Erasing #MeToo18 mins 16.9K 18 mins 16.9K
“That’s such a sweet fragrance,” Diya said as she momentarily closed her eyes to inhale the scent of the delicious red bud, kissing it gently and running her thumb over the smooth petal.
Sonu, standing in front of her and enjoying her cute expressions, said in a low, yet excited voice, “You know, baba has planted a yellow rose too. Do you want to see?”
Her eyes lit up at the idea, and she nodded.
Sonu moved closer to hold her hand, locking in his little fingers. Holding hands and swinging them with a rhythm, they approached the backyard—a lush garden laden with roses, lilies, marigold, and honeysuckle planted in a perfect array, giving the garden an ostentatious touch.
Mr. Mehta, nestled in a wicker chair at the balcony, sipping his morning tea and scanning the front page of the newspaper, heard a soft giggling and tilted his head to peer at the front gravel driveway where Diya was walking toward the backyard with Sonu.
Are they holding hands?
His eyes widened, and he tossed the paper aside, rising from his chair and leaning forward at the wrought-iron railing to get a better view, but by then, the children had disappeared behind the perfectly carved hedges that led to the backyard. He tightened his grip on the teacup, almost trying to crush it; a cheap china tumbler would have succumbed to the pressure and would have burst into a thousand pieces, but not this Italian teacup embossed with splendid vines and orange flowers. He took a deep breath, trying to calm himself down.
I should put an end to all this nonsense. Diya is getting older now. She will turn nine next month. But what will I say?
He looked at the steel-blue sky and stared at the gray clouds about to float overhead, his eyes searching for something and then resting at a perfect spot. “I wish you were here,” he said and then quickly lowered his eyes before they turned moist.
He plopped himself onto the soft-cushioned chair to finish his tea, which had turned cold. Impatience ran down his veins while he waited for Diya, and once he spotted the children returning to the house, he stood up, still trying to rein his anger. He could not afford to be harsh with Diya. After his wife had died, his daughter was all he had. Moreover, she was too innocent to be scolded. Instead, he channeled his anger toward Sonu.
“This bloody gardener and his filthy son,” he muttered and hurtled downstairs into the living room.
Diya, dressed in a yellow floral frock with white lace at the hem, was perched comfortably on the velvet sofa, her eyes focused on Sonu sitting cross-legged on the floor and trying to tie a bunch of colorful roses with a thin brown rope.
Mr. Mehta cursed the day he had given the servant’s quarters to Ram Singh, the gardener, but someone had to oversee the huge mansion and its splendid gardens. The gardener’s wife worked as household help and handled all the chores, which made it a perfect deal. She often brought along her son—who was just two years old back then. The toddlers—Diya and Sonu—played together and over the years became the best of friends. But now it was time to pull the strings back.
As he entered, his footwears swept against the shiny, polished floor, creating a mild squeaking noise that made Diya look up.
“Dad, see what I’ve got.” She pointed toward the colorful rose bouquet with a thrill in her voice.
Sonu turned his head. The moment he saw Mr. Mehta, his eyes turned grave, and panic swept his face. He left the roses untied, scrambled to his feet, and darted for the door without turning back.
“Where are you going, Sonu?” Diya screamed, but Sonu had already scooted into the front drive, vanishing to the safety of his tiny one-bedroom quarter at the far end of the backyard.
Diya rose from the sofa and crossed her arms; her eyes had a stormy look. “Dad, I told you not to come down when we’re playing here. Sonu is afraid of you, and whenever he sees you, he just runs away like that. See!” She raised her hand and pointed toward the door. “Now, who will make a bouquet for me?” she finished, her voice seeming to break.
Mr. Mehta remained quiet as he knelt to collect the flowers from the floor.
“I’ll do it, my little angel.” He tied the flowers and handed them to her. “Happy?” he asked, plastering a broad, fake smile on his face.
“It’s not about the flowers. He’s gone now, and who will play with me all day?”
To show anger, she desperately tried to raise one brow higher than the other, which made her look anything but cute.
“Diya, I wanted to talk to you about this. I think you shouldn’t play with Sonu anymore. You should find other friends. In fact, you can tell Priya to come and play. Isn’t she your best friend at school?”
Diya turned away her gaze. Her lips parted to say something, but then she hesitated.
Mr. Mehta placed his finger below her chin and slightly lifted her face to make eye contact. “What, Beta? Why can’t you call Priya?”
“Her case is different. She doesn’t love me, but Sonu says he loves me, and one day, he’ll become a film star, just like Shah Rukh, and will marry me.”
“What! Did he say all this?” he asked, wagging his finger in the air.
Diya looked puzzled at the sudden change of expression on her father’s face, and before she could understand, Mr. Mehta clenched his fists and stormed out.
Diya did not see Sonu after that day. Her father fired the gardener and warned him not to ever visit the mansion again.
Fifteen years later:
Mr. Mehta sat in his study, his eyes buried deep in the stack of documents containing his company accounts. He looked stressed, although it was a pleasant morning, with the sunlight permeating the translucent curtains and filling the room with a soft, golden glow that would have made anyone smile. But, as always, he did not appreciate such small pleasures. His fingers curled around his cup of tea, soaking the warmth, and a half-eaten cookie lay abandoned on the tiny snack plate.
There was a slight knock at the door, and Diya slipped inside. “Dad, I have taken some money from your wallet. I’m going for my first assignment today. Wish me luck.”
“All the best, dear,” he said lovingly and looked up into his daughter’s big, brown eyes.
His face turned stiff when his gaze fell on her attire: a tight-fitted black skirt perfectly hugging her body, a silky pink blouse, and a shiny silver necklace with the letter D adorning her slender neck.
“Don’t you think that skirt is too short? You could wear what other journalists wear. Why do you have to dress up like that?” he asked, throwing his right hand outward in the air.
Her lips twitched, and with a strained frown, she stepped closer to the table. “It’s just knee length, Dad. It looks professional; you have no idea about the dress code. Don’t behave like narrow-minded fathers.” She paused to observe his face, and then continued, swinging her curly black hair to one side and giving him a wide smile. “Now, wish me luck. I’m going to be late.”
He could not argue with her. He had never argued with her.
He stood, leaned forward, and planted a kiss on her forehead. “Okay. As you wish. All the best, dear.”
It was late evening. The cook was preparing a meal in the kitchen, and Mr. Mehta was sprawled on the sofa in the living room, watching TV, mindlessly flipping channels trying to find something of interest in the ocean of content when his phone buzzed. He adjusted his eyeglasses, pushing them back on his nose, and squinted at the name flashing on the screen—Ravi, his manager. A call from Ravi at this time of the day could mean only two things: really good news or really bad news—only the extremes. He swiped his finger to the right and placed the phone to his ear.
“Sir, we lost this deal too,” Ravi said, his voice loud but downcast.
“How is that possible? We tried our best.”
“Yes, sir, but nothing worked. I have insider information that our quote was better than Mitsufeeshi, but they still won the deal. They must have greased enough palms.”
Mr. Mehta sank backward on the sofa, and deep creases appeared on his forehead. Grim thoughts shadowed his eyes as his mind travelled back to a time years ago when he had been the king of this business; his company had constructed all the bridges and government buildings in the town. He had won almost all the contracts, earned millions, and established a vast empire of wealth, luxury, and fame, but now the influx of foreign companies was knocking him out of the game—the ones having huge funds to bribe the decision makers.
“Are you there, sir?”
The voice echoed in his ear. He sighed and then spoke in a heavy, gloomy voice. “I don’t think I can save my company. It will collapse soon.”
“Sir, the result of Pahargiri Bridge is yet to be announced, and I think we should approach Sanjay Kumar, the politician. I’ve heard it’s easy to influence him, and he’s directly overseeing this project.”
“Do whatever it takes, Ravi. I’m ready to pay as much as he wants. I can even come down on my knees to beg him, but I cannot let my company drown.”
“I’ll try to get a meeting with him, sir.”
After disconnecting the call, Mr. Mehta slammed the phone onto the table and stared at the TV again, but not watching anything this time. His only hope now was Sanjay Kumar; a face who often appeared on news channels—young and smart with a strong voice, seen by media houses as a youth icon and the future of India.
I doubt he could be bribed easily; the new generation is wiser. But I can’t say. He is a politician, and how can I expect scruples from a politician?
A loud thud sounded at the door, and it jolted open. Diya stepped inside with tears streaming down her eyes, her blouse torn near the right shoulder, her hair disheveled, and her lipstick smudged all the way to her cheek. As she tried to step forward, her knees buckled, and she slumped to the floor.
Mr. Mehta rushed toward her. “What happened?” He noticed a bruise on her arm, and worry clouded his face. “What happened? Tell me,” he demanded in a shaky voice.
He tried to help her to her feet, but she did not budge. Instead, she started crying louder and louder with each passing instant till no sound was left in her.
He did not want to hear what his mind had guessed, but that was exactly what she said.
“I was raped.”
His heart skipped a beat, and air seemed to press hard on him, making him almost choke. He tried to comfort her and help her walk toward the couch. Rage built up inside him. How could this happen?
“Who did this to you? I will kill that bastard.”
She was quiet by now, her face wet, and her lips dry. She did not make any effort to wipe her tears.
He hugged her, but she flinched with pain.
“Who did this? Let me call the police.”
He retrieved his cellphone, but her stammering voice interrupted him. “Even the police cannot help us. He is powerful, and no one can touch him. I went to interview Sanjay Kumar, and he … and he …”
She burst into tears once again.
Upon hearing that name, Mr. Mehta felt something slip beneath his feet. “The politician?”
“But he looks so innocent and …” He fell short of words and shook his head. Junglee Bhediye sab ke sab.
He helped Diya to her room, and once she was comfortable in her bed, he stepped out. Tears rolled down his cheeks as a volcano of grief erupted in his eyes. The mere thought of Diya enduring that pain shattered him, wrenching his soul completely. It was the first time he had cried in his life—not even when his wife had died, not even when his father had disowned him, not even when he was broke and penniless to afford even a simple meal. This was the worst suffering he had ever endured.
He could not bear the thought of anyone inappropriately touching his daughter. He’d slice that evil hand to pieces, but Sanjay was a monster he couldn’t curb. The police department was under his control, and there was no use of reporting this incident. Also, he did not want the whole of society to know.
Who will marry my daughter if they know the truth? Better to keep it buried.
His mind raced toward his construction tender. If he opposed Sanjay Kumar, his contract would never get approved, and he would have to shut down his company.
Everyone in my company will be unemployed, and I’ll go bankrupt.
In his turmoil, he did not realize he had fallen asleep in the living room with the TV switched on the entire night.
Next day, Diya did not utter a word. She ate nothing, and her face remained sullen. In the evening, when Mr. Mehta urged and almost begged her to eat something, she said, “I think we should file an FIR. I know nothing will happen, but why to let him get away with it? We should at least raise a voice.”
He looked at her dark eyes. His own mind was a vacuum with no ideas or thoughts and hesitant to respond, hesitant to veto her wish, but he had no choice.
With great effort, he gathered his voice. “I don’t think that is a good idea because he’s very powerful and can try to harm us. I know it’s tough for you, but staying quiet is the best option. And please don’t tell anyone, not even your friends. Let it remain a secret.”
She lowered her eyes, frustration surfacing on her face. Without saying another word, she drifted to her room.
What should I do? Should I report the incident or stay quiet? My daughter wants me to take a stand, but that will destroy everything: her prestige, a prospect of a good groom for her, and my business. I don’t think there’s a solution to my problem. How do I become a good father without sacrificing any of this?
The thought of his daughter getting raped haunted him each day, but he felt helpless and withered at the same time.
A few days later, he was scrolling through Facebook when he saw his daughter’s post: #MeToo.
He was aware of victims circulating this hashtag for awareness, to let people know the magnitude of this problem, but most girls were posting this status only for receiving lewd comments on streets or being subjected to some misbehavior in buses, whereas Diya had endured a horrendous assault. Tears welled up in his eyes.
“I cannot let this go. I can do anything for Diya, and I know she cannot live peacefully until Sanjay is punished. I’ll sacrifice my business for my daughter, and to hell with the society who points fingers at the victims. Why should a guy refuse to marry her? Was it her fault? That is a rotten ideology, and I will fight against it.”
When he informed Diya about his decision to lodge a complaint, she did not respond. She was unable to smile and kept staring blankly at the wall. She had become pale and lifeless—a mere body of blood and flesh. He could not bear that scene and strode out of her room, drifting toward the kitchen.
He retrieved a glass tumbler from the top self, extracted some ice cubes from the fridge, and poured some whisky to ease the storm in his head. He sank into the living room sofa and fumbled for the remote to switch on the TV; he needed a distraction. The moment the TV’s screen lit up, he was sucked back into his misery because of a familiar face that filled the screen.
“Sanjay Kumar will contest in the next elections and is hoping to become the chief minister,” the news anchor reported in a honey-laden voice.
Mr. Mehta looked away momentarily, his eyes still filled with rage.
“He is a self-made man with no political history. He is the voice of the youth. Watch the journey of Sanjay Kumar at nine o’clock tonight, only on News Hour TV. See how a gardener’s son became a top politician.”
Ram Singh’s face occupied the entire length and breadth of the TV screen.
Mr. Mehta startled; the man was the same Ram Singh who had worked in his mansion years ago.
That means Sanjay Kumar is Sonu? That little kid who was in love with my daughter?
He rushed to Diya’s room.
“Beta, you remember the gardener’s son, Sonu? He is Sanjay Kumar. How could he have done this to you? I will go and meet him and tell him what a sin he’s committed by molesting the one whom he once loved. I’m sure he’ll feel guilty and will apologize to you. I want to teach him a lesson. He’ll fall at your feet once he knows the truth.” He spoke in a single monologue without pausing to breathe, but with some hope bubbling in his voice.
Diya looked at him but did not say anything. Her face was devoid of any emotions.
He waited for a few moments and then left her room. What else could he do? She was no more the Diya he knew. But he could fix this; he could curb this monster, and he was determined to do so.
I can’t believe how an innocent child like Sonu turned into a Ravan.
Mr. Mehta’s manager had organized a meeting with Sanjay to discuss the construction project. Mr. Mehta sat outside Sanjay’s office on a narrow wooden bench, with an old fan creaking overhead. It was already humid, and nervousness in the pit of his stomach made his posture stiff and his throat dry. He focused on the words he would utter, reciting them in his head. But then a thought struck him.
What if he doesn’t remember that he loved Diya?
He felt restless, suppressing his fear, but before he could think straight, he heard a voice.
“Mr. Mehta, your turn,” the peon spoke, pointing toward the door and ushered him in.
It was a plush office, different from the austere corridor outside and unlike any room he had seen so far—stylish mahogany furniture, thick maroon curtains, expensive paintings, and a wide desk peppered with antique tiny decoratives. Sanjay sat behind it with his chin held high. He looked more handsome in person than on TV.
He raised his gaze and stood immediately with a face flooded with surprise. “Sir aap!”
Mr. Mehta had a sigh of relief. At least this bastard recognized me.
Sanjay smiled and told him to take a seat.
Mr. Mehta sat on one of the three red chairs lodged on his side of the table.
Sanjay pressed his desk bell—an engraved piece of brass that complemented well with the table. The peon entered, and Sanjay instructed him to bring some cold drinks and snacks and then turned toward Mr. Mehta with a wide, gracious smile.
After they had exchanged pleasantries, Mr. Mehta asked, “Do you remember my daughter?”
Sanjay’s eyes lit up with remembrance and pleasure.
“Yes! How is she? I’m sure she must be very successful, and beautiful too.”
“She is pretty.” He paused and inhaled deeply to calm his revolting nerves. “She was your childhood love. Right?”
“What?” Sanjay was taken aback. He felt uneasy at the sudden personal question but gave a slight nod.
“That’s great, because the girl you raped last week is none other than Diya.”
Sanjay’s eyes widened.
“Yes. You tortured the girl you once loved. How do you feel now with that information? Do you feel disgusted? How can you be such a monster? Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?” His voice almost thundered while speaking.
Sanjay sipped some water from the glass placed on the golden coaster. He turned his gaze toward Mr. Mehta as his brows furrowed. “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself, Mehta Saheb?”
“Aren’t you a monster yourself? It seems you’ve forgotten those days.”
Mr. Mehta gave him a puzzled look, and Sanjay thumped his fist on the table; the tiny decoratives rattled. “You forgot how you abused me? I was a kid back then. I still remember your bedroom and the way you gagged my mouth. Weren’t you ashamed of touching me inappropriately? Just because I was a boy, does that mean it was okay? You forgot the pain you inflicted on a little child.”
Mr. Mehta turned pale, his eyes mere sockets of stone.
“What you did to me, I inflicted onto your daughter.” Sanjay’s gaze became stern and piercing. “And you know when I informed my father about the abuse, he told me to stay quiet. He wanted to protect his job. Now, you want to protect your business. The situation seems similar, doesn’t it?”
Mr. Mehta stood up, his legs wobbling.
“You cannot blame me. These are your sins that are coming back to you. Karma, you know!” Sanjay said.
“I am so sorry,” Mr. Mehta stammered, his voice faint.
His past blunders flashed before his eyes, and he could hear his blood pounding in his ears. He knelt on the floor, crouching forward and holding his head in his hands, tears streaming down his eyes.
“It is all my fault,” he said, cursing himself.
Diya sat at the corner table in the coffee shop and fidgeted with the stirring spoon as her eyes remained glued to the glass door at the entrance, waiting impatiently for the love of her life.
After a while, he appeared at the doorway. His tall, slender body and perfectly chiseled face made some heads swivel as he sauntered toward the far end of the shop, meandering through the round wooden tables. He reached her table and gave a light peck on her cheek, taking the chair opposite her.
“How was it?” she asked.
He gently squeezed her hand. “He was shattered.”
She smiled, triumph gleaming on her face.
“I love you,” he said, his eyes brimming with affection.
“I love you too, Sonu.”
“But was this right? I mean, this was too harsh for him. After all, he is your father. This entire—”
She shushed him and gave him a reassuring, firm smile. “I agree that he is my father, but does that mean he can get away with it? Every harasser should be taught a lesson, be it a politician, a boss, a coworker, or even a family member. So, how could I spare him? Putting him behind bars was no use. This was the best punishment for him, feeling the same pain he had inflicted.”
Sanjay’s eyes turned moist. “You are a brave girl.”
“I know.” Her lips curled into a smile. “This world is a bad place, but someone has to set it right. Someone has to tear the sheep’s skin to reveal the wolves hiding beneath, and I will keep tearing that skin, forever—whatever it takes until no one has to use that MeToo hashtag again.”
“We will … together.”
He pressed his hand on hers, locking in his fingers, just like the good old days.