small scenes #04, vengeance: your stories
Listen, I’m impressed. Collectively, we’ve sought revenge in range of creative ways, from the petty to the profound. We’ve eaten siblings’ chips packets. We’ve spat in people’s tea. Unfollowed a girl on Instagram to mess with her follower-to-following ratio. Thrown gifts in the dustbin while the gift-giver ex-boyfriend watched. Signed up a manipulative former roommate for Donald Trump’s campaign newsletter, a conservative book club’s updates, and multiple flower delivery websites’ marketing lists. Spilled water on a mother’s work documents as retaliation for her spilling hot chocolate on a newly finished painted bookmark. Shouted “Adios amigos!” while running out of physics class to embarrass a mean teacher. Cut people off and pretended to be happy in public (while being very, very unhappy in reality).
Sometimes we’ve felt better after. Sometimes we’ve felt worse. Sometimes we’ve felt nothing. Sometimes we’ve been The Bigger Person sincerely, and sometimes we’ve been The Bigger Person as an act of vengeance in itself.
Aastha framed vengeance as “an apology to a past self” for having put up with diminishing treatment. Ayman thinks of revenge as “a misguided attempt to change hurt into pride”. To Abhilasha, revenge is “an active fantasy, a daydream of crowds cheering”, a dream of redemption and of “erasing that horrible humiliating splot on your face.”
It seems a lot of us are torn between avenging and moving on. “Both paths are dreary,” Nidhi wrote. “Holding onto grudges eats you from inside, and pretending everything is okay shrouds you into a box.”
To Garima, vengeance can be an attempt to alert someone of their cruelty by responding in like. She asks: “Can I avoid that and become the bigger person? Yes. But must I? I’m not sure.” After reading your stories, neither am I.
Below, in full, are some responses that left me thinking:
I don’t know if I can really call it revenge but my parents have separated. Not legally yet because my father doesn’t want to divorce Ma. However, he has been blaming me for this whole thing – that I put seeds in Ma’s head. I did, actually.
I asked her why she didn’t divorce him at the beginning itself and she obviously said, “Tum teeno ki vajah se”. We are three siblings.
But the problem is that he does not realise his wrongs and is not ready to accept them still.
So now, since the last fight day before yesterday (there’s a fight thrice a week at my place), I have stopped waking Ma up in the morning to make him breakfast and lunch and I have stopped washing his clothes. If we are on our own without him, he should be on his own as well.
I don’t regret asking Ma to divorce him, because I’ve seen her grow after that exponentially. And keeping my dad’s wrongs in mind, I guess I’ll be fine with this so-called revenge thing.
And I have a feeling he’ll find a way.
When you told us to think of vengeance the first thought that came to my mind was of my mother. I seek vengeance from my mother. Quite an unheard of thing – most people I know like / love / worship their mothers. But here I am, seeking vengeance from her.
To me, seeking vengeance from my mother is of a dual nature: on the one hand I want her to suffer, quite literally I want her to die. Whereas, on the other hand, I seek her approval so, so badly.
It’s as if a part of me will always be unfulfilled, always broken, by her words by her actions. My imaginary relationship with her is of bargain. First I want her to suffer. If that can’t happen, I at least want her to see me for who I am. If not, I just want her to acknowledge once in her life what she has done to me and my father.
Every moment that she has known us, it was always to demoralize, humiliate and shame us for every choice we made.
In my life, only my father had been my savior of sorts. Unfortunately he passed away three years back, and it has left me with a void which I can only say is the darkest pit of depression and PTSD known to me.
I get panic attacks even thinking of my mother. I always ask the universe: Why?
I know there is no definitive answer coming back to me ever but I am stuck in that question forever.
Mothers are always put so high on a pedestal and made synonymous to goddesses by mainstream media and our culture and I always end up triggered by such depictions.
For me vengeance is synonymous to seeking closure from the one person who biologically is supposed to love you the most but doesn’t
For me vengeance is an eternal emptiness knowing I can’t do anything to fill the void she has created in me.
It’s been 2 years since she talked to me. I don’t know where she is. I hate her with all my might, yet just seek to know the answers to my questions, and nothing else.
It’s 9am on a Thursday on Old Airport road. If you’re a runner or cyclist or walker in Bangalore, you know the stretch I’m talking about. It passes through Defense Colonies, the Command Hospital, the oldest and tallest and richest trees in the city. This stretch is cool on a hot day. During the monsoons it’s sinful. Since the beginning of COVID this has been my happy place. A walk where I can touch old bark, smell new blossoms, feel wind between my fingers. Be out. Be safe.
So here I am. 80 percent done with my walk, en route home, the soundtrack of Killing Eve in my ears. I remember being happy. And out of nowhere, my breasts are – I don’t want to say groped, it was much more violent than that – abused, another hand grabs my head, and next thing I know I’m on the ground and a man is trying to get on top of me.
9am, heart of Bangalore, at a traffic signal.
I’ve been here before. Then I was younger, and didn’t have the instincts I have now. The first time I froze, completely incapacitated by not understanding. Another time I appealed to others to help. But this time something strange and new happened. I fought him. I kicked him in the nuts twice, on his chest once. He couldn’t get near me. Me – pacifist me, can’t watch violent scenes in movies me, on the ground me – I was fighting a man in broad daylight. And I was winning.
And then something even more incredible happened. He turned around and ran. He was running away.
We were now in a chase. First, two very lovely men on scooters decided to help by going after him. It took me a moment to get back on my feet, but pretty soon, I was running also. Arthritic, can’t do high impact exercise, wasn’t wearing a bra, and yet I was running like I hadn’t run in years. I was chasing him.
Oh I can’t begin to describe how incredible that felt.
Eventually, the man was cornered. Some enthusiastic bros got off their bikes and started slapping him up. I told them to stop. (I’m petrified of lynchings. Rohan is mad at me for this.) I took photographs of the man. Then a conversation began in the gathering crowd about what actually happened. Had I actually been attacked? Was I unloading on an unfortunate, and very poor looking man because I could?
And then a woman in a bright yellow saree, no more than four and a half feet tall and with a big red round bindi, started shouting something in Kannada, then took off her chappal and started hitting the dude with it.
This is something I want to think about: When systems of justice fail us, when we’re powerless, weak, old, the chappal in the hand is the power South Asian women give themselves. Is it a good power? Is it inevitable? If we were powerful in other ways would we need to take our chappals in our hand and beat men with them? I don’t know.
Once again, I appealed to her to stop. The dude’s shirt was now torn. I had someone check him for ID but he didn’t have any. I asked the enthusiastic boys to let him go. I left. I imagine the crowd parted after me.
One of the scooter boys walked back to his scooter some of the way with me. Don’t feel bad about this, he said.
It was sweet, but I was heaving and still in shock. I didn’t as much as thank him.
An FIR has been filed. The photographs have been handed to the cops. I don’t hope for, or even desire, much more. Tomorrow, when I’m back on this stretch on my own, enjoying the birds and the trees and wind between my fingers, I’ll know I can fight. Hurting me is going to come with a price tag.
It all started when one of my best friends, along with my other classmates, literally boycotted me after the Pulwama attack, just because I was a Kashmiri and I was actively talking against the war with Pakistan, which was directly going to affect Kashmir first.
We eventually talked when they forgot about all this, but I couldn’t forget the feeling that my own best friend of four years had alienated me, just because I have a different political opinion. I later realised that it was for my greater good as I shouldn’t be friends with people who don’t share my political thinking. Because at the end of the day my friends were a part of who I was. As one of my friends once told me, my friendships have to be essentially political, because my existence as a Kashmiri and a Muslim nowadays is itself politicised.
So this friend of mine tried to contact me after college and planned to meet me as we were in the same city. We fixed the date, time, and place on which we were supposed to meet. When it was time, I made her wait and later ditched her. After that I blocked her from social media.
To me, it felt great, however bad it may sound. That’s the truth.
I have pulled and prodded at all the extra fleshy bits on my body and groaned at it. I have wished I could cut the excess flesh out and neatly stitch the skin up and I’d finally be ribs-visible-without-sucking-in ‘pretty’. My body hasn’t complied and, in vengeance, I have neglected it. I will not take care of you, or give you healthy food. I will treat you like an unflattering backdrop to my life that I never want to be forced to notice. As a child, as a teenager, as an adult who knows better, I have cast vengeance upon my body.
There was a life-altering, personality defining, darker-than-dark time of depression. My mind and body and brain conspired together and there I was, unable to leave bed for days on end. For the months it stole from me, and every moment I couldn’t taste my food or find the energy to move, I have chosen vengeance with my now relatively healthy brain. You took away any energy I had and made me change my dreams! You turned me into a college dropout. So now I will grab at any opportunity that rears its head at me, I will overwork you till you are always exhausted and incapable of giving time for real emotion. You have energy now and you have talent and you have opportunities. You will use it! So in my effort to ‘take care’ of my mental health, I have decided to take advantage of its moments of recovery. I have taken vengeance against the time lost to me.
The talents that failed me as a child or teenager because they weren’t as good as the best could do. Because I wasn’t allowed to take dance classes or singing classes, because I was always embarrassed at art classes, because I never learnt an instrument – I have chosen vengeance against all the things I wanted to master. At any moment, I am ready to say: Oh no I’m just fooling around, I’m a bad dancer / singer / painter. I sing so loud and dance so wild and paint with so much joy, BUT, no. To the world those talents will be forced to wear a security blanket of ‘bad’. You will not pretend now that you are good and embarrass me again! You are bad and you will never be allowed to explore what you could become.
In my inability to take vengeance against a parent and exes and friends, I have doled it out in extensive doses against myself. The easiest to hurt, in ways that will remain disguised until forced to be dug out, and the last person that will demand accountability.
And so she sings in a mix of wonder and disdain, I am kind to everyone else but me.
I seek vengeance in nearly EVERY online confrontation. I’m mad about what’s going on in the world and mad that more people aren’t as mad as I am. The more I read, the more I know, the madder I become and it almost feels like I am avenging… history.
Despite the impression I am creating of myself right now, I am not in an anger fuelled frenzy when I engage with people online. It is always a premeditated, meticulously detailed, firm take down of “oppression” and its various stand-ins (patriarchy, Brahminism, capitalism etc).
For the most part, I can’t think of a better way to use social media. But my style is pointing fingers, and if not cancelling, then definitely shaming people into submission.
And LOL – as I am writing this, in real time, I’m realising the futility of vengeance and its potential to turn you into exactly that which you claim to want to avenge. But then, someone’s got to stay mad, right?
Only yesterday, I wrote a letter to my brother (currently sitting in my journal because I am unsure as to whether I want him to see it just yet) where I spoke about vengeance and how he was on the receiving end of mine when we were children:
“We are the most confusing relationship of my life. Growing up, I loved you and yet I felt a compulsion to hurt you because Mom loved you more. I wanted to hate you but I couldn’t because I loved you; I wanted to love you without hate but my resentment and the need for vengeance never let that happen.
Today I see you struggling with your own depression and our shared loss, and I sit helplessly on the sidelines, because what do I have to offer? What right do I have to offer you anything? How do I offer comfort with the same hands that have hit you when we were children (in the vain hope of winning a child’s power struggle for a parent’s love)? How do I offer advice when there was a time that I walked away from you and our family with a resolve to never return? How do I expect you to listen to me and trust me when I have never been able to look past my envy of you to hold space for you?
My need for vengeance died with our mother but how do I help you now when I have never even let you need me to be there for you?
I ache with love that doesn’t have an out. What do I do? My only source of consolation is the knowledge that even when we were children, my need to avenge mom’s lost love from you was not as strong as my love for you.“
So yeah, that’s how vengeance feels. I go on to write happier things in that letter and of my resolve to build a little space of siblinghood for us where both of us can feel safe and accepted. This part though, it twists my stomach everytime I read it and that twist is the regret of ever allowing the need for vengeance to take root inside my being. It is gone, fully, but it has left behind so much damage. Life is too short for resentment and vengeance is resentment in action. There will be no more of that in my life.
I had been trying to clear my final CA exams for a while. It’d been multiple attempts (three, to be precise) and I’d managed to clear one group and failed with my second multiple times. I was sad about it, but not devastated because I’d figured this was not my calling and was finishing it for my parents’ sake (and because I am uncomfortable with leaving things halfway).
It only led to more frustration over time (for them than me), because the idea of staying at home after you’re 22 is considered taboo in this house.
It boiled down to a point where my one of my parents said, “I don’t see a future for you,” while another on a separate occasion said “Ch*t*ya sharam kar.”
My way of getting revenge was to clear my exams and just show them I’m not completely useless (in actions and not in words).
However, as much as I think of it as revenge, it’s never felt good because what they said has stuck with me (and will be stuck with me for life because I am unable to forget things like these).
If you think about it, revenge is hurting someone back in some way or simply showing up in some way which is fuelled with anger and hatred; something which takes a lot of character and mental build up.
It’s a little funny because I have been taught to never be hurtful and let things go, been told to “Be the bigger person,” you know? So now when I feel these emotions of angst or hatred, I end up feeling more guilty than anything else.
This is from when I was 9 or 10 years old. A girl who lived near me and who I went to school with every day decided she was too cool to hang out with me. As a result, I was left out of her birthday party, and made to listen to her plans for the party being discussed right in front of me. A teary eyed me went crying to my mom who said: it’s okay. There’ll always be people who love me and people who don’t. Focus on the ones that do.
But I didn’t. Kids should listen to their moms.
Instead, I decided I will seek vengeance. And my vengeance was not in making the person who made me feel excluded feel the same way, but to show her what kindness feels like. I waited for my birthday, and especially called and invited her.
My mother asked me, perplexed, why are you calling her? I thought she is not your friend anymore? I told her that that’s why I must.
I called her for the party. She had a great time. Her parents thanked me and my parents countless times. And I noticed the surprise in her eyes. Younger me thought it was mighty big of me to do that. Older me knows how my version of vengeance was to show the person who made me small, that I was the bigger and better person.
A lot of us are brought up to be good people: we’re told that there is goodness and grace (and greatness?) in being the bigger person and avoiding an act of active harm against another person – even if they’ve done us wrong. Yet, we can’t shake the innate humanness of our beings.
You can imagine, then, that this has been an almost instantaneous desire for me, every time someone’s done me wrong: this unshakeable desire; calls to the universe to magically land me in an identical situation, where the roles are reversed and I have that exact same – if not more – power over the person. And, in all the warped display of my “goodness” I decide not to harm them in the way they harmed me.
In this way, a lot of my “closure” has depended on me being able to demonstrate to the other person, my big heart or the depth of my power and forgiveness or even, in some cases, how right I was.
This is a lot more lasting as an emotion – because it’s a desire to demonstrate my power over another person, but not actually do something about it. This is lasting, festers animosity and has, in the past, pushed me into cycles of relived pain and disappointment and kept peace away from me.
When I think about it now – I find that it is hardly a measure of power. Quite the contrary, really. Perhaps an indicator of my insecurities and how far I have to go to really grow up.
As W.H. Auden wrote, “O stand, stand at the window; as the tears scald and start; you shall love your crooked neighbour, with your crooked heart.”