My friend looked sincerely distressed as she related what she had seen online: a Chennai-based woman had posted images of her battered face, alleging assault by her ex-boyfriend. She had also shared video evidence of him assaulting another person, and posted about emotional abuse and infidelity she had experienced. The woman identified her abuser, a champion bodybuilder and gym owner. My friend had come across the case at random, and had been following it closely.
“I need to see this guy taken down,” she said. She was aghast that despite the social media support the survivor received, real-world results seemed inconclusive. “What can we do?”
I asked her whether she thought the survivor’s intended outcome was fulfilled. We talked about how the vast majority of abuse goes unreported because the procedure is humiliating and harrowing, and due process, if it serves justice at all, is a long one. We talked about how the survivor herself may have gotten the closure she needed by going public with her experience and warning others. We talked about how little we really know about others’ lives, but how we are stoked or moved by incidents that enter public visibility because we project onto those incidents that which is unresolved in our own.
“But the bad guy gets taken down in the end,” she asserted, with conviction.
The closest I’ve come to seeing karma in action was last week, when the cockroach I reached out to smash against the wall tile promptly fell into my blue tea on the stove, and was lovingly surrounded in death by butterfly pea flowers, now unpalatable. Serves me right for murdering it instead of engaging in a mindful tea-making ritual, I suppose. If karma has ever played out in the reverse direction in my life, I’ve certainly not been able to recognise it as that. Or perhaps the mechanism is more impersonal than that – our personal feelings, our need for vindication, are not relevant to a longer storyline that may be beyond our capacity to follow.
Still – righteous relief was writ large across my friend’s face only a few minutes after our conversation. We picked up our phones to look at the survivor and alleged perpetrator’s social media feeds and saw: just hours earlier, the latter had been arrested. For my friend and for everyone else who had been emotionally invested in the situation, this was great news. Hopefully, what happens next is just.
I don’t always know how to live with all that hasn’t healed or been avenged or at least been tidily tied up in the unravelling, fraying tapestry of my life. I don’t always know how to practice Rilke’s edict to “try to love the questions themselves”. In that exchange with my friend, I was the cynical one – but glad to be freed of my cynicism, even briefly. Even still, it was just the cheered look on my friend’s face that gave me that satisfaction, not even what was happening in the case that she cared deeply about. How idiosyncratic and particular our perception of the world really is, microscopically-focused and personally-influenced even as we think we speak of the world.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on November 25th 2021. “The Venus Flytrap” appears in Chennai’s City Express supplement.