Today, 30 August 2020, is my late mother’s 20th death anniversary
When I received the news about her death, I was doing my schooling in a town about 60km from my hometown. I remember freezing. Because just a day ago she had called me on the landline number.
However, I could not speak to her that day as the call got disconnected (I was living in a small Indian town and the telephone lines back then were famously unstable).
I waited for her to call again, she did, but the connection was so bad that we couldn’t hear each other’s voice. I thought I will speak to her later. That later never came.
The next day when the call came, it carried the news of her death. At that time, I was 14.
Today, I’m a 34-year-old man but there’s something that happened to my mother about a year before her death that I’ve not been able to — how to say — ‘shake off’.
I watched my uncle rape my mother
It happened sometime around 1999. I don’t remember the exact date. I was barely 13.
What I do remember is the night when my uncle — my father’s younger brother — raped my mother, who was unconscious after suffering one of her epileptic episodes. She experienced frequent seizures due to her epilepsy which caused her to lose her sense of awareness for hours.
My uncle ignored my cries as he continued to rape my mother.
I remember it was raining that night, which had caused a power outage in the village.
I remember there were five people in the house that night. Me, my younger sister, our mother, our grandmother, and the uncle. My father, who was a local politician, was out of the village. Our grandfather was behind the house in his shop where he sold fertilisers.
I remember it was the winter season because my mother had already made dinner and was preparing her bed (back in the village, people went to bed early during winters) when she suffered her epileptic episode.
I remember hearing a loud thud in the hall outside her room as she fell on the floor.
I remember seeing my mother writhing after I ran into the room and then immediately running out to go get my grandmother, who was in the guestroom that was on the front portion of our house.
While I was used to seeing my mother’s frequent seizures, as a boy into his teen years, I was still not over my fear of how her face contorted each time she suffered a new one.
One of the things I remember about my mother’s seizures was how she could never recall what happened during these episodes. It used to annoy me because I felt she never understood how much effort it took from everyone to control her. I remember resenting this about her. Not after that night.
That night also changed my relationship with my father’s side of the family.
After I got my grandmother, she sent me to get my uncle, who was sitting out front.
Once we all — me, the grandmother, and the uncle — gathered in my mother’s room, we helped her to the bed as she continued to writhe with her face contorted. I remember looking away.
Her clothes were all dishevelled. She was wearing a sari, whose pallu, the decorated end, that usually hangs on the left shoulder had fallen off, revealing her blouse. I tried to lift it up, however, was stopped by my uncle whose hands I noticed were on my mother’s shoulders.
After some time, my mother’s seizure stopped. As she lay on the bed unconscious, my grandmother said that she’s going back to the guestroom to rest and asked my uncle to keep an eye on my mother.
When I said that I’ll stay in the room, my uncle sent me away.
As I reluctantly left the room and walked into the hall area, I heard the double-partition doors to my mother’s room shut close. I ran back and tried to open them but they were locked from inside. My uncle had locked himself in the room with my mother, who was unconscious.
I was too young to know what exactly were his intentions but wasn’t naive enough to know that they weren’t noble. I started banging on the doors. When that failed, I screamed for him to open them. He didn’t. I recalled that there was a hole in one of the doors, so I tried to look inside. I could see him over my mother.
At that point, I ran back to the guestroom where my grandmother was resting. I tried to tell her that uncle is doing ‘something’ to my mother (at that time, I didn’t know it was called rape). She shrugged it off and asked me to go to sleep as it was getting late. Not knowing what to do, I ran back towards my mother’s room and started banging on the doors. My uncle ignored my cries as he continued to rape my mother.
I watched the whole thing through the hole as tears rolled down my cheeks.
I kept quiet about it
After my uncle was done, he left the room and went out of the house.
Sometime after that, my mother came to her senses. But she had no idea what had happened.
I was sitting below her bed. She got up and looked at me. She could see that I was crying. She asked me what’s wrong. I didn’t say anything. She asked if I was hungry and I just looked away as I couldn’t hold back my tears.
She patted me on the head and told me to get on the bed. I remained on the floor.
That night, I no longer resented her for not being able to recall what happens during her seizures.
Next day, when my father got home, life was ‘normal’ for everyone in the house who went about their usual activities. My mother was back in the kitchen, my grandmother in the hall watching television. My uncle was back in the shop. My sister was getting ready for school while I tried to avoid eye contact with my father.
He was a violent man and I usually avoided him. I knew that if I told him what happened last night, he will kill my uncle and probably hurt my mother, too. I’ve often been at the receiving end of his violence.
I tried to bring it up on the night of 30 August 2000 during my mother’s funeral. But I stopped as I felt it wasn’t an appropriate time.
Family members present during the last rites are supposed to pay their last respects. When my uncle had tried to, I snatched away the pot containing the holy water that he was about to pour on my mother’s corpse. It startled everyone and when one of them tried to take the pot from my hand, I threw it in the pyre.
It’s been two decades since then.
My father was killed four years later. I ‘forgot’ about his side of the family, leaving them behind.
My sister got married nine years later and now has a small, happy family of her own.
People who know me from back in the village and my relatives accuse me of abandoning my father’s side of the family. They remain oblivious to my uncle’s crime. He got married in 2002.
After my mother’s death, I’ve unsuccessfully tried to ‘shake off’ the memories of that night. Some nights, I get nightmares about it, some nights I dream about her in peace.
One thing I know about what happened that night is that it forever altered me.
Why am I coming out with this now, more than 20 years after it happened? I don’t have any reason and I have thousands of reasons.
For one, I cannot bear to continue being silent about this anymore.
I’ve lived through two decades of trying to cope with what happened to my mother that night, which has shaped my relationships, romantic or otherwise. Nothing I’ve done has helped.
Maybe this will help. Maybe it won’t. I don’t know.
What I do know is that I no longer want to be the only one, barring a close friend, to know that my uncle raped my mother.
After today, it won’t just be me who will live and breathe knowing that my mother lived and died without knowing about what happened to her. After today, you join me in knowing that my mother never received the justice for the crime that was committed against her by someone she trusted while he lives.
Despite this, I may not be able to talk about it with anyone tomorrow. And I want to be okay with that.
This story is a personal essay by the writer. Says