This is a flash fiction piece that started out as a much longer story about an adolescent boy who gropes women in public places (see my footnote at the end of this post). Any woman who has lived in India for even a short length of time will probably have experienced this from men of any age. I wanted to explore what drives this particular behavior. What kind of person might be behind that anonymous mask and those grasping hands? What life/people influences might have led him to be that way?
In this shorter version, though, I have focused more on the father and the adolescent son struggling with their splintering relationship. It unfolds in four brief scenes, each of which has a certain element of violence, which is not always overt. Both men are weighed down by their own demons. Both are creatures of their circumstances, many of which they share yet respond to differently. And both are driven by their need for self-assertion, as are all human beings.
I want to state upfront that what happens in this story is not simply about “the sins of the father.” While I believe that parents have a lot of input into how their sons and daughters turn out, I also think that, after a certain age, we have to raise ourselves, difficult as that task can be. Some of us need to be raising ourselves through our entire lives.
When Deepu arrives at our kholi, his face is swollen and, through his torn shirt, I see bloody scratches on his body. That downturned gaze tells me he has done wrong. I see my son’s defiance rising like a shield that the world will smash as it has mine, and a liquid sourness burns my throat. I can barely pay heed to the Pandu constable accompanying him as I nod, yes, I am the father.
Read the rest of the story here: The Nottingham Review, Issue 7.
[Footnote: As part of the writing process for the longer version of this story, I read several research studies on this kind of public groping behavior (which happens in Western countries too). Many of these studies confirmed what I had already been thinking: this type of hostile, dominant masculinity is rarely about sexual pleasure and, often, comes from a frustrating sense of lacking power and/or personal agency. It is also, sadly, a way for some men to deal with their repressed needs for love and intimacy while protecting their low self-esteem and fear of rejection. Anonymous crowd settings are preferred because they think they are less likely to be caught. And the kick or thrill that keeps them wanting to do it again and again is from the sense of power/worth that comes from the victim’s reaction — fear, shock, disgust, and/or anger.]