By Prerna Grewal:
She was only five years old. Her parents, her toys, her tricycle and her friends were the only things that comprised her world. A green and white coloured music box was her favourite, its melody constantly echoed through the walls of her house. For the parents, it was a nuisance at times, yet they did not have the heart to shut it down. It always brought a blooming delight on the child’s face.
A friend of hers often used to come over to play. He was as fascinated with the box as she was. Sharing this fascination, they built an innocent narrative around the music where he would be the father and she the mother. Days passed in this symphony. One day, the boy thought it would be a good idea to introduce new elements of exploration within this narrative. This exploration involved deeper (private) revelations. At the same time, however, they were nothing more than revelations. They were only five. Neither were they completely conscious of the ways of their bodies nor of the world.
We often talk about children being abused/sexually harassed by adults. However, there are cases where children, despite their ignorance and innocence, indulge in acts which are on the borderline of being sexual. This is slightly strange because they are supposedly unaware of half the things that happen in the world, still in the nascent stage of innocence. Yet these acts manifest some implicit awareness or tendencies. It is only after growing up that one can understand the nature of those actions. So how does one interpret it? As an adult, is one supposed to see it as an act of innocence, or despite the innocence, still a sort of harassment? There is of course the aspect of child sexuality. All these questions cropped up once my friend shared her story with me.
The melody of the music box still lingers in the ears of the girl, now seventeen years old. It never really left her. Neither did the memory of those revelations. Today however, conscious of the ways of her body and of the world, of what’s right and what’s not, she doesn’t really know what to make of it. Was she a victim? Was she the only victim? Was it harassment at all?
One might say, although innocent, it did involve consent. But is there even a point in trying to figure this out, in saying such things with respect to people who weren’t even aware of the meanings of consent? Who, not yet conditioned in any of the world’s ways, simply followed their instincts?
Should she let it bother her now because she has acquired a certain understanding while it did not affect her earlier? In fact, while sharing this story, she did confess that somewhere down the line it did bother her.
As different as it may sound, she isn’t the only one with a divergent story. Amitav Ghosh, in his novel Shadow Lines, also touches upon this aspect where Ila and her cousin Tridib engage in similar tendencies as a part of a game. This shows that such stories aren’t the rarest of the rare cases but only relatively less talked about.
How are we as adults supposed to look at something like this? To what extent should she allow herself to be bothered by such memories? Today, when she thinks back, she still doesn’t have an answer. Only the music still lingers, and along with it so does the memory.