My first experience of being touched as a woman happened on a dusty Mumbai bus. It was horrible.
I was 11 years old, off to school in my freshly-starched-and-pressed grey school uniform.
An ‘uncle’ (all older men in India not related to you are ‘uncles’) smiled at me, then brazenly put his hand under my school uniform pinafore. His hand first went on my keen, then up my thigh. I froze. I had no idea what was going on, I was a very naïve 11-year old. All I knew was it felt wrong, horrible and made my stomach curl.
As kids do (particularly female Indian kids), I felt guilty that somehow I had brought it upon myself.
Once I was a little older, I learnt to protect myself. I’d carry a large handbag across the front of my body, so that men who tried to touch my breasts would feel the bag and not my flesh.
I developed what is called hyper-vigilance, I could literally feel when a man crept up behind me & I was always on guard. I expanded my Hindi vocabulary to shout the rudest swear-words I could find. Because at least in shouting them out loud I could expel some of the anger I felt, at being groped. Because shout was all I could do.
In that moment when I was groped on a bus…I went from being a child to being a young woman growing up in Mumbai. Because the cities of India are overrun with men who think groping girls and women on the streets is as natural as drinking a cup of tea.
I’m now a lot older & live in a city that allows me a lot of freedom. Touching and being touched are now as much part of me as breathing. A gentle touch, caressing fingers, stroking hands – they can all be incredibly arousing and express all sorts of things from connection, to desire to reassurance. Today, touching is the most fundamental way for me to communicate love and desire. Luckily for me, my first experience of touch on that Mumbai bus did not form the basis of my experiences with men for the rest of my life.