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Jun 22 2012

I was seven years old

‘….The day Toi-toi left, Ma had to work alone in the kitchen lighting the oven, peeling the vegetables, cleaning and cutting the fish and meat before starting lunch. When it came to lighting the oven, Ma could not find the box of matches. This was a job always done by either Phulbahari or Toi-toi. Only they knew where the matches were kept.
“Go and get a match from Amanuddaula,” Ma said to me. She knew uncle Aman would have a box of matches since she had seen him smoking cigarettes. Uncle Aman had been given the same room at the back of the house which used to be full of fire-wood, where uncle Sharaf had taken me one lonely afternoon, saying he would show me something interesting.


I opened the door and went into the room. Uncle was lying in his bed. He looked like my father. Curly hair, a sharp nose, large eyes, thick dark eyebrows, a fair complexion. If Papa could be pressed under the bricks and flattened somewhat, and his height reduced, he would look no different from uncle Aman.
The room, I could see, looked completely different. There was no fire-wood, no rats. A picture in a frame hung on the tin wall. It was one of uncle Aman himself. His hair in the picture looked wavy, on his feet were pump shoes. To the right of this picture was a calendar with a woman’s face on it. A comb and a mirror were tucked in the tin. On a clotheshorse lay his clothes, unfolded.
“uncle,” I said, looking at the calendar, “Ma is asking for matches.”
“What is your Ma going to do with matches?” he enquired, getting out of bed and rubbing the hair on his bare chest.
“She’ll light the oven. Then she’ll cook.”
“But I haven’t got any matches!” uncle Aman told me.
At these words, I turned around and took a step to walk out of the room. Uncle dragged me inside. “Wait, wait, take your matches. I have got some,” he said, grinning.
Suddenly, as if by magic, a matchbox appeared in his hand. I stretched mine to take it, but uncle Aman moved his own hand away. I tried again, he moved it once more. One minute I could see the matchbox, and the next minute it was gone. It felt a bit like watching a glow-worm. A flash of light one moment, darkness the next. In order to lay my hand on the box of matches, I moved nearer to uncle Aman. He pulled me even closer. Then, instead of giving it to me, he started tickling me under my arms and my stomach, laying me flat on his bed. I shrank like a snail. He picked up my tense, curled-up body and threw it in the air, as if he was playing cricket. He was the bat, I was the ball. Then he caught me as I fell, his hand sliding down my body, stopping at my panties. Then it began pulling my panties down. I tried to roll off the bed. My feet were on the floor, my back still on the bed, my panties near my knees, my knees neither on the floor nor on the bed. Around my neck hung the medallion to protect me from danger.
Uncle lifted his lungi. I saw a big snake raise its head between his legs, poised for attack. I went numb with fear, but to my greater horror, the snake did attack, in that little place between my thighs — once, twice, thrice. I remained totally petrified. Staring into my wide eyes, uncle said, “Would you like a candy? Tomorrow, I will buy you candy . Look, here’s the matchbox, take it. And listen, sweetheart, don’t tell anyone that you have seen my cock and I have seen your little sweet pussy. It’s bad to talk about such things. You must tell no one.”
I left his room, the box of matches in my hand. It ached between my thighs, I felt to pee, but saw my panties were already wet. I had no idea what this game was called, this business of stripping me naked. Nor could I guess why uncle Sharaf and uncle Aman wanted to climb over me. Uncle Aman had told me not to tell anyone else. I started to think he was right. It was not something one talked about. At the age of seven, suddenly a new awareness rose in my mind. It told me that whatever had happened was shameful, it would not be right to talk about it, it had to be kept a secret.

Even today, sometimes I wonder why I did not tell anyone about those two incidents. Was it because I did not want people to think badly of my uncles? Had anyone put me in charge of protecting their good name? Was it because they were older than me and, for that reason alone, worthy of my respect, because I had read in a book that one had to respect everyone who was older? Or was it because I had believed them to be good people, and did not want that belief shattered? As if what had happened was just not true, it was a lie from start to finish, no more than a nightmare; or, may be, those men only looked like my uncles, but were really two different men in their guise, enemies from some distant past! Who struck me dumb, and told me to hide my pain and suffer in silence? Was I afraid that, if I did talk about it, no one would believe me, they would dismiss my allegations, say that I was possessed by some evil spirit, or that I was either a liar or totally mad, a trouble-maker? No one would then hold me close and kiss me, but slap me and hit me hard instead? Or could it be that no one seemed to be my own, no one was close enough to whom I could go and cry my heart out, tell them everything without holding anything back, show them my wounds? Even Ma was not that close, although she was my whole world. I lived under her protection, she was like a tree, I sat in its shade when I was tired; she was like a deep, clear pond, I drank its water when I was thirsty. She had given me life, she nurtured it. If I could not turn even to her at a moment like this, who else could help me?

After that incident, I felt myself split into two. One half went out with all the other children, played games and ran around. The other half sat alone and depressed, by the pond, or the rail roads, or the steps by our door. Alone, even in the middle of a crowd. Thousands of miles began to place themselves between this lonely girl and all the others. Even when she stretched her arm, she could not touch anyone across all those miles, not even her mother. If she tried, all her hands could ever grasp was emptiness….’

[From the translation of my memoir 'Amar Meyebela'(My Girlhood)]

21 comments

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  1. 1
    blondein_tokyo

    This made me cry. It’s so fucking unfair.

  2. 2
    No Light

    You deserved better than that, every girl does. I wish I could go back there and save you, save us all.

    I deeply admire your raw, unflinching honesty. Your writing is a gift to women and girls who are crushed under the weight of patriarchy.

    I defy any of your usual critics to come in here and, as they usually do, try to deny you your. pain, and your anger toward men. They fear your power, the power of women and girls who speak out, who refuse to be silent.

    Thank you.

    1. 2.1
      Taru Dutt

      The usual critics, namely the racist misogynist imam Gorbachev, will not comment on this, because they are satisfied that Taslima is writing only about her “permitted” subjects – namely, issues confined to the subcontinent. Gorbachev and his ilk will be here pronto, though, should Taslima, a lowly brown woman in their eyes, dare to talk of issues beyond women’s plight in South Asia. According to these vicious racists, Taslima needs their endorsement and approval before she may be permitted to discuss issues about women in the West.

      I was talking to my husband last night, and he remarked that men such as Gorbachev might come in here because they feel safe in putting down the voices of “inferior’” (so they think) non-white women such as Taslima. That is why they so persistently blogdog her. It may well be that others in real life have put them in their place, so now they try and get their jollies this way.

      That’s why Gorbachev and his followers don’t usually comment on posts like the above. They will, and they will tell their usual racist, supremacist, misogynist lies, when they feel Taslima has stepped beyond the limits proper to an “inferior” South Asian woman.

      I always knew the West had its own imams.

      1. Taru Dutt

        I was just thinking – suppose Taslima were to have the effrontery to comment on the Trayvon Martin death? Then we’d see the Lochinvarist defenders come out of the West (appropriate direction) to put Taslima in her place, all right.

  3. 3
    Sunil D'Monte

    Thank you for writing this Taslima. – Best regards from India.

  4. 4
    asms anam

    These two beasts were not supposed to go unpunished.Taslima,thanks for breaking the silence.All mothers should read this book to save their girl child from such beasts.

  5. 5
    bharat dosi

    It is a very heartbreaking story! You told many women’s untold stories.

  6. 6
    Who Knows?

    The last paragraph, it is so true. Even after more than 40 years.

  7. 7
    Susannah

    Alone, even in the middle of a crowd. Thousands of miles began to place themselves between this lonely girl and all the others. Even when she stretched her arm, she could not touch anyone across all those miles, not even her mother.

    Always. Always.

    And to think that many of the women around would have understood! In my case, even my mother would have. But the message, “Don’t tell, don’t talk about it,” was conveyed so firmly, and so early, to generation after generation of little girls; we had no way of breaking the silence.

    Thank you for speaking out.

  8. 8
    tay

    My heart hurts reading this. Your writing is wonderful and so very important.

  9. 9
    peicurmudgeon

    Powerfully written. The saddest part is that the story is repeated so often and by so many.

    1. 9.1
      asms anam

      Yes,powerfully written.One would not be able to stop reading the original Bengali version of the book till bursting into tears for the little innocent girl whose age of innocence was cut short brutally.

  10. 10
    deeprobhattacharyya

    The worst part is that all the talk about women freedom and free thinking is a farce. The common man lives in the medieval era and so does the system of justice……

  11. 11
    left0ver1under

    Even though I’m a person who would never do that to a child, I speak out against such things and would immediately report it to police or publicize it, I still feel useless. The writer is but one child, the one willing to speak out or able to be heard. For every one like her, there will be thousands suffering the same way who will never be heard from, never helped or and their abusers never punished.

    I finally understand what people mean when they say, “I think i just threw up in my mouth a little bit”.

  12. 12
    Sanjay

    Taslimaji,I admire u as most intelligent,honest& bold but soft spoken person.I in difficulty and adverse situation,think and act as what w’d have you done in those critical situation according to ur conscience. A.P.J.KALAM only is comparable to u according to me.

  13. 13
    BSD

    If I had a time machine I would go back in time and pick up Lorena Bobbitt just as she picked up the knife, then taken her further back in time to the point when your uncle was lying in bed.

    WHACK, and Taslima escapes her terrible fate.

    Reading this was like watching a horror movie. I wanted to scream out “Run Taslima RUN. Don’t go in the bedroom! Run Taslima RUN!”

    But no, my heart was wrenched and sickened to read what happened.

    I do not pity you, Taslima, for that is reserved for those who succumb to their misfortune, wasting away, perhaps in an institution, or hidden away in a dark bedroom afraid to come out again.

    You put this horrible experience behind you and rose above it, not letting it stop you from succeeding. I admire you for that.

    There are no words to offer comfort. No words can take away the outrage and injustice that was done to you. Even were your uncles beheaded or imprisoned for their deeds, the black hurt they left in your heart will probably never fully go away.

  14. 14
    onindita

    I was 3/4 years old. And I don’t even remember clearly what happened with me.
    I still have memory flashes of my guard’s son’s penis rubbing against my vagina. He was probably in his early 20s. I don’t even remember his face.
    I also remember the black and orange coloured Mimi Chocolate wrapper.
    That’s all I remember. I don’t think I even told anyone about that.

    The next set of incidents occurred with my music teacher. I was 8 years old.
    I remember his acts clearly. He was initially very nice, sweet, a bit cuddly too.
    As days passed, his cuddles were taking a different turn, he would rub my thighs, slide his hand in my panties, fondle my boobs, I didn’t have boobs even, at that age. And I started to wonder, is this a different sort of cuddling?
    He didn’t hurt me, but is was very uncomfortable. later, I told my mother about these acts and she asked him not to come anymore.
    But was it enough punishment for him? He was a renowned singer and maybe my mother didn’t want to mess with him.
    And the irony?? He had a daughter almost my age.

    1. 14.1
      asms anam

      No,it was not enough punishment for the music teacher.Your mother should have exposed this beast.

  15. 15
    Tanzila

    I heard about Taslima when I was writing a paper titled South Asian Muslim Women in the Mass Media for my English class. She was one the women I covered. As I read more about her, I found myself in her. I am a Muslim born Bangladeshi but I was raised in the US since I was 2 years old. I am reading her book Meyebela now. I had to put it down a few times from reading it. Sometimes mid-paragraph and sometimes even mid-sentence because it was too much. I too have similiar experience and views like her and it brought back too much memories and stirred up too much emotion from my childhood. I hope I run into her one day. If I ever do, I would like to give her a hug and just say “Thank you”.

  16. 16
    Custard Flip

    Makes you wish the moderates are right about heaven and hell, that fighters for good, even unbelievers will wind up in heaven, while rapists and beaters and killers, no matter how ‘pure’ on the outside, would receive the justice mortals couldn’t dole out in their time.

    But there isn’t, sadly, so we have to make sure justice is done right here, right now. I can’t even imagine how much it must hurt to bring this all back up again Taslima, and to talk about these things that have caused so much shame in the past (and maybe still do now). But speaking out like this exposes to everyone who reads it how evil it is to hurt a child this way. You are very brave to make that choice.

  17. 17
    Noyon

    I really really REALLY want to read the english version of this book. I cannot find any free copies online.

  1. 18
    No Country for Women’s Top Posts

    [...] I was seven years old -Taslima’s translation from one of her books, Amar MeyeBela, recounting having been sexually [...]

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