Remember me? The story of my trauma

Nirwa Mehta
6 min readNov 17, 2023

Note: Some of these incidents happened so long ago that my memory may betray me. Many of these conversations happened in Gujarati, but are translated to Hindi/English for better clarification.

I was 10–11 years old when I went to nearby shop to purchase tomato ketchup. I had learnt to ride the ‘big girl’ cycle and was just too happy to ride the cycle around to run errands. Mummy instructed me to get Kisan ‘no onion, no garlic’ ketchup, which I very distinctly remember. The shopkeeper was an old 60+ uncle who chewed gutka. I had been there earlier because this shop also sold this ‘pepsi’ thing — which was nothing but absolute trash coloured sugary water frozen in these plastic straw-like shape. It was quite a rage back in school. It was one of those ‘treats’ we would get on our way back from school without really letting mummy know about it.

Anyway, so this uncle knew us — me and other kids. This day, when I extended my hand to pay for the ketchup, he grabbed my hand. I was not even a teen. I stood there frozen in shock. He then got up from his chair, leaned forward and kissed my cheek very very close to my mouth. I still gag when I remember the distinct gukta and elaichi smell of this absolute violation of my privacy.

I rode my cycle back home as fast as I could and refused to go buy anything from that shop ever. He would sometimes smile at me when we drove past in the school van and I would always try and avoid being seen.

I often say how I don’t like elaichi in my food. Which is true, I find it overpowering flavour and that is one reason. But another reason is that if I accidentally chew on the elaichi in my food, the strong flavour makes me gag because it reminds me of the time a man four-five times my age thought it was okay to grab my hand and kiss me. I have never told this to anyone ever before.

That commercial building still exists near my place, but it no longer has this grocery store. But sometimes, when I drive by, I can still visualise myself — wearing red shirt and blue shorts, two pony tails, standing there, frozen in time.

Few years have passed since then. I am now walking to my school bus pickup point, about a km from my place. I was 15–16, I believe. A young-ish man on a bike would drive past me, take a u-turn from end of the lane and drive on the other side. Then he’d take u-turn again and repeat this pattern. Instincts kick in and I hold on to the strap of my bag tightly, put my head down and walk believing if I do not look at the world around, the world will stop taking a notice of me.

Few days pass and I have not seen him. I am returning from school and get down at the bus stop. As I was walking towards home, a biker dives by and slows down as he nears me and before I could process what is happening, he puts his hand on my chest. I have never felt as ashamed of my body before as I did that day. In few seconds he drove by and I never saw him in my life. But walk to and back the bus stop had my hyper alert ever since.

I had forgotten about this over the years till two years back when I was in CP and walked out of Starbucks with a friend at around 8 PM. The usually bustling CP was strangely deserted that day. I became so alert of my surroundings that I turned my back away from the road and held on to the straps of my bag tied on my shoulder such that my hands run across my chest. I thought maybe I have finally embraced Delhi and am learning to protect myself from the ‘Delhi is unsafe’ personal trauma story. But no. Now when I think about it, it was more of my repressed memories making a comeback. The instincts kicking in were not in response to ‘possible future harassment’ but the past lived experience.

Around the same time as above, I got a call on my home phone number. I answered the call and a man asked my ‘rates’. You see, I was in 12th standard and this teacher of mine who used to take private tuition classes for other classmates of mine, was not quite happy with I getting more marks than her ‘students’. I was also her student, technically speaking — as she was my school teacher, but since I was not taking her private coaching, she was not happy. So, well, she got some of my classmates to post my home phone number on Yahoo chat room back then and identified me as a ‘call girl’. Yeah. I was 16 and I was asked my ‘rates’.

This happened for a few days till I think Yahoo chatroom with my number was no longer in top search result or perhaps Yahoo removed it for violating privacy or whatever. But after three-four weeks of incessant calls asking for my ‘rates’, I was left deeply disturbed.

I had forgotten about this till a friend reminded me about it two months back. She was also subjected to similar humiliation because of same bunch of our despicable classmates and a devil in form of a teacher. But it also made me realise how I blamed myself for this situation and firmly believed that if these people ‘liked’ me enough they would not have subjected me to this and that kind of was perhaps the tipping point in me going out of my way to be ‘liked’ and become a people pleaser so I do not upset anyone else, lest someone else choose to put me in similar position again.

Oh, how wrong I was about bullies.

Many more years have passed since. I am now returning from college on my two-wheeler. I take a right turn towards Gujarat University where I see this man wearing black t-shirt, black jeans, smile at me. I thought he’s a relative or someone known but couldn’t place a name but I still smile back out of politeness. I slow down slightly near another turn and a speed breaker when I see him on his bike in the rear view mirror, still smiling.

It then dawned upon me that I do not know him. He followed me for a few more minutes till I lost him at a traffic signal after I managed to go through in last few seconds of green light.

I stopped taking that route after that.

A few weeks later, I am at another traffic signal, while returning from college. Since I had stopped taking that turn from Gujarat University, I was taking a two km longer detour now to go home. As I waited for the traffic signal to turn green, this man pulls up next to me and looks at me and smiles.

“Remember me?” He asked.

A chill ran down my spine. I wonder what gives men the courage to ask such questions to complete strangers, especially young girls, and not have the fear of repercussions.

I froze.

“What’s your problem?” I ask.

“Problem is that I like you,” He said.

“I am sorry, I don’t,” I said.

Traffic signal turned green, I drive and he drives right behind me, blinking his headlights to get my attention. Needless to say, I am terrified. He managed to find my alternate route after perhaps realising I had changed the route I was taking every day.

As I neared my house, I see he was till following me. I was afraid he would get to know where I live. But these are the lanes I know very well. I know the interiors in this part of the city, having lived there all my life and seen it develop. I take turns in random lanes and manage to lose him.

Thankfully I never see him again.

Later I would blame myself for his behaviour. If only I had not smiled at him, he would not have gotten wrong signals.

I would continue to get into my shell, become a social recluse, take to Internet for comfort. Because faceless, anonymous strangers were not going to follow me home.

I am now an anxious person, living forever afraid of hurting someone, wanting to please people and overcompensate. I live in constant fear of being left alone, abandoned. I have flawed coping mechanism and I am aware, but I deal with it with mostly compartmentalising and finding an escape elsewhere.

But here I am, as honest as my courage allows me, writing it for strangers on the Internet to see — so I don’t have to go see a therapist.

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Nirwa Mehta

#Writer. I'm here to create a dent in the universe. I believe in satire. I'm an acquired taste. #INFP #awesome फासला रखे, कहीं प्यार न हो जाए।