*Vaidehi, 38, is an editor and lives in Gurgaon.
As soon as I finished the day's work and switched on the TV to catch up on news, a cacophony of voices struck my ear.
Unlike Corona, which has been on everyone’s radar since last few months, this piece of news was different, yet equally frightening.
Some schoolboys in Delhi had indulged in a vulgar conversation about girls on their Instagram group, the details of which had now been leaked on social media by some of their classmates.
As I got into more details, I became extremely disturbed. In one of the chats, some boys were even talking about raping a girl! I was shocked.
The conversation could only be understood in bits and parts. It was hard to see the context in which these words would have been said. Were they just said for fun? Or was there really so much hatred in the minds of those boys?
I was still reeling under the shock of this news when another news came on one of the WhatsApp groups I follow. A Gurgaon school boy had jumped to his death from the balcony of his home.
This group has parents of teenagers. Everyone was scared and had one question in mind, ‘Was this incident related to the one on TV?’
Then someone said, ‘There is no direct link, but the issue is somewhat similar.'
What he said next gave me goosebumps.
That boy, who committed suicide, studied in my daughter's school.
I switched off my laptop and TV and immediately went to my daughter and said, ‘Beta, you are careful on the Internet na? If something does not seem right, then you won’t hesitate to tell me. right?’
I then gave her a hug.
My daughter gave me the look, the very one that teenagers often give to their parents and said, 'What happened to you mumma!' After a brief moment, she perhaps understood my nerves and assured me, 'Yes mumma, I take care. You are aware.’
The doorbell just rang then. Whenever Siddharth comes home - he rings the bell twice. And immediately my daughter and Buddy (our dog) jump and reach the door to welcome him.
Often called the ‘world's best father’, Siddharth likes this attention and shower of love on his return. And today was special. It was Buddy's birthday. We soon got busy preparing for it.
And for some time, this news slipped off my mind, just like a bad dream.
Our little family got busy for the next few hours arranging festivities for Buddy – with cakes, yummy food and balloons.
After ten o'clock Siddharth and I went out for our daily post-dinner walk. Night walks are like our Whatsapp – I tell him about how my day was and he shares about his.
Suddenly, I was reminded of the incident.
'You read that news, Siddharth? The boys locker room one? And then the suicide by a Gurgaon schoolboy,’ I said and felt something stuck in my throat.
‘Yes, I read. This news is everywhere. I can't even imagine what their parents must be going through,’ Siddharth said, pressing his hand into mine.
After walking quietly for a while, I said, 'But why do boys do this? There are many Whatsapp groups in which your college friends share god knows what all', I asked Siddharth without looking at him.
Siddharth turned to me and said, 'What is the connection here? All these forwards shared on Whatsapp are just for fun. This does not mean that men actually think like this!’
'Hmm ... maybe, but girls generally don’t have such ‘exclusive’ groups. Our group talks are mostly around family, children, career or life. There is no group that specifically caters to such ‘boy talk’', I said.
'You are getting this all wrong. Yes, I agree, such groups are more common in boys. But you know all the men in my group, don’t you? Everyone has a family, children and everyone loves them dearly. Such groups that you are talking about are only for fun’, Siddharth said in a bid to explain.
‘Yes, maybe ‘girl’ jokes are different from ‘boy’ jokes,’ I said looking at a Bougainvillea shrub.
'Just one thing doesn't fit.'
'Why are there still so many cases of rape and sexual harassment in the world?'
'It must have its foundation somewhere, right?', I asked.
Siddharth did not respond. Maybe there was nothing to say, at least there is no single answer.
‘But then not every building turns out weak’, I said looking at Siddharth.
Post script: Since writing this, many have flagged the existence of a 'girls locker room'.
Rightly so. Violence and negativity is not the domain of a single gender.
Still, aren't we more afraid when our girls are out alone on their own?
There is an issue. Isn't there? More or less, the conversation will carry on.
Hoping, when a solution is found, it will be gender-neutral.
To protect the identity, the persons in the picture are models and names have been changed.