My latest book is The One Who Swam With The Fishes.

"A mesmerizing account of the well-known story of Matsyagandha ... and her transformation from fisherman’s daughter to Satyavati, Santanu’s royal consort and the Mother/Progenitor of the Kuru clan." - Hindustan Times

"Themes of fate, morality and power overlay a subtle and essential feminism to make this lyrical book a must-read. If this is Madhavan’s first book in the Girls from the Mahabharata series, there is much to look forward to in the months to come." - Open Magazine

"A gleeful dollop of Blytonian magic ... Reddy Madhavan is also able to tackle some fairly sensitive subjects such as identity, the love of and karmic ties with parents, adoption, the first sexual encounter, loneliness, and my favourite, feminist rage." - Scroll

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8 February 2006

Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned

My first reflex is to gag. Always. Nausea fills my stomach and goes all the way up my throat till I can hardly bear it, but when I manage to escape and lean over the cool porcelain of the pot, all I can manage is dry heaves.

The first time it happened to me, I was in a train, coming home to Delhi after a term at boarding school, and me and my two friends, also from the same batch had been fortunate enough to be in a compartment with three of the coolest and most popular senior boys. One of them was in the "dramatic society" (in quotes, because it wasn't a real dramatic society, just the same people doing the plays) as was I, the other, oh, he was delectable, with an eight-pack no less, and when his t-shirt clung to him, because it was getting hotter as we moved towards the plains, you could see the outline of his beautiful body. The third was an old friend, the only one I wasn't in awe of really, who stayed up late chatting with me after everyone had gone to sleep. I was pretty proud of myself, dude, a senior, so popular, talking till like one in the morning, with me. I wished someone else was awake so they could witness how cool I was, despite having braces and being, well, chubbier than I am now.

After a while I noticed Old Friend had acquired some new habits. Surely, it wasn't natural for someone to lightly run their fingers across my palm? And when I, (heavily blushing, for these were the last few years I was innocent) extracted my hand from him, in the pretext of putting on some chapstick, he took it again. Finally, it got too much for me, and I told him I was going to bed.

He was sitting all this while, on a suitcase between our two berths, and he showed no inclination to go to bed, despite the fact that I lay down, back firmly to him and closed my eyes. After a while, he reached for my hand again and *ick* pressed his lips to my palm. I can still feel the chappedness of his mouth, still remember wondering why he would want to do that considering my fingernails had chipped black nailpolish on them and they looked gross and why would anyone want to do that? I wasn't even pretending to be asleep anymore, my eyes were squinced shut and my arm lay across my face and he started to tug at it and oh my god, was he going to kiss me? He gave up the tugging after a while, and petrified, I lay there, hearing his deep breathing, still sitting on the suitcase. "Um, aren't you going to bed yet?" I asked. "Yeah," he said, his eyes unfocussed. His arm reached out again and I got up and ran to the loo, Indian-style, the train clackety-clacking under my feet, past a curious boy from my batch, the only other person still up. And I dry-heaved into the pot, my eyes streaming, and I felt so betrayed, so dirty that I spent about half an hour scouring my face, washing my hands till the tips of my fingers were wrinkly, wondering how I was going to handle this situation. He was popular, he was my senior, he was a prefect and if I told on him he would deny it and people would believe him and he'd make my life miserable. It was best to remain quiet, said my fifteen-year-old brain, like many other fifteen-year-old brains have done in similar situations.

I didn't get much sleep that night and as soon as my friends awoke the next day, I whispered it to them and they looked a little shocked, but sympathetic. They agreed I should probably not tell anyone, that's what they would do in that situation as well. And the next day, he judiciously avoided my eyes and I only slept with the comforting weight of my friends sitting on the same berth, keeping an eye on me.

And even though now, nine years later, I wish I had told someone, it happened to me again, this time even further than a chapped kiss on my palm, but no less scary. He didn't listen to me saying "No" softly, over and over again, till I said, "NO" and he saw my expression, the fear in my eyes at the sudden realisation that boys were so much stronger than I was and that Small, fast asleep in her room, probably wouldn't be able to hear me if I yelled and what was I going to do and he said, releasing my wrists, "You know I'm a nice guy, right?" and I was so relieved to be let out of his grasp and so stricken with guilt that somehow this situation was MY fault and I had no one to blame except myself and obviously if I had kissed him willingly about an hour ago, before I saw how very drunk he was, I couldn't be expected to say no now. And then another part of my brain kicked in and told me sensibly, "You're allowed to say no whenever you WANT to say no, even if the two of you are buck naked, because it is your body and if you're feeling uncomfortable there must be a reason." So I said no, repeatedly and finally he slept and I went to the bathroom, gagging again.

Hell, at least I've learned one thing in nine years.


  1. Wow...someone wrote about it finally! I can't count the no. of times this happened to me when I was growing up and my stupid 15 yr old brain decided exactly the same way, not to tell anyone, "becoz they wouldnt believe me anyway". Especially when it involved DOM and lecherous older relatives, a la monsoon wedding!

  2. Mercy,
    Gimme their addresses.
    I'm glad I fall into the category of those with Self-Restraint. I think. Of course, when you told me you respected me for that, I asked you: "What do I do with your respect? Can I make out with it? Will it cuddle with me in the night?"


  3. ok consider this, what if the 8pack beautiful bodied senior groped around in the dark? Would you still feel dirty and nauseous?
    Would you still cower in fear and softly say no?
    i thought you were through with you preteen victorian sexual confusion and repression and taken sexuality as it is, not sacred and not dangerous.

  4. Good for ya! that you can write about it... and that you can be forceful about it.

  5. You're allowed to say no whenever you WANT to say no, even if the two of you are buck naked, because it is your body and if you're feeling uncomfortable there must be a reason.

    Ditto that, girl. If you hadn't gotten around to saying that at the end of your post, it would've been my comment. You took the words right out of my mouth.

    There's a lawsuit that often comes up for discussion; wherein a woman takes her rapist to court. Later in the courtroom, the rapist says that the woman was wearing skin-tight jeans at the time. Therefore, not only was she asking for it, but it would be impossible to peel those jeans off her if she wasn't really willing.
    And then there's another ruling, which convicted a guy of raping his girlfriend, even though the two of them were naked together. Just that he didn't listen when she was screaming.

    I wonder when marital rape will be considered as an act of violation in India.

  6. Chamique - you're right, that was the Supreme Court of Appeals in Rome. Whats even more infuriating is that they actually overturned the conviction of the driving instructor on the basis that the woman, his 18-year old student, was wearing jeans. He claimed she had given consent earlier, which she denied, so the jeans were apparently the crucial factor. Its just stunning how often, even in the most respected body of a liberal state, sexism will shed its masks and just leer at the world in all its frank ugliness.

  7. Even if you did gag, you did say 'NO' and you should be really proud of that cos I guess you could have not said NO and this would make the previous scar only deeper.
    the question is: Did you get closure?
    Are you over what happened nine years ago?

  8. dude, this is a real sick post........write abt things that turn on/amuse/entertain/make-the-reader-think watever.....this kinda stuff just made me wanna puke as well...

  9. It is certainly your right to say no at any point. However, I wouldn't recommend getting into bed naked with any drunk men you aren't interested in having sex with. They aren't all "nice" guys that pay attention to what is right and wrong. And I fear the ones with the most testosterone, i.e. the sexiest ones, are the ones that are least likely to take no for an answer.

    And believe me I'm not just saying that because you are my little sister. I say the same thing to every woman I know that's been in that situation. Rights are one thing, but it's best to be safe. I believe it's my right to have an "Atheists Rule!" sticker on my car. But I know someone will scratch it if I put one on, so I don't.

    P.S. Just ask me if you need me to punch anyone in the face for you. I've been taking Judo lessons--JUDO-CHOP!

  10. I dont know what to say except 'WOW'. That really took guts and i admire you for that. Privileged to know you from such close quarters.

    (To the anonymous person who posted just before this anonymous guy did, buddy, whoever said that a blog post should, in your own words "turn on/amuse/entertain/
    make-the-reader-think watever" always?

    I am sure with that single post, she has gone one notch higher amongst the people who really admire her for her style and panache.

    Kudos, buddy. You write as nicely as you speak.

  11. "You're allowed to say no whenever you WANT to say no, even if the two of you are buck naked, because it is your body and if you're feeling uncomfortable there must be a reason."

    Important words these. I know the feeling, when a NO is brushed aside or a hands brush pass in public spaces- violated, guilty, nauseous...took me a looong time to overcome it.
    Hope you have too.

  12. oye, why don't you disallow some of these silly comments?
    good post, valid subject.. great growing up done in 9 yrs, etc.

  13. Jerks will be jerks. Drunk or not, no one has the right to force themselves on anyone else. And, you're quite right - you can say NO when you want.

  14. "like many other fifteen-year-old brains have done in similar situations"

    it's kind of scary.

    and in answer to "madhur"s query abt how the reaction might have been different had it been the 8pack.. dude, it would've been quintillion times WORSE.

    eM you're strong.

  15. and yes, how can i get horsey to be my bro too??

  16. I think every woman who reads this has experienced it at some point...


  17. eww.
    Kinda takes the kick outta filling out and being a woman don't it?

    I can't believe things can be so scary like the incident you described, the recent one, that is.
    Well, I think you're strong, very, to be able to handle all this and still y'know, be a sun-is-shining, birds-are-chirping and that's all there is to life person.
    Good on ya!

    freespirit, DOM?

  18. If possible, do a post on when you think you're gonna die.

    If you want to.

    Or just tell me when you think you will die.

  19. Dude,

    Sorrow grows stronger when sorrow is denied and it's good that you let it out. Though these are mere words and we all know that words cannot really comfort one on a cold heartless night but they still help.

    The law will never come down from the sky draped in a white gown to save you from your miseries when they actually happen. What matters is what you do there and then.

    Here "No" is the right response and not silence.

    Rock n Roll

    Peace Out,
    The Beatnik Baba

  20. At least you didn't have "close relations" telling you that you asked for it by sitting up late talking/drinking with the guy. At least you didnt have to pretend that nothing was wrong just to save a relation's marriage that was anyway on the rocks...

  21. I think any woman reading this relates to it, having gone through something like this at least once. No, make that at least once as a teen and at least once as an adult. Glad you wrote about it.

    More power to you, eM!

  22. That made me very very sad. Now I wish I hadn't read that :(


  23. Oh, wow, you write so well. Excellent post.

  24. try levis 527's, u might like them if u like 567's
    and try some of the GUESS ones too, they're pretty neat.

  25. em, please dont take me for a prude, but i think there is joy in anonymity.

    Dont try to seek me out, for in the end, all you would find is an ordinary guy, flush in his ordinariness.

    Keep writing, you are good at it.

    In the same breath, lemme say that you will have me for a reader for as long as you write.

  26. I guess you should feel glad you escaped with just that at 15. One in three kid in India gets sexually abused in childhood.
    Bound to get you into a muderous mood whenever hear a new one.

  27. I read your comments and it makes my blood boil - I am sad and sorry that this has happened to you - I am glad that you are writing about it. But I feel that these perverts should be shown no mercy. They should be named and shamed. While you have taken the courage to write I wish there was enough support for you that you would have had teh courage to name the SOB. Till someone starts taking names these acts will continue. How many young women are forced to have sex with men old enough to be their father - think. Think and then I think we should start exposing these folks.

  28. Glad someone posted a real story about it! It brought back so many memories and yuck, not too many of them good.

    Lots of women across all boundaries will be able to relate to this post so keep it up!!

  29. (Found this via the link in the feminist carnival)

    To me this was a beautiful and honest and powerful piece of writing.

  30. Thank you for telling this story.

    There is much that is right with the world but also much that is wrong. We all have a stupid 15 year old brain at times and we all need someone to believe in us and keep us safe when we aren't able to fulfil that role for ourselves.


  31. this is rather late in the day,i have been visiting your blog only since oct-

    even though you do this pseudonoumsly,it take real guts to speak up,- i hand this one to you

    however why do you say you "sinned" if anything you showed real character by sticking to your guns,your stand.

    i am sorry you had to go through something like this

  32. Hi reading your blog for the first time and I really admired your frankness and boldness in all the posts I read till now. But with this one, as someone said before, u got one notch higher. You are one gutsy girl. You have the courage to speak your mind. Keep it up!

    I am 22 years now, and reading your blog was wondering about where would I be at 25. I too have a similar plan for the 20s as u said u had at 22(in one of ur posts)....and I dunno wat all these yrs are gonna teach me.


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