The other evening, after dinner, while we were surfing channels to catch up on the day’s news, we chanced upon a programme titled Monster Dad. Now, if you’ve been in the city the last month, you would have definitely heard of the case of incest that has been sparking off lurid headlines. Two young girls, their identities concealed behind dupattas, spoke about how their father, urged by a tantrik uncle, his partner in crime, had robbed them of their innocence.
Years ago, I’d worked briefly for a fortnightly magazine. Several of the girls were from out of town and had crowded into the company’s guest house. Many of the girls had steady dates who were always dropping by, yet the lines of decency were strictly observed.
There was just one girl, Sheeba (name changed to protect identity), who strayed.. frequently and recklessly. Disgruntled murmurs of how she picked up strangers and even brought them home grew louder with every passing day. Why? Why?
“Why does she demean herself in this way?” her flatmates would whisper among themselves. Sheeba must have heard them yet she turned a blind ear to them. She was barely five feet, demure and doll-like, with a wide-eyed innocence that belied her actions. After a few months, she went home on leave. And the girls breathed a sigh of relief.
Then one day, one of the girls ran into one of Sheeba’s relatives. From him she learnt that Sheeba had been a victim of abuse. Her parents had separated when she was 10. Her mother had remarried. And her father had turned his attentions to her. She had escaped as soon as she completed her education. But by then, the damage was done.
Sheeba was like a broken doll. Looking, searching and hoping to find someone out there who could put the pieces back together.
Knowledge brought understanding. When Sheeba returned, the girls no longer shot her dark frowns. Without words, with smiles, they expressed their sympathy. Their amity was far worse than their whispered hostility. It didn’t take Sheeba long to realise that they knew the truth. And that only made the pain and humiliation more unbearable.
Soon after that, I quit my job. The magazine we were working for folded up. The team scattered. Sheeba, I heard, had joined a TV company. I haven’t run into her in all these years. I wonder if she finally found solace and a soulmate. Cut to the present: The story of the Monster Dad was still droning on. My 10-year-old daughter, I noticed, was listening with rapt attention. I didn’t want the darkness to touch her life.
Even before I could reach for the remote, my husband picked it up and abruptly switched off the TV. Our daughter turned to look at him. I braced myself for another of her hard-to-answer curious queries. But all she said was, “He wasn’t a good daddy.”