We feature a moving excerpt from Battles in the Mind, a book written by Anna Chandy, chairperson of Deepika Padukone’s Live Love Laugh Foundation (and Padukone’s therapist). This excerpt is published with kind permission of Penguin Random House India.
Battles in the Mind
by Anna Chandy
Among the many souvenirs of my painful childhood that I have still kept is the receipt from the school, perhaps to remind me of those confusing months in a strange place. Perhaps to chronicle yet another incident in my disturbed childhood that never made sense.
Another time, my parents were in the middle of another huge fight when we received news that a family friend had suffered a heart attack. He lived in Coonoor, a day’s drive from Bangalore. That didn’t stop my mother from immediately bundling us up and leaving for his residence to help.
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Incidents like these developed in me a natural restlessness. I grew up with a recurring anthem: ‘Today, I am here. Tomorrow, I don’t know where I will be.’ I was apprehensive all the time and took to anticipating people’s actions, almost to the point of paranoia. I was always waiting for emergency to strike.
Rewinding further back into my childhood, I found I’d shut away a series of incidents so vicious and hurtful that even the thought of them reduced me to helplessness.
My mother was particularly close to an aunt with whom she enjoyed going for movies. As the aunt’s children were already in their teens—a boy and a girl—it made perfect sense to leave the six-year-old me with them for a few hours while they went ahead with their outing.
At times, she’d leave me there overnight so that she needn’t worry about getting home early. As I played on my own, knowing my mother would be back, I wasn’t afraid. Amma trusted these people, so why shouldn’t I? So when the aunt’s husband began to pay a little more attention to me, I responded with delight. When he drew me on to his lap, I welcomed it. When I’d find him sitting on the edge of my bed in the early hours of the morning, I allowed it. And then, when he began to put his hand on me, began to molest me, taking advantage of my pliable nature, I did not protest. Why would I, when I was getting the attention and affection I craved for at home? In my six-year-old mind, I didn’t know the difference.
Even as he continued his use of my little body every week, his son, an eighteen-year-old, unbeknownst to his father, began his own molestation of me. I had always noticed him lurking, watching me play, and I assumed he did so because he liked me. Over the years, as I grew, he began what he called ‘playing together’. Initially, I looked forward to spending time with him. I believed him when he told me he was my boyfriend. We were in love and I allowed myself the usual girlhood dreams of fairy-tale romance, even though I was only eight, and he was twenty. Such was the dysfunction of my mother’s aunt’s family that her twenty two-year-old daughter too began to molest me.
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It was only when I turned ten, and both son and daughter were married and living in their own homes, that the abuse stopped, and I, left confused by the whole incident, felt betrayed by the people who I thought loved me. After all, they were the only people in Amma’s entire family who had even acknowledged me. And yet, after using me, they’d left to start families of their own. The boyfriend hadn’t even turned to look back. The fairy tale crashed.