Is 26. She is a student and currently lives in New Delhi
I DON’T REMEMBER much about my childhood. Actually, I don’t remember anything at all. All my childhood tales which I recount to my friends with much animated interest, are reconstructed memory. They’re stories my mother and sister have spent hours telling me, confounded as they are at my inability to recognise any of them. These are tales of me throwing tantrums, being mischievous, being adorable and a rather normal childhood.
The earliest memory I have dates back to when I was 13. And it’s not a particularly pleasant one. It’s an image, really. I’m sitting on my terrace, it’s raining and I’m holding a razor blade. I have several cuts on my left leg. Over the next three years, I inflict over a hundred small wounds on myself.
I’m often asked, by the likes of friends, strangers and psychiatrists, if I’ve ever understood why I cut myself. And I’ve used everything from bipolarity to masochism as reasons. When I was 16, I saw an Oprah episode about cutters. The cutter on the show said cutting gave her “a physical vent to her pain”. I blindly used that as reason for the next few years, verbatim. At least it shut people up immediately, sounding deep and all that. The truth is, I have not the first clue. I’m certain there’s some truth to every reason I used.
In the six years that I cut myself, I tried so many times to quit. None of these attempts bore any fruit. I only had to as much as look at a blade and I was back on the juice. It was an addiction, like any other – alcohol, food, drugs. I felt more miserable every time I used the blade but couldn’t help myself. No amount of therapy, no measure of love could cure me. I was in deep and spent hours locked up in my room, ashamed of my body and the scars on it. For a 15 year old girl with a privileged life like mine, there are few things scarier than being considered ugly and being called a freak.
It’s now been over three years since my last cut. It stopped because of a 10 year old boy. Fifteen boys of 8 to 14, actually. At 22, the NGO I was working with sent me and a few others to live in a camp full of boys. They had been picked up from railway platforms across the country and were in detox, soon to be sent home to their parents.
Most of them had run away from home at a very young age for reasons that ranged from being beaten up to not wanting to do their homework. Once out and on the platform, many of them couldn’t return simply because they were too young to remember how to go back, or even the name of their village. Living on the platform, they had picked up a few vices – cigarettes, whitener and pills being the main ones. How they funded these habits was another shock — everything from stealing money to selling water to giving blow-jobs to middle aged men in train restrooms.
It was one of the most moving experiences of my life. Looking at childhood so brutally stolen shifted something in me for good. It was my first brush with guilt for having the luxury of a childhood. That I had blocked out, for reasons unknown, a childhood I was so incredibly privileged to experience is an irony that didn’t escape me.
I felt more miserable every time I used the blade, but couldn’t help myself. No measure of love could cure me
One thing the boys told us during our interactions with them was that they wielded the blade with great power at the platform. The older boys — bullies on the railways — used it to frighten the younger ones into doing their bidding. The blade had become a symbol for the powerful. And every time they would tell me about some incident where they were cut up or show me a deep gash, my stomach would tighten and my brain would spin. I’d only think of the blade hiding under my pillow in my room – there for easy access.
The thought of one of the boys finding the blade and thinking of me as someone they needed to fear was enough for me to walk eight kilometres from the camp and throw the blade into a drain. I haven’t cut myself since. And I feel no need to when I see a blade, either.