The Many Hands on My Body


The Many Hands on My Body

Illustration: Akshita Monga

There was this bus we took to school. My brother would stand with all the “big people” though he wasn’t really big. We were just 14 months apart. But me, well I was little, really little, so someone would invariably let me squeeze in.

That day as the bus kept jostling through the bustling city, a pair of huge male hands picked me up and placed me on his lap. I tried to look back with thankful eyes but couldn’t turn around much, thanks to the big school bag riding on my back. Such a sweet uncle, I thought, as I looked at the rest of the kids still swaying miserably in the bus. I began to feel a tad superior to be chosen from among all the other kids… but then suddenly I started feeling uneasy. Something was bothering me. The hands had started to touch me in a “bad” way. I wasn’t old enough to be sure why the touch was bad, but instinctively I felt icky. The hands tried to hold me still, one arm around my neck, gripping my shoulder and the other one on my upper thighs. Somehow I wriggled out of the grip and ran to stand next to my brother. I would like to believe that I did not look back. But I think I did, just enough to get a glimpse of an ugly grin. Just a grin. No eyes, no nose, no face. Just a grin. That was the last day I sat on someone’s lap.

“Bad touch” followed me and caught me by surprise in many different ways in the years that followed. But it was on the bus ride that I learnt a life lesson – I knew it for what it was and why it was. We have all been there. As little girls, as wee bit older girls, as teenagers, as commuters, as bystanders, as working women – just about anyone who wears knickers without an open flap in the front. We all know that there is no exception to the rule. There are always many “kind uncles” around and one too many “helpful hands”.

After that bus ride, in secluded passageways, on barely lit stairways, and a few deserted lanes, I began to recoil at the idea of touch – a growing feeling of uneasiness would creep inside me, much before I even felt an unwanted breath near me. Even unwarranted proximity was suffocating now. And always, just always, I knew who the “bad guy” was. No one could touch me if I didn’t want to be touched. After one point, no one could touch me. Period.

The first time I found out that a guy had a crush on me, I made his life miserable. I hated him. He hadn’t even come near me or looked at me in a bad way. The day I found out about him writing my name on his hand with a protractor, I was furious. I refused to share glue with him in craft class and refused to touch my own umbrella because he had passed it on to me.

A few years later, the first guy who tried to kiss me didn’t fare much better. It must have been his lucky day that I did not let my reflexes get the better of me, and just stopped short of ramming my knee into him, like our tae kwon do instructor had taught us at school. I shed many angry tears just because he had tried to kiss me and hold me.

I was totally in love with the feeling of being loved by a man. Being wooed, serenaded, pampered, kissed – all of it.

By the time I reached my teens and attained womanhood, I had mentally pasted a “hands off me” sign across my body. But the more I shied away, the more my allure increased. I had guys, maybe nice ones, wanting to get close to me, touch me in a good way, but the harder they tried, the more my aversion increased. I would cringe at the thought of physical contact even as girlish notions hopelessly consumed me. Jane Austen’s Mr Darcy and Margaret Mitchelle’s Rhett Butler could floor me with their arms tied behind their backs. I was totally in love with the feeling of being loved by a man. Being wooed, serenaded, pampered, kissed – all of it. Just in my head that’s all.

While my anti-love crusade continued on the outside, it didn’t stop me from having male friends. One such friend managed to turn my world around. He had the most infectious smile I had ever seen. One probably most capable of wiping off that ugly grin stuck in my head. Being around him gave me a sense of peace, something I hadn’t experienced until then. Just like that we went from walking together to holding hands to wanting to hold each other. There was something about the way he touched me that made me feel beautiful, sacred, all womanly, and wanting to be touched. It did not feel like a perverted intention or a calculated move. It was more like gravity.

But all of this didn’t magically change overnight. I wasn’t cleansed by next dawn, but the morning felt different. All those years of perverted intentions had formed layers of grime over me. He made me realise that only if I gave “good touch” a chance would the bad ones fade away. But it took a long time to get a little more comfortable with a lot of things.

I learnt that to desire someone did not mean forgetting or forgiving those that were undesired and unwelcome. To want is not a submission to the notion that a woman who wants can be wanted by anyone in any way they please. So when Madonna, a woman who was raped at knifepoint when she was 16, said, “I always feel better with something hard between my legs,” at the Billboard Woman of the Year Award, I know what she meant and what the journey of getting there might have been.

Since my first encounter with “good touch”, I’ve learnt how to love. I have allowed myself passion. My sexuality has been a very personal battle. I have had to consciously reach out and claim my orgasms, each one bringing me closer to my own liberation. I have learnt to give and demand pleasure in equal measure. I don’t shy away from being the lover, the aggressor.

I resonate with Madonna’s words for sexually charged women… strong women leave big hickies. Mine may have faded, but they’ve left their mark behind.