Aaliyah

Written as part of B-A-R Wordy Wednesdays which has the two quotes I’ve used in the post as the theme.


Aaliyah

“Getting to a place of comfort can be uncomfortable.” – Marcus Samuelsson

The words of the quote make me smile. Looking into the mirror, I see my dimples. I’ve had enough discomfort without knowing where the place of comfort even lies.

“Liya, come for breakfast.”

My smile vanishes immediately. The voice is sweet and caring to others, but I know it isn’t so.

When I lie down on the bed again, I remember what happened nine years ago and I shudder.

*~*~*

I open my eyes to see the rays of the rising sun coming through the window. I can see the specks of dust flying hither-tither. My heart jumps with joy as I remember it is my birthday. I turn thirteen. I’m a teenager now. I hear the door open, and my grandmother comes in. She’s smiling too.

“It’s not every day that my granddaughter turns thirteen, is it?” she cooes, a packet in her hand.

She pulls out a white top with dark blue borders on the sleeves, and a matching long skirt in dark blue. My eyes open wide in surprise as much as joy. She has never before given me a gift. She usually gives money to Maa for buying it. I take it from her, then remember my manners and fall at her feet seeking blessings.

“Liya,” she tells me, “Today is a very important day. I want you to wear this today.”

I nod happily.

I get ready quickly, excited about the day ahead. When I go for breakfast, I see Maa has not kept it on the table like she does every day. Maa gives me a hug and wishes me. She tells me that Papaji has gone out.

“Maa, after breakfast, I will go to Babita’s house and wish her. It is her birthday too.”

My maa always has a surprise gift for me on my birthday. So when I hear her tell something about going back to my room first, I know something is up. She tells me I’ll be called for when everything is ready, and to go to the puja room and pray first. After half an hour, I hear her call, and run upstairs, taking two steps at a time.

I see her standing at the head of my bed, her face serious. Naani sits on the chair near the middle. What surprises me is papaji, who is near the foot of the bed, and a man I’ve never seen before. He smiles at me, and I see his front tooth is missing. I stand there frozen to the spot.

“Liya,” Naani says, “Come. Lie down. This is part of our tradition on the thirteenth birthday.”

When I don’t move, I see Papaji walk toward me and pull me towards my bed. I lie down, not sure what this new tradition is. Papaji takes my legs and pushes them wide. I try to close them, but he’s too strong.

“Papaji!” I protest, but he doesn’t listen. Maa takes my hands and holds them tightly above my head.

The stranger tells me it’s going to be okay. That he’s done it before. He pushes my skirt out of the way and leans inside. I feel his hot breath between my legs, and then something sharp cut away my underwear.

“Maa!” I cry, looking at her standing near me. “I don’t want…”

Naani’s hand on my mouth stops me from speaking further.

“This is not a choice, Liya,” she tells me, the sweetness in her voice now gone. “I will not have another word out of you.”

I see Maa look straight ahead, her expression blank, the grip of her hands tighter than she has ever held my hands before. My eyes are wet, the tears flowing onto Naani’s hand, equally strong. I see the Papaji’s back from the corner of my eyes as he sits at my feet, holding them apart.

“Can’t they see my fear?” I wonder.

I feel that sharpness slice between my legs again, and a pain shooting up. I screw my eyes shut, and my scream is muffled. I struggle against my family, but they hold on tight, leaving me no escape, no way to close myself to the gaze of the stranger. I hear him chant some mantras, part of which my family repeats, and before I know it, he cuts me again. Tears flow out of my eyes like never before. I feel their grip on me loosen, and try to sit up. The world begins to spin, and I lose consciousness.

When I wake, I’m in a small room. From the walls, I realize it is the outhouse, where I’ve hid countless number of times when playing hide and seek with Babita. There is darkness outside the window. I know I’ve been out for many hours now. I sit up, but the pain returns between my legs. I look down and in the dim light, see blood there… on the bed, on my skirt.

I hear a groan, and look beside me. On a bed nearby, I see Babita stirring. I can see blood between her legs too. She lifts her skirt, and I can see where she has been cut. She looks at me, and then starts to cry.

“That’s enough from both of you.”

I hear Naani open the door of the outhouse and come inside.

“You’ll be in this room for a few days. You’re not supposed to be seen outside; or heard. You’ll not be given anything to eat today. If you bleed again, I want you to wipe it with the cloth near your bed. Be happy the both of you are together. Usually, girls aren’t allowed to be together. Since you are cousins, the priest has allowed it.”

Babita and I look at each other silently.

“Why, Naani?” I ask her.

“Tradition,” she tells us, locking the door as she goes out again.

*~*~*

“Liya, come for breakfast, now.”

My mother’s angry voice breaks the chain of memories as she pokes her head in the door and orders me downstairs.

After that day, I had been fearful for a few days. But the more I thought of it, the more determined I became. Other than ‘Tradition’, they didn’t offer me any explanation. I didn’t seek any. As I get up, I hear a beep on my computer and a notification pops up. I click it and read the new e-mail.

lettertoaaliyah

I read the letter again quickly. Chennai.

I can hear my family in my head already as I walk downstairs.

“Chennai? No. You’re not going. I won’t have it,” Papaji’s voice echoes.

“You are twenty two now. We allowed you to study, Aaliyah, but that’s that. No arguments,” Maa will say. She never likes arguments. She never argues either. She listens to what Papa and Naani say, and pushes her anger onto me. It has always been so, almost like a tradition.

“It’s not tradition in our family for girls to work.” Yes, that’s going to be Naani’s argument, without a doubt.

I sit down for breakfast opposite to Naani.

“Babita had called. She has got a beautiful baby girl. Both are healthy,” she tells me.

I think of Babita, how she had accepted her parents’ decision to marry her off at nineteen. Maa had wanted me to do that too, but I was adamant. And they had let me study, with reluctance.

“Someone will be coming to see you this week,” Maa tells, coming into the room with the food.

I quickly eat, not speaking a word. As I head upstairs after, I know my mind is made up to take the job.

I know how difficult it will be to get my wish, but I am determined. I was ready and willing to fight for my life before, and I am even now. When I open the diary I’ve filled with my favorite quotes, I see one that assures me I’m right in my stand.

“Get busy living, or get busy dying.” – Stephen King.


I saw that an old post of mine had got a few views today. I opened it and re-read it. It’s strange how inspiration just comes so suddenly. The post, titled Darkness, was on something that had creeped me out when I heard of it then – FGM. I read about it. I saw some pictures that shocked me. And I had to write. Writing that story wasn’t easy, for I had stepped into shoes that are very hard, if not impossible to step into. It wasn’t just a story anymore. It was more than that. Since then, there has been improvement on that front in some countries, but it still predominant. This story is similar, but I felt there needs to be hope. I hope I’ve done it at least 1% justice.


(© 11th February 2016)

Leo_new_sign1

Poetry & writing to me are to me, a breath of fresh air in a life that is sometimes covered by the smoke of sorrow or self doubt. They also become the sweets I share to celebrate when life offers me a reason to. But most of all, they are to me, my life. For each word I write is a piece of my heart, a thought that just had to find its way into the world.

40 thoughts on “Aaliyah

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  1. A topic that is close to my heart and we discovered this horror together and hd endless discussion. Since the time we first heard about it, I am so glad the situation has changed in so many countries.

    I just wish that any girl anywhere, never has to go through such torture in the name of tradition.
    Jaibala Rao recently posted…Don’t Stop BelievingMy Profile

    • I know. You’re the one who made me aware of this topic, Jb. We’ve talked on it a lot, and written about it too. As someone once told me, every awareness about it is useful in the cause to abolish it one step at a time.

      I wish the same for any girl child anywhere as well. It’s torturous for me to write about it, or imagine it. So going through it, it’s a whole other level of horror. 🙁
      Vinay Leo R. recently posted…AaliyahMy Profile

    • Exactly. It feels unbelievable. That was the reaction I had when I first heard of it. But it is a brutal practice.

      Maybe it’s not predominant in our country, but a girl child is a girl child anywhere in the world. So I hope such practices in the name of tradition come to an end really soon.

      Even I am glad I wrote such an ending for Liya. Thank you so much, Tulika.
      Vinay Leo R. recently posted…AaliyahMy Profile

  2. I’m so proud of you, Vinay for choosing to write about a topic that sends shock waves through me. Totally feel for Aaliyah. I like her steely determination in the face of what she has gone through. Hope she gets busy living, for I don’t want to see her die.

    • I chose to write on it because even with some changes happening towards its end, many people still don’t even know such a horrific practice exists. It sends shock waves through me too, no doubt about that.

      I don’t see it ending overnight, so till the time that it does (and I hppe it’s sooner rather than later), I pray such Aaliyahs have that steely determination too. Even I don’t want to see her die.

      Thanks, Sreedeep.
      Vinay Leo R. recently posted…AaliyahMy Profile

  3. I have read quite a lot about such horrendous practices being carried out everywhere around us, and I shudder to imagine the plight of girls who have to go through it all! I really really hope that such horrifying practices meet their end, sooner than later, and that girls get a chance to ‘live’.

    It was a scary story that you have narrated so sensitively, so beautifully! Wow! Perfect use of the prompt, too! Superb! SImply superb!

    • I hadn’t read or heard of it until a friend broached that topic a couple of years back, Shilpa. But I hope that such practices meet their end sooner rather than later too.

      It was scary to write about it. Writing more on it doesn’t make it any easier for sure. Glad you felt the use of the prompts was perfect. Thank you.
      Vinay Leo R. recently posted…AaliyahMy Profile

    • Yeah. It makes me angry too, Rex. It’s not a momentary crime, I agree. But that’s the understanding we have of this horrific ‘tradition’ at the moment. 🙁 Glad you felt I used the sentence prompts well.
      Vinay Leo R. recently posted…AaliyahMy Profile

  4. When I read this, I wasn’t sure what was happening. You wrote about a terrible issue that needs to be publicized again and again. Thanks so much for highlighting it.

  5. Imagine it being done to baby girls which is still prevalent in few nooks and corners of the world. Why is it always a girl has to suffer in the name of tradition. It’s barbaric!!! Your story is going to Haunt me for days. Brilliantly written.

    • I know. It’s haunting me since yesterday too. It’s a strong topic, and not many people are aware of it. We do so many horrific things in the name of tradition. It’s really sad, Rajlakshmi.

  6. I don’t know what to call the fact that I was not aware such a horror existed before I read this. To be honest I read till 3/4th of the story thinking it was a nightmare or a metaphor for something. Little did I realise it was based on a very prevalent practice in many parts of the world. Few things affect me like this does. This horrific practice makes female foeticide seem tame in comparison!

    • Oh. It is most definitely a nightmare for those little girls who are forced through the ordeal, Dhivya, so you weren’t far off.

      We can’t compare two completely different tortures and say, “I’ll take that over this. It’s tame.”
      Vinay Leo R. recently posted…AaliyahMy Profile

  7. Vinay, I had cupped my hand over my mouth while reading. I swear I have tears in my eyes right now and can’t even imagine what you would have gone through while writing this post. Kudos to you for bringing up this topic and I honestly didn’t know such an evil existed/exists in this world. How lame am I! Couldn’t have written better than this way, by anyone. Marvelous!
    Shalini recently posted…Honey Ginger Glazed Chicken DrumsticksMy Profile

    • I know. It takes a lot out of me to imagine that. And not many do know such an evil exists, yes. You’re not lame for that reason, no.

      Sad to have made you cry, but I am glad you loved the story. Thank you, Shalzzz.
      Vinay Leo R. recently posted…AaliyahMy Profile

  8. I have read the previous post too, that’s how I came to know about this ‘tradition’. It scares me to even think of it, what a girl must go through in some parts of our world. A powerful story!

  9. I remember reading ‘Darkness’ and that was on my mind while reading this one. It’s truly barbaric that such customs still exist. And you have done it 100% justice, I must say. I’m glad that you have made Aaliyah strong and ended her story on a positive note.
    aathira recently posted…WildMy Profile

  10. I had read this the day your wrote and it gave me nightmares.
    I am glad that some countries are banning this inhuman practice… but there are plenty of people still doing such unspeakable horrors in the name of tradition and religion 🙁
    Powerfully written Leo..
    Pixie recently posted…Day 18 – hello!My Profile

    • Ah. When I wrote Darkness, that day I couldn’t sleep. This had a similar effect because I usually imagine whatever I write. 🙁

      You are right, Pixie. So many horrors in the name of religion. Glad you felt it was powerfully written. 🙂

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