconds of uneasiness, I asked her “Care for some tea…hmmm?” And it was the first time during the entire day that our gazes met, “Sure” she said and smiled.

As I was about to walk towards the canteen to get us some tea, she asked me to wait and then accompanied me. In no time, we were perched on our favorite bench again, with tea in clay cups in our hands. This time she started.

“Do you think, I have missed too much Ashima?” she asked.

“Hmmm?” I asked inattentively, only to regain senses in a few milliseconds “Nope…not really, don’t worry, I will help you!” I smiled lovingly.

“Thanks Ash…ummm…don’t you want to ask me anything…. like the other people…my friends, relatives…all of them wanted to know a lot…but…” she stopped.

“But what Rhea? Do you want to tell me anything?” I asked her.

“Yes…he…he has left me…he” she stammered painfully and looked down.

Though I did not see, I could feel the teardrops tickling down her scarred cheek. I could feel my muscles tense and my veins show up on my forehead. Rhea loved Ramanuj immensely, so I could not believe my ears, though my brain had guessed this long back.

“What?” came out of my mouth unintentionally.

“Hmmm, after the September incident he was keeping a distance, I thought he needs time…but little did I know that he lacked backbone to stand up against the society and specially his respected parents for his physically abused partner….” She stopped when emotions choked her throat. She looked away when I put my hand on her shoulder.

“He did not deserve you” I said what I believed.

“I did not deserve all that happened to me, the dark September night turned my life upside down…lost, defeated I returned only to be shunned from the society, shunned by the person I loved most…. Ashima my anguish against my torturers are still less than against the civilized society around me…. it is only a handful with hearts and morale…. even the closest were more interested in the spicy details of the incident…” she continued.

I wanted to stop her; I did not want my friend to go through that pain all over again. I did not want the poisonous nails to scratch her dignity any further. “Rhea…let it be…try to forget…” I could not complete.

“Forget…huh…never Ashima…never…even if you and I want to eradicate that dark episode off my life…no one will let me do so…I pity mommy and dad…they walk around like ashamed criminals…my aunts, my uncles, cousins and especially the media only searched for scoops, tangy, saleable…no one bothered of the pain that me and my family were going through…when they asked me…how many men groped me…how many nasty hands touched my dignity…no one bothers Ash…no one” tears of resentment pent up had found flood gates, and I let them flow.

Rhea wept and wept until her lungs gave away. Then she started narrating those details that I refrained from asking, fearing of hurting her, she went into oblivion.

It was 12th September an usual college day for all of us. We had our practical class and was a bit late that evening. Rhea and I had taken the same auto from near our college to M.G. Road Metro station. From there I had taken a metro to Dum Dum and she had taken one to Park Street. The metros had moved in opposite direction as expected.

It was 8:00 pm when Rhea reached Park Street Metro Station and was waiting for an auto to take her home, where her parents waited for their child to return. The metro station was unusually empty that evening. Rhea had already started to feel uneasy, when her mobile phone went ablaze with “Baba Calling”.

She immediately answered the call! An anxious voice, which she vaguely remembers to be her father’s was constantly yelling desperately “there has been some political party fights near Park Street Metro Station, avoid that area…avoid…avoid”.

But before she could realize what was going on, dark shadows of unknown faces were cast on her and rough hands had grabbed her. What followed next, was a never-ending phase of physical abuse, demean and derogation and her meek and futile attempts to save herself.

Rhea had no clue, how long she had endured the torture before a bunch of college going boys came to her rescue, followed by the patrolling police. She was immediately taken to the nearby hospital in unconscious condition. Her tormentors had fled and fled for good. Being supporters of some local political party leader, police and administration could not touch them, even though there were enough witnesses.

Little did my friend know, that her persecution had just started. The media pounded on her, like a hungry wolf in search of prey. Newspapers, TV channels flooded with the news of a young college girl, being alone in a problem stricken area, late at night and raped by some antisocial elements, who were supposedly drunk.

Questions started to be raised and eyebrows creased. What was she doing in an area, which was under high alert? Why was she alone at that hour of the night, (8:00 pm is late night?) was she waiting for her lover? Why did she choose to wear western, body hugging clothes? (Well! she was wearing a jeans and T-shirt)

An incident, which was not more than physical abuse and torture, was blown out of proportion to increase viewership. Whispers and gossip gave birth to a cacophony of disgrace. Rhea’s parents transformed to cocoons and she a living body without a soul.

She was substantially physically hurt as well and was released from hospital after 10 days of treatment. Doctors advised her to be kept away from anxiety and take rest for at-least a month. Her physical pain started to reduce in due course of time but her mental torment was beyond her abilities to endure.

The landline never ceased to ring and her parents never ceased to explain to the unfeeling world, that their ill-fated daughter was not raped. Then started the visits; the relatives and friends who never, ever cared for their existence suddenly appeared from nowhere.

However in this incongruity, one phone call and one visit was craved by Rhea. Ramanuj! Why was he so cold to all that was happening in her life? Insecurity and pain was clouding inside her heart. Her brain knew what this coldness meant but her heart defied the truth. “No, Ramanuj loves me…he can never leave me alone…when I need him the most!” said her heart.

Days, weeks and months passed, she tried contacting him but in vain. Neither her calls were answered nor were her texts replied. Dark lonely nights witnessed her melancholy as she wiped tears of distress. Her kohl lined questioning eyes, stared at the creaky ceiling fan for hours, “What am I? Who am I?” they asked to the unknown voids that had secretly settled in her life without her consent.

That morning was dark, just like other days. She got up with a bad headache, her right cheek had inflamed again. Probably she had scratched the wound, unaware during sleep. Her eyes were red and fluffy, she must have wept to sleep. Sleepily she walked over to the bathroom to freshen up. The mirror which once looked back at her with a youthful naughty grin and eyes full of life scared her that day. She looked ghastly, barely a shadow of her true self.

Then suddenly her mobile phone rang. That was the ringtone she had set for Ramanuj. Her fragile body instantly gathered strength and she ran to answer the call. But alas before she could reply the line was cut. Off late she had stopped stalking him in her dreams, the call had rekindled the diming light. She immediately called back only to hear “the number has been switched off”.

So she decided to leave a message “I don’t know what has distanced you from me, in my knowledge I am not at fault of committing any crime. I had expected your support…your love…but alas I got none. Now what I expect is just a reply…just tell me what have you kept inside…. Rhea.” Time ticked off. But Ramanuj did not text back, she kept checking and checking and days passed by. The phone call had revived some hope, but disconnection had started to feel suffocating again.

And then one lazy afternoon, the phone beeped. She was lying on her stomach, quite heedless of her surroundings, when the beep brought her back to life.

The awaited message had finally come; she started reading it with a pounding heart.

“Hi, how are you? Well…I believe you have already guessed what I mean to convey through my prolonged silence…but still I thought this was required…lets face it Rhea the society is going to be difficult towards you and it is not my parents’ fault to be unable to accept it…best of luck!”

Rhea was lifeless for the next few seconds. Although she knew this was coming, this hurt, badly hurt! Yet, she decided to reply, her last reply…

“Thank you Ramanuj for you best wishes it is really kind of you. And you know what! You are right…it is not your parents’ or your fault to be unable to accept me… after-all the society is harsh, biased and bourgeois…but just a small revelation…the society is such because you and people like you are a part of it…people whose education is limited to books and enlightenment for them is a distant dream…well me and my family will eventually cope…but believe me you will be forever crippled and retarded mentally…thanks for sparing my life of your presence…best of luck” and her shaking fingers pressed the send button.

It was dark when we started from college. Rhea’s father had come to pick her up and they dropped me near M.G Road Metro Station. With several questions in my mind, I boarded the metro. When I glanced at the digital clock from the speeding train, I realized it was exactly the one I had taken on 12th September.


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