Toe the Line

By Paramita Banerjee


But then,” he countered, “you’ve been in the same situation before.”

“True, but does that mean I have to accept it?”

“Not really. I didn’t quite mean that. What I did mean, though, is that you need to look at yourself a little more thoroughly before you decide to complain. After all, when the same situation occurs time and again to one single person, it does indicate that the person has some characteristic which induces such behaviour.”

“Oh, the same old story! ‘You must have contributed somehow.’ Yes, of course I have. I always have. In every single case, just by being me. Don’t you see?”

“Come on, there’s no need to be so dramatic. You seem to forget that you’re talking to a professional. I charge my clients for this.”

“To tell them that they are themselves responsible for every unacceptable, degrading, violating situation that they face? And they pay you? Oh my Gosh, that’s fantastic!”

He was intensely angry. But at the same time, he didn’t want to further distress her when she was already so outraged and upset. Psychologists are trained to control their emotions, he told himself. He got up and left the room.


Scene 4

I didn’t know you were such a super cook!”

“Oh, I don’t know about that, but I do enjoy cooking. It de-stresses me.” She was more than a little embarrassed. She was never comfortable receiving compliments from mere acquaintances.

Moreover, she hadn’t exactly wanted to invite him to taste her culinary skills. One day in office, he had actually asked permission to taste what she had brought for lunch, saying that it looked delicious. She could hardly refuse without being downright rude. And after that, he kept on badgering her to invite him home one day, so he could enjoy a meal cooked by her.

She had kept avoiding that with a million excuses. She was, after all, very particular about whom she invited home. Strictly limited to good friends. This man was just a colleague. A good acquaintance, at best. Not a friend, by any means. But his persistence had finally won; she had run out of excuses. Also, she was beginning to wonder if her continued refusal was bordering on rudeness. He was decent enough, she had to admit. She couldn’t really accuse him of any misbehaviour ever, with any of his colleagues—including her.

“What about some music as we sip the Kahlua? Tomorrow is Sunday, after all. No morning rush for reaching office on time.”

“Oh, well. But I do have some catching up to do with my sister.”

“This late?”

“She doesn’t live here. It’s Saturday morning for her right now.”

“Then you can chat when it’s Saturday afternoon for her. Please. A little music does wonders to the post-dinner liqueur. Especially when the dinner has been so very delicious and the liqueur is Kahlua.”

She turned sharply as she felt his breath on her back. She was rummaging through her collection for something suitable and hadn’t sensed him get up from the sofa and come to stand behind her. Close. Far too uncomfortably close.

“Could I help you choose?” He stepped even closer.

“Please, move away a little. I feel uncomfortable.”

“I like that!” he said with a chuckle. “You really know the art.”

“I am not sure I understand what you mean.” Her voice was dangerously calm now. Icy, one could say.

“Don’t you? You invite an able-bodied man to your home where you live alone. Treat him to drinks and dinner and charming conversation. And then you pretend not to understand?”

She was happy to see that her reflexes were as strong as when she was twenty.

“You deserve to be brutally raped, you bitch!” hissed the man as he doubled up in pain. Her right knee had hit him hard and accurately on his no-longer bulging manhood.


Scene 3

You slapped me!” Her incredulous voice rang out, her hands still rubbing her throbbing left cheek.

“So, what did you expect? A kiss? After what you did? Consider yourself lucky that I didn’t slap you in front of Vikas!”

“Chintu, what can you possibly mean by that? He bloody pinched my butt as I was pouring the drinks!”

“He’s my boss, dammit! You spent a lifetime making out with women, men and who knows what else before I was foolish enough to propose to you. What could a little pinch on your skinny butt take away from you? Your virginity?!”

She bit her lips hard to calm herself down. “Chintu, I understand you’re worried that I slapped your boss. But, darling, surely you’re not suggesting that I should have endured that violation silently?”

“That’s exactly what I mean, damn you!”

“You can’t be serious!”

“Never been more serious in my life! You choose to talk all about your colourful sex life to Vikas—”

“That’s not true! I was only trying to explain what bisexuality means. That, too, because he had asked me.”

“It’s all the same. You started with what you understand by bisexuality. Do you think Vikash is a fool? Do you think he couldn’t put two and two together?”

“But, Chintu, I was only trying to explain the idea of bisexuality.” Her whispers floated across the distance of light-years, poignant with desperation. Desperate to disbelieve what she heard her partner say.

“To hell with your intellectualism! You kept talking about your escapades as a tomboyish teenager and then went on to talk about bisexuality, all the while playing the hostess role to near perfection. Bartending, carefully ensuring the supply of munchies and snacks without a break, looking quite stunning in that blue dress of yours. Poor Vikas must have simply pinched you to check if you are for real!”

“But, but—you’re actually complimenting me even as you justify what that oaf did to me!”

“Like hell I’m complimenting you! Vikas was decent enough to just pinch you. You deserve to be kicked hard on the backside!”


Scene 2

Trust me, I know I’m in love with you.”

“But of course you love me! We are the best of friends and I know how deeply you care for me.”

“That’s not what I mean at all! Not friendly love. I have fallen in love with you, Sweetie Pie—romantic love. Like what happens between heroes and heroines in movies. That sort of love.”

Sheila was aghast. “You must have gone crazy! It’s a sin even listening to what you are saying.”

“Why? What’s wrong with falling in love? Ek Duje Ke Liye is one of your favourite films. You are always humming ‘Love, love me do’.  Why has love suddenly become a sin?”

“Oh God! You are crazy. Love isn’t a sin at all, but that has to happen between a girl and a guy. We are both girls. How can you be in love with me?”

“I don’t know, Sheila, but I am. I’m forever craving to look at you, to touch you, to care for you, to love you like—”

“Stop it! I don’t want to hear another word from you. Nor do I want to see you again—ever. Get out of my room. NOW!”

“Please, oh please! Don’t be so cruel. We’ve been the best of friends for years now. How can you ask me to walk out of your life just like that? Because I’m being honest with you?”

“I don’t care for your honesty! As you said, I just want you out of my life. Forever.”

“You’re free not to accept my love, Sheila, Sweetie Pie, but how can you snap everything we’ve had for so long without batting an eyelid? Do you think I deserve that?”

“You deserve much worse, and don’t you dare call me ‘Sweetie Pie’ once more! Thank your lucky star that I’m not reporting you to the super and the principal. You would be rusticated and that would serve you right. You should be grateful that I’m still maintaining my calm. Go and get lost for all I care, before I lose my temper completely!”


Scene 1

The commotion outside was loud enough to break through Romola’s apparently impregnable concentration. Her brows furrowed in irritation (and with reason—it wasn’t easy for a mother of two to teach in a college, take care of the household and do her PhD) Romola focussed for a moment on the din outside. It didn’t take her more than a couple of minutes to realise that her brat of a daughter was at it again. Some brawl or the other the tomboy had got herself into! Her face a study in anger—exasperated rage, really—Romola marched to the door; yanked it open and called out sharply to her daughter.

The fourteen-year-old came rushing: “Ma, good that you are here. You need to join me in teaching this man a lesson. You won’t believe what he did!”

“Come inside right now,” said Romola’s cold, hard voice.

“But Ma—” Romola pulled her daughter inside and banged the door shut.

“Ma, that pig squeezed my boobs as he was cycling past me. He tried to speed up and escape, but I chased and caught him. I was making him hold his ears and do sit-ups, all the time saying loudly that he’ll never do this to a girl again. I was going to make him do that fifty times and he had only reached up to twenty. Why did you pull me inside?” The daughter’s voice was thick with a mix of indignant rage at that offending rascal and a degree of confused pique at her mother.

“If you wear shorts and sleeveless tees at your age, and choose to play all those physical games with boys all the time, this sort of thing will keep happening to you.”



Toe the line, toe the line!
Stick to norms to be alive.
Your battle will never be won!

Pay the price for inclusion and suffocate. Or, be yourself and be damned.

Paramita Banerjee works as an independent consultant in the sphere of child protection and gender justice. Her expertise lies in research, training, evaluation and community mobilisation. This black-coffee drinking queer activist dreams of wielding the pen to ruffle the feathers of status-quo-ist survival.

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