Thanks to Almighty
Chapter 1 – A Wail
(2009 - One morning in Kulangara Village, near Thiruvananthapuram.)
Malathi told her daughter Meenakshi “Meenu wake up, it is time to go for tuition. Every day you get up early to attend tuition class. Why are you oversleeping today?” Little did that mother knew that her daughter was not actually sleeping. She was simply lying in the bed with eyes wide open. She could not sleep a bit last night.
Meenakshi Menon lived with her mother in Kulangara Village which is 30 km away from the capital city, Thiruvananthapuram. She was an 18-year-old student who is doing Bachelor of Arts at St Joseph College, Thiruvananthapuram. Her father passed away ten years back in a bike accident while coming back from work late at night. Her mother eked out a living by running a tailoring shop at the village. Her father was a hardworking man and he was able to buy a five-cent plot and construct a small two-bedroom house. Mother and the daughter lived a contented life amid all their financial agonies.
Malathi’s only solace was her daughter was a go-getter. Even at this age she had a clear vision. Despite having good marks in plus two, Meenakshi didn’t choose either science main or maths main. It was not just their financial situation that prevented Meenakshi from taking up those much sought after subjects, but deep inside she harbored the dream of cracking Civil Service. Being a big fan of Dr.Abdul Kalam, it happened to her naturally. In fact, she read “Wings of Fire” and “Ignited Minds” ‘n” number of times.
Malathi came to Meenakshi’s room saying “I have been calling you since 6 o’clock and are you still sleeping?” When Malathi entered the room she saw her daughter simply lying in the bed, her eyes staring at the ceiling vacantly. Being a mother who had known the pulse of her daughter, Malathi sensed something amiss.
Meenakshi was a fair girl and has looks that boys would die for. Her expressive eyes, long hair had astrayed many a boys at the college. Being a girl who wants to make it big in life, she didn’t pay much attention to beautify herself. What she didn’t realize was even with minimal make up she was powerful enough to make heads turn. Her upbeat attitude and friendly nature earned her lot of friendships and acquaintances. She was at ease with boys. Apart from sports, elocution was her favorite topics and she garnered a few trophies for that during college youth festivals.
“Amma, henceforth I am not going for tuition at Vijay’s house” Meenakshi said point-blank. Malathi got a bit irritated on hearing this “You call your teacher by his name, you should say Vijay sir. It is said that teachers are our second parents”.
Vijay Thampi was a 46-year-old middle-aged English teacher. In fact he was the favorite English teacher in the village. Apart from teaching, he took part in social activities in the village, in fact that made him a household name in the village. But when it came to teaching he was one of those English teachers who taught English mostly in Malayalam. Though his teaching credentials were not in tune with the time, English being a bugbear for villagers, he enjoyed much respect as an English teacher. Ironically, in spite of being an English teacher, nobody had heard him speaking a sentence in English outside classroom.
Malathi noticed tears are rolling down her daughter’s eyes. Meenakshi said “He is not a teacher, he is a wolf in sheep’s clothes”. Malathi was taken aback on hearing this. She said “WHAT?”
Meenakshi continued “Amma I have been noticing it ever since I joined two months back that he is leching at me, he is using double entendre with a student who is as young as his daughter. His social activities and sociable nature are just a façade for his mean intentions”. Malathi’s eyes popped and jaw dropped. The mother felt like the ground below her was breaking. Meenakshi proceeded further “Amma I thought it ends with his sleazy language, but yesterday he crossed the limit. As you know, he gives me special tuition when his wife wasn’t there. Yesterday while I was writing the notes he was giving me, he held my hands by sitting across me. I pulled my hands back suddenly. After some time he started rubbing his legs against mine under the table with a vice smile on his face to which I moved back my legs at once. Worse still, he leaned forward and started kissing me like crazy and his hands then…..”. Meenakshi went into a wail before completing that sentence. After a pause she narrated “I beat him with my bag that came handy and somehow managed to escape from his house. I never expected such dirty moves from a teacher” She started sobbing on saying this. Malathi was shell shocked on hearing this. She didn’t know how to console her beloved daughter who was falling into pieces.
There was a brief moment of silence between the mother and the daughter. Malathi’s silence slowly gave way to wails. In-between wails she uttered “How would we tell this to the villagers? Who is going to believe us? That crooked fellow has a clean image in front of the villagers. If at all we make the villagers aware of the danger of sending girls for tuitions at his house, what would be your future after letting this truth out? After all, you are a girl who should be married off and sent to another house to live? I am afraid if we don’t confine this within the four walls of our house, you will be marked for life”.
Meenakshi didn’t go for the tuition at Vijay’s house for the next two days. Smelling a rat, Vijay decided to drop in at Meenakshi’s house to know the situation. When he stopped his scooter at the gate of Meenakshi’s house, Malathi was sweeping the courtyard with a broom. Pretending as if nothing had happened Vijay enquired “Malathi, Meenakshi is not coming for tuition for the last couple of days. She is not a girl who misses classes unnecessarily. What happened? Is she unwell?” Malathi was seething with anger. she burst out “As you said, she is not a girl who misses classes at the drop of a hat. You know the reason”. Vijay tried all the tricks of the trade to maintain his so-called clean-image, he tried to clarify further “Malathi, listen, Meenakshi misunderstood me. You know me well. Moreover, the whole village knows me who I am so….” Before he could finish his drama Malathi cut him short by saying “Enough is enough, get out of my place or else you will get one from me, see I am holding the broom”.
Vijay realized that he fell flat in the face. On hearing this altercation Meenakshi came rushing as she was writing her assignment to be submitted at college the very next day. On seeing Vijay at the gate, Meenakshi was fuming. Vijay was wicked to the core, he started ranting “Villagers believe only what I say. Not only daughter, mother is also young as well. If you let anybody else know about this incident, I know how to drive you and your mother away from this village. Villagers are already saying males visit this house in the wee hours”. Cunning Vijay gave the helpless mother and daughter a hint as to what the game he was going to play to oust Malathi and Meenakshi from the village.
Chapter 2 – Life at LBSNAA
(2013 – Venue for UPSC Personality Test, New Delhi)
Meenakshi will be called anytime into the interview room. She has come a long way, faced a lot of odds. While waiting for her name to be called, all her life’s journey till the waiting room outside the interview hall passed through her mind in a flash.
Soon after she was called inside. She was facing a panel of judges. Three sober-looking gentlemen were sitting across her. After a round of ice-breaking questions, tone of the interview was upped.
Interviewer: What is ping-pong ball?
Meenakshi: Ball used in playing table tennis (it came to her naturally as she used to play table tennis during her college days.)
Interviewer: What makes a person successful in Civil Service?
Meenakshi: First of all you should have that bend of mind to serve the people and the nation in good faith. If you have that quality, all other factors that make a person successful in Civil Service will fall in place automatically.
That marked the end of the interview. Meenakshi has come a long way in her life. She has already cleared her Mains of Civil Service and her Personality Test was over. She was fully confident when she came out of the interview room. As expected she was selected and needless to say joy knew no bounds at her small house in Kulangara village. Malathi felt contented that though she brought Meenakshi up amid a lot of misery, Meenakshi finally made her proud. Malathi said in her mind “Meenakshi is not a girl who just dreams, but that rare one who takes that extra step to realize it”.
Finally, Meenakshi arrived at Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration or LBSBAA, Mussoorie to be groomed as an able Civil Servant. The campus is located at the foothills of enchanting Himalayas. There she met a lot of new recruits and an air of vigor reverberated in the air.
On cracking the hard nut called Civil Service, one becomes an Officer Trainee here. He/She is supposed to spend the next two year here. For Meenakshi it was a welcome change as she has not been anywhere else in her life other than Kerala and she always wanted to feel the mighty Himalayas. The training at the campus was a mix of academics and outdoor activities. Making the officer trainees mentally and physically sound to lead a bureaucrat’s hectic and eventful life. During the course there, Meenakshi got to interact with luminaries from public life as well as civil servants who carved a niche for themselves in their professional life. Sharing their experiences and wisdom gave Meenakshi a glimpse as to what awaited outside once the training is over. Being a sporty person at school and college what attracted her the most was an officer trainee is supposed to take part in sporting activities which range from horse riding to river rafting.
Meenakshi’s affable nature made her friends with her batch mates who came from almost all states in India. At LBSNAA a day began at 6 o’clock in the morning with physical activities. Academics commenced at 9 am and ended at 5 pm. Meenakshi enjoyed her evening there with her friends, watching cultural programs organized on the campus. Everybody is free to mingle with each other and exchange notes. Meenakshi and her friends organized a charity work at nearby old-age home on a Sunday. However busy she is, she made it a point to call her mother everyday. Not a single day passed without talking to her beloved mother and she gratefully reminisced her mother’s care and hard work, after all it was her mother’s unrelenting support that made her eventually land on one of the finest campuses in India.
Meenakshi’s course at LBSNAA came to and end. During the last month of the training all her batch mates arranged a farewell party and Meenakshi was now looking forward to take on the role of a civil servant in the outside world.
On finishing the course what she took home was the study tour she had with her batch mates named “Parikrama” where she traversed the entire length and breadth of the country meeting ordinary people, bureaucrats and NGOs doing exemplary work in the country. Meenakshi said to herself “These people who make a lot of positive different in the society don’t make newspaper headlines. What grabs newspaper headlines is always negative news, phew!”
A part of her wanted to continue in the beautiful Mussorie campus, but she knew she had to move forward. Robert Frost famous poem came to her mind then “The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.”
Chapter 3 – Chickens are Coming Home to Roost
13,568 km afar from India, in United States a movement was raging, #MeToo, spearheaded by actress Alyssa Milano who encouraged popularizing the hash tag in an attempt to get public attention to sexual assault. The hash tag MeToo got re-tweeted more than 200,000 times a day across the globe, making it a sort of global movement. #MeToo was gaining widespread popularity day by day with millions of people using the has tag echoing the story of sexual harassment that they suffered in isolation.
In a country like India where 80% of the sexual harassment cases go unreported MeToo was a moment that opened the floodgates of pent-up emotions. Bold women in India came forward with shocking accounts of sexual harassment. Needless to say, lot of so-called gentlemen started losing sleep. Celebrities from all walks of society, ranging from media to films to politics to literature felt the heat of the moment.
Famous personalities from the film and politics showed support towards victims of sexual harassment. Some said they will no longer work with people who were charged with sexual assault. People working in different industries came out to help create a safe and dignified atmosphere for marginalized women. Some said it was about time to learn to treat women with respect. Finally, the truth started being told loud and clear, the truth that was powerful enough to shaken the forts of high and mighty
Meenakshi was working as a Sub Divisional Magistrate at Civil Lines Delhi. Being a fast learner she learnt the ropes of the job pretty fast. Malathi didn’t have to toil anymore in her tailoring shop in the village. She took her mother under her wings. With persistence and perseverance this mother and daughter turned all adversities into opportunities and they lived a happy and contented life in the capital city of India. Their only worry was missing their homeland.
“MeToo moment came late, but it will be transformative”, “Skeletons are coming out of the closet”. While scanning the newspaper in the morning before Meenakshi’s routine journey to office her eyes got caught at these headlines. It piqued her curiosity. She gave a big salute in the mind to all those women who dared to speak up the ordeal of sexual harassment by putting a lot at stake. Vijay Thampi’s face came to her mind and she vowed “if I ever get an opportunity, I would certainly tear his pseudo image into pieces.” She thought how many girls might have suffered at his hands and by covering it up for dignity would only give further fuel to these miscreants to continue with their shenanigans.
That day while being chauffeured to office she reflected upon the winds of change blowing in India. She found it as a welcome change that if you don’t treat women with respect, today or tomorrow you will lose your space in the society. While she was getting engaged in her routine work she was called by her senior Aswini Thakkar who belonged to the 1993 IAS batch.
Aswini Thakkar: You should gimme a treat?
Meenakshi: What for sir? Certainly it isn’t my birthday today
Aswini Thakkar: Well, it has been a long pending request of yours that you are missing your homeland. Mr Prathat Singh who was the District Collector of Thiruvananthapuram is promoted to the rank of Defense Secretary of India. As a mark of respect to your meritorious service, you are being promoted as the District Collector of Thiruvananthapuram.
Meenakshi couldn’t believe what she heard. She was ecstatic to say the least, but being a responsible civil servant she said “Sir, Thank you for this very happy news. Wherever I am, I will do my duty without fear or favor and do my duty to the best of my ability. Yes sir, I owe you a treat”.
Meenakshi and her mother reached their home town and two days after relocating to Thiruvananthapuram collectorate she went to their house at Kulangara village. Though she was in Delhi, she made sure house was kept well and properly maintained as it was from there she started her journey.
People in the village were so proud of Meenakshi’s achievement and on hearing her arrival at the village a group of men who belonged to Netaji Library at the village approached her.
Men: Meenu, you made us all proud. In fact, the whole village is proud of you. You are an inspiration to hundreds of children who want to make it big in life.
Meenakshi was surprised and didn’t know how to thank them for these kind words. They continued “Our library has decided to organize a small function to felicitate you. Please don’t say no. Being fellow villagers it is our right to do so”
Though Meenakshi didn’t want to enjoy the status of “someone special” among the people she knew personally, she finally gave in to their coercion. One of the men in group said “Meenu, we have already discussed the matter with the Panchayat Member, Vijay sir and he already agreed to preside over the function.” Those words came as shockwaves to her. Without showing any semblance of bewilderment she asked “Vijay sir, Panchayat President?” to which the man replied “Yes Meenu, he contested last elections to local bodies and he is now the Panchayat President of Kulangara village. Meenakshi agreed to attend the function to be held next week at the Panchayat Hall auditorium and sent the men back. She was very determined in her mind. She said to herself “This is a God-sent opportunity to speak up truth about Vijay”. Meenakshi shared her gut-feeling with her mother and that bold mother was also in support of her daugher’s decision as she also felt it was time to call spade a spade.
The day of the felicitation ceremony dawned and the villagers, especially the students, thronged the auditorium to hear what their Meenu chechi had to say. After playing the national anthem the function began. The secretary of the Netaji Library welcomed everyone, including Meenakshi and Vijay, to the function and invited Vijay to hand over the memento to Meenakshi and speak a few words about Meenakshi. To Meenakshi’s surprise, Vijay does not have any qualms in doing that though Vijay could not look Meenakshi in the eye while delivering the memento.
Vijay came to the lectern and started his speech coated with all the trappings that politicians use to win the heart of the listeners.
Vijay: I don’t know how many of you would know, this Meenakshi was a dear student of mine. She was very hardworking and obedient. Then itself I was sure that she would make it big in life and to be frank it is not surprise to me that she is now our District Collector. She broke the myth that students from small towns cannot make it big in life. It is her sheer dedication and her mother’s unrelenting support that made her realize her dream career.
Vijay spoke about half an hour about Meenakshi and her success story. On hearing this Meenakshi sat stoically because apart from sharing her success story with villagers she had a bigger mission - a mission to show the villagers who really was the so-called Vijay sir.
Next was Meenakshi’s turn to speak. She shared with the audience her vision that it is quite possible to realize our goals in life with passion and patience. She reiterated the fact that most of the people gathered here know about her humble beginning. She spoke how the writings of Dr.Abdul Kalam inspired her to dream big. Villagers listened to her with rapt attention. She said she is going to contribute books worth rupees thirty thousand to the Netaji Library, which the audience received with a resounding applause. Meenakshi further added after a pause “Before concluding the speech, I want to make a revelation. As you all know, MeToo revelations are happening all over the world and people who disrespect women are getting marginalized and facing legal hurdles. A lot of people are keeping the façade of a gentleman before the society, whereas they spew venom against people who are helpless. It’s time for us to reject such spurious people and bring them to book. This well-respected Vijay sir is a scoundrel in real life. As he said, once I was his student but then he used to BAD TOUCH ME! When I realized this and stopped going for tuition at his house, he came to my house with threats that if I ever opened this up I and my mother would be banished by using his political clout. Today I dare to speak up the truth and challenge him to banish me. If I conceal this incident from all of you, he will keep on continuing his wickedness and lot of innocent children will fall prey to him. This vicious game of vice men like his should be stopped at any cost. If a lady speaks something like this she can lose a lot, she is putting his life on the line of fire. Still she dares to speak up something like this. It shows there is truth in it and instead of vilifying and questioning their intent the whole society should support such women. Somebody should speak the truth and we should stand with the truth”.
Meenakshi’s sharp words came like bolt out of the blue for Vijay. He didn’t know what to say or how to escape the wrath of the audience. Soon after Meenakshi’s revelation, the next day itself Women’s Commission slapped the case of sexual harassment against Vijay and he was forced to resign. His party also disowned him and suspended him. MeToo moment started a year back. A seemingly simple tweet has now become a global phenomenon and a symbol of resistance against sexual harassment. The good part is the society is wakening upto the magnitude of the problem. It’s about time…