“Nari”. This very first word, before you turn the book over and read it is an account rape and sexual abuse. No, this Nari does not refer to a woman, although it is a clever pun.
It is a gross understatement that rape is a terrible offence. It is horrendous, and heinous and terrifying and fearsome. It is not a simple crime as theft or trespassing done out of an irresistible curiosity that will not be contained. It is violating a person to the extent that it distorts their perception of their own self.
It all begins with a small family gone dysfunctional after the mother’s death. Drunkenness blurs the father’s vision to take is daughters for what they must be protected from. It takes them some years to realise that what they are growing up with is not normal. But the girls never talk about this, a natural consequence of having been subjected to helplessness of such kind. And the only way to break free of it is escape. At 19, Ramya comes across a handsome retired army man, who in no time charmes her into having hopes for a future. Despite the age gap of over two decades, the Captain proposes marriage to Ramya. And she sees it not as an opportunity to a happy life ahead but as a ticket to escape the abuse from her father that what will stay etched in her forever.
The Captain sent her to college, provided for all her education, enabled her to become the psychologist she wanted to be, set up her clinic so she could be a model woman who will not be limited by marriage to a man twice her age. But instead, she looks more like a well-educated, intellectual, childless woman whose day at work begins with activities that compensate for what her marriage denies her. The deprivation is not of sexual indulgence but of the kind of it. Although extra-marital, this affair with her research assistant is marked by the most crucial and fundamental element of consent.
This lady, Ramya, is not unfamiliar with rape. In fact she is accustomed to it. But so is Nari – the 17 year old servant boy that Captain brings home one day.
Nari learnt of rape when he was around eight years old, from the movies he ran off to watch with his friend. He learnt that it is what a man does to a woman. He grew up some more and learnt that rape is characterised by the absence of consent of a woman when a man takes her. Even though movies only showed women overpowered by men, the part about lack of consent made Nari think if the reverse was also possible. He was an attractive twelve year old boy with a captivating pair of eyes. His village landlord’s young wife, also half his age, was one to gratify herself with Nari before he was even capable of realising what he was letting happen to him. Being the man-mistress of the village landlord’s wife was a very dangerous thing to be. So it is best kept hushed.
One day Nari leaves his village for Hyderabad to join the Captain’s household. Here is bears witness to the dark deeds of the good Captain in the silence of the night. He knows and understands all of what happens and he also understands helplessness, both his and his madam’s. But soon he discovers and wields another reason for his madam’s helplessness, when one day, out of genuine concern and boyish innocence to impress his madam, he takes her lunch to her clinic and sees what becomes the turning point in both their lives.
What is made to appear as blackmail is in fact an expression of the most primal and rawest instinct of living beings. They both have reasons to blackmail each other with, and they both have needs to be met. Seduction is her weapon and threat is his. Thus follow the rapes, because their consents do not concur.
In the afterword, Sharath Komarraju writes that “we cannot untangle the knot of rape without examining our sexual selves.” Also, that “ Because in any war, the first – and the most critical – step to victory is knowledge of the enemy. If we’re to win this war against rape, we must first know it.” This tale of Nari, the account of the rapist and the raped, is an attempt of such an exploration sans judgement.