I worked as a graphic designer for Emaho in 2012. I lived in Bombay at the time and I had never met the Manik. He was a demanding boss to say the least. I finally quit when I got another job and moved to Delhi. I was never on “friendly” terms with him. But, he knew I had moved to the same city as him so he kept messaging and calling under the pretext of work. So, I finally went to meet him after work. Being young, naive and alone in a new city, I was an easy target I guess. He offered me a drink. I said no. He coerced me into drinking saying “Don’t be a prude. Just relax!” Its scary how much it seems like a modus operandi now. He made a pass at me and I told him I’m uncomfortable. I do not want to do this. I told him I have a boyfriend. This is not okay. I said I want to leave. He said have another drink and he’ll drop me home. It got really late and I knew I couldn’t go back to the PG which was pretty far away. I had never felt so alone and scared. It was quite traumatic. I had cheated on my boyfriend. I was ashamed. I had bruises on my lips. I wish I could have done something then. All I ended up doing was blocking him on all my social media. That night, ruined my relationship. I felt disgusted with myself. I never thought he would ever be held accountable for his actions. I thought never letting myself get into such a situation would be enough. But, its not. I’m done being a bystander.
I came across Aritry’s post yesterday and thought, fuck. Power to that woman. Not only is she brave enough to speak up against him, she’s brave enough to fight off the thousands of horrendous comments that will no doubt come her way, by the women who feel that Aritry’s words highlight something about their own actions that they don’t want threatened, or can’t come to terms with… and the men who feel that women should be silenced… Possibly by their cock. Or Manik’s.
My second thought was… but my experience of Manik’s was not horrid, like hers. He didn’t explicitly try and force sex on me. He didn’t physically force his body on me. But only after reading some of the blog posts did I realise that psychologically, he still had his hands and mouth bound around me.
Manik spent two years occasionally messaging me on Facebook. I didn’t know who he was, at all. He made sure he covered that through interspersing statements about my kissable lips and invitations to his home in the mountains [insert dreamy hipstamatic imagery of lush rolling hills and cloud-filled skies in perfectly matched shades of blue and green], with links about articles he’s written, grants he’s funded, panels he’s judged, and well renowned photographers he’s interviewed. Because, for a young, non-established photographer, there’s no better way of saying, do as I say, and play how I wanna play… than through the very strategic insertion of those links. (Aka. Look how big my photography-industry-penis is).
So, every time he made a “Yes I’m a massive flirt, but you’re just so stunning” comment that made me squirm and want to peel off my own skin, I never shut it down. I would laugh it off… and hope for the best. Because the difference between saying “BACK THE FUCK OFF, COWBOY.” and, “Haaaaha, but what! You barely know me!” is a matter of safety. Keeping this man’s erections unscathed meant keeping my career in photography intact. Because one knock to that very well-connected man’s ego could mean one giant blow to my… everything.
The worst part is, I’d like to say that after realising the very active presence of sexual harassment in my interactions with Manik, I’d make different choices, should this happen again. But, while there is still a giant imbalance of power in a very male gender preferred and dominated industry, and still questions around safety if no real structure exists to protect me… I can’t even say, for sure, that I would.
Last year he approached me on Facebook just wanting to seek a collaboration with me. The conversation quickly turn very friendly, his tone was a bit too friendly, sprinkling his conversation with some ‘baby’ and ‘darling’ – at this point I assumed it was like that at this level of the profession. He then asked me for my number to be able to communicate through ‘what’s app’. It is from this moment that his way of communicating became totally inappropriate. From sexual propositions to graphically describing sexual acts, his vocabulary was very trashy and raw. He also quickly propose to have skype sessions, which I refused. Manik has definitely an issue concerning his vision of women and sex, but he has also an issue with authority, I have been told by him ‘who are you to talk to me like that’, he admitted being under the influence of alcohol and weed but I could sense that it was his vision of his ‘place’ in the photographic world. He then blocked me from Facebook because it was not going the way he wanted. At the same time I was learning that he had approached in the same way other of my female photographer friends but they quickly send him off. He is not the only photographer or editor who was more interested by seeing flesh than photographs and not be the last. We should not let the pseudo or real status/influence of a man taking over basic rules of respect. Of course we should not be impressed by any professional status at the point to let someone crossing the limits of decency. But first of all, men of this profession have the right to comment or appreciate only our creative production. Too many allow themselves to cross limits with which you have to be ok because otherwise ‘you are not cool’…
I started interning with EMAHO, back in 2012. It seemed like such an interesting platform since I had wanted to get into photography, and after speaking to Manik Katyal on the phone, after connecting with him on Facebook, I thought that I am in for something that is going to help me build my plans better. And Katyal promised a lot.
Little did I know what he was up to, most of the times: “Hey, you free? Why don’t you come over to my place. There is beer in the fridge, and I am all alone.” Okay, it happened once, and I refused. Twice, I refused. Thrice, I refused. Fourth time, I had to make an imaginary boyfriend to lay him off. I thought he’d diminish my name in the industry before I could even make a name, since I thought he was very well connected to so many photographers, artists and musicians. So I just kept quiet and denied his advances. All this was via Facebook.
I met him once, in the company of a friend, and that friend himself told me that he felt the strangest vibes from Katyal. I did too. And I knew he was a disgusting man. I had to intern from home, thank God for that, but that never stopped Manik from saying things like: “So what if you have a boyfriend? I am just asking you to have sex. He doesn’t have to know.” Of course, my boyfriend was imaginary. But Manik Katyal wasn’t, unfortunately. He crossed the line when he asked me this. And I denied, as usual.
And I left EMAHO for good. I haven’t told people about this, ever. Always told them to stay away from this man. He deleted me off of his list on Facebook because I know, and he knows too, that he said stuff and wanted to do things that could land him in the bloody JAIL, but he’s still as disgusting, prune and a downright asshole. The only thing I learnt from EMAHO is to stay away from EMAHO and Manik Katyal. For good.