IT WAS Sunday morning at his house, and I was revelling in the newly-found comfort of being included in someone else’s breakfast chaos. We sliced fruit, brewed coffee, blinked blearily and speculated about the lives of those in the news.
My mother called to say it was too hot to go out, and unceremoniously cancelled our plans for the day. “What am I supposed to do instead?” I whined. “Watch that stupid show at 11,” she said, and hung up.
I was still staring at the newspaper headlines when I heard his mother switch the television on. I heard the title track and went skipping over. “Are you watchingSatyamev Jayate? Can I watch with you?” She patted the pillow next to her. In a moment, his sister was in the room — “Is that the new Aamir Khan show?” — another shape curled up in bed with us.
Apart from being raised by television, I’ve grown up in a family of women. Going by the plates we laid out for TV dinners, my family consisted of two. But I found, as fortunate people sometimes do, that the strongest bonds are formed in your heart, in the homes that welcome you when your mother goes to work. Mothers, sisters, teachers and friends who taught me how to live (read, love, drink, fight), and not merely exist. Watching Sunday television with two women that I had come to love was my idea of perfect domestic bliss.
Today, the man-as-messiah on the show was talking about men who beat their wives. He was indignant and surprised at how other men behave. The actor gasped and shook his head at just the right moments. His eyes welled up, and he discreetly pointed this out so we knew that he was different from the men he was speaking of. He talked about how terrible it is for sons to see their mothers being abused. Sons who see such things grow up to hate their fathers, he said. Sons who see such things usually internalise and perpetuate violence themselves, an expert agreed. No one mentioned daughters.
The women in the room were fuming, on behalf of the women on the television. The men in the house stayed away from the television, not wishing to point out that the man on screen was merely simulating outrage. The actor was saving the world one episode at a time, with cued expressions and a script in hand.
He did not mention daughters. No one did. No one wondered what it is like to see the man you love the most in the world hurt the strongest person you know. Or to spend the night hiding on a terrace with your mother, straining to hear the sounds below, hoping not to be found. No one asked what it is like, to grow up wondering what suddenly turns men into monsters, and what it is like to love men anyway. No one asked me, but I was the only one in the room who knew.
In a room across the city, I knew my mother was watching too. I asked her why we watch. She says the best thing about meeting Messiah Khan every Sunday is that he forces us to face our collective conscience. Foeticide, disability, marital strife — he unveils the ugliness within, for all to see. But it’s not our lives we’re watching, I tell her. It’s him. We watch him discover the real world, discover us, and attempt to tie up the loose ends of our lives with a signature campaign.
Later that night, on the quiet drive home, I told the man I loved about the things I had seen as a child. “When did you finally forgive your father?” he asked, after a while. “I don’t think I ever did,” I said, “but I never stopped loving him either. Isn’t that strange?” He placed a hand on mine — “No stranger than all that stuff they show on television these days.”
Anonymous is 26. She is a journalist based in Mumbai.