Dark Room (Child Sexuality in India)

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Item Code: NAF603
Author: Pankaj Butalia
Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers
Language: English
Edition: 2013
ISBN: 9789350294345
Pages: 224(11 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5 Inch X 5.5 Inch
Weight 190 gm
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Shipped to 153 countries
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Book Description

Back of the Book

Adults tend to feel a certain discomfort in thinking of childhood and sex in the same breath. We think of childhood as innocent and free of sexual taint. Any discussion on the subject is taboo, and if at all it comes up, it is swept under the carpet.

Why we insist on believing this in the face of much evidence to the contrary is a mystery. Creating taboo around sex only drives it further underground and makes it impossible for a child to broach the subject with an adult. This has repercussions on the sexual curiosity of a child and can also increase the damage done by abuse.

In Dark Room, the first book of its kind that speaks directly to the general reader, Pankaj Butalia us moving, compelling, real-Life stories of eleven people cutting across class and gender. From young rag pickers in Delhi to the daughter of an army officer in Pune, from a young girl in an old Kolkata mansion to a boy in an elite north Indian school, the protagonists vividly recall their childhood sexual experiences,

Honest and unflinching, the book is an attempt to start a much-needed conversation about child sexuality in the Indian context.

About the Author

Pankaj Butalia is a former table tenniis player who also taught Economics at Shri Ram College of Commerce, Univeristy of Delhi, for twenty years. He now makes films. Butalia lives in Delhi with his wife Nilofer and son firdaus. This is his first book


Irrespective of what I may thought I would do in life, writing this book certainly wasn't on the cards. Yet, over the past two years, despite many obstacles, my desire to see the book through has only grown. The setbacks were primarily because most people I met and interviewed - and these included very close friends - did not want stories about their early childhood published. I offered to keep the stories anonymous and also said I would change the context of the narration so that there would be no way of identifying them, but for most people the thought of seeing intimate moments of their childhood in print was frightening. Was it a fear that sexual encounters of their childhood could make transparent the neuroses of the present – if not necessarily to others, then at least to themselves?

It was not as if I didn't have doubts about my own involvement in such a project. I had no qualifications to put such a book together, apart from having lived a bit longer than some others. I had not been sexually abused nor had I been privy to anything more than situations an average child encounters. Basically, I didn't have any special skill that made me the voice of a project like this. On the other hand, there was also a lurking fear that I may appear to be a paedophile out to get vicarious pleasure by talking about child sexuality. I had to fight all these notions in me. I also had to consider the implications of such a book for my son, who at the ripe old age of twelve was about to venture on a journey of his own, and the last thing I wanted to do was add a burden to what he might have been carrying anyway.

How did it all start?

We were a gathering of about ten friends, well into an enjoyable evening with alcohol, when Tara, probably the most reserved and conservative person in the group, burst out, 'Ok, what is the most outrageous thing any of you have ever done?' Predictably, she didn't get a response, so she began narrating an incident from her own life.

When she was around eight or nine, she said, she was left at home by her parents one evening. The only other person in the house was a male cousin, who was about six years older and was in charge of looking after her while her parents were out. Over the evening, they talked and read a bit, but after that, there seemed to be nothing much to do. They were seated on a sofa and, as the evening wore on, Tara and her cousin sought comfort in cuddling each other. This took a sexual turn. This experience, she continued, was repeated three or four times and then, as suddenly as it had started, it stopped. Tara could not recall any other sexual interaction with other people in her entire childhood, though she said she did become sexually promiscuous by the age of fifteen. Her subsequent meetings with that cousin were initially a bit tense because neither could confront what had happened, but later, as they grew up, they fell into a pattern of normality. Today, both of them are happily married (to different partners). They meet as friends but also have between them the secret knowledge of that special time.

This is not a situation that classically would be defined as abuse, but it is mentioned here only because it brings to the fore something we are so reluctant to recognize: the sexual lives of children. This book explores the subject not to propagate childhood sexuality, but merely to recognize different aspects of it that exist.

We were still processing this story when another friend, when another friend, who was then in his forties, told us of a widowed aunt who used to visit their house every summer. Since they were a lower middle class family, the aunt would have to sleep in the room where the children slept. One night, he noticed some movement under his aunt's sheet. It was as if she was wriggling rhythmically. He looked up to see that she was looking directly at him as she moved. This excited him and he started masturbating gently under his sheet. For the entire summer, both nephew and aunt kept up this 'undercover' nocturnal relationship, which found absolutely no mention in their interaction during the day. This, however, lasted only one summer as the aunt did not come to their house again. He remembered that he was eleven when she last came to the house, and rued the fact that he hadn't discovered this pleasure on her earlier visits. He never figured out why she didn't return. He tried asking the family but didn't get a satisfactory response.

Getting into the spirit of the discussion, I competitively went on to narrate episodes from my childhood. As I recounted a few, yet more emerged from the deepest recesses of my memory (one of these stories is included in this book). Another friend gave an account of the way she allowed herself to be seduced by her uncle, who was also her local guardian (this story has been fictionalized by my collaborator Nilofer Kaul and is in this collection).

The evening wore on and we listened to each other with relief, excitement, curiosity, impatience and, of course, prurience! It was intriguing to know the intimate textures of childhood memories and the different meanings sexuality is reposed with - for me, a boyhood adventure and perhaps an initiation into sexuality; for Tara, a source of gratification; for the male friend, a forbidden encounter with a quasi- incestuous figure; for another, a hostel epidemic.

This was when I initially thought of looking around for other accounts of child sexuality and putting together a collection of such experiences in a book. Some people I met talked about the seemingly innocuous car ride as an activity with sexual undertones. 'We were a lower middle class family,' said one young woman, 'and there was one second-hand Premier Padmini our uncle owned. When we were driven to India Gate for ice cream, everyone would be bundled into that one car. For us kids, the excitement of sitting next to each other, male or female, and that of touching each other's bodies or of having someone leaning on ours was as much the reason for the journey as the ice cream was.'

The range of experiences I came across made me feel there was much more to our early sexual experiences than we were willing to acknowledge or were even aware of. The irony remains, though, that the middle-class view throughout the world is that this pre-adolescent stage is an age of innocence - one that precedes the discovery of the centrality of sex in our lives. Why we insist on believing this in the face of so much evidence to the contrary beats me. Every psychoanalyst knows that the genesis of many issues patients have lies in their encounters with sex and sexuality very early in their lives. So why are we in such denial about this aspect of our lives?

Sadly, however, happy memories of childhood and child sexuality are intertwined with those of sexual abuse, fear and trauma. It is difficult, if not impossible, to talk about one without coming across the other. In India (like in many other parts of the world), some of the loudest proclamations about the sexual innocence of childhood come from conservative middle-class households. Such households live in complete denial about any sexual explorations children may be up to. However, the epicentres of abuse often lie in the very same places. Could there possibly be a connection between the refusal to acknowledge the existence of child sexuality and an increased vulnerability to sexual abuse? Creating a taboo around sex only drives it further underground and therefore makes it impossible for a child to share the knowledge of a sexual experience with an adult. This has repercussions for the sexual curiosity of a child and it also shapes the extent of damage done by the trauma of abuse.

As I set out to collect these stories, I met a large number of people-individuals as well as people in the social sector. I was keen to try and get material from class, gender and geographical locations. But everywhere I went, I was met by curious glances, and almost always the same question: ‘Are you a psychiatrist?’ , ‘What is the point of doing such a book?’ it dawned on me that books on sex and sexuality have to be explained, while others do not.

The most encouranging response I got was from people working in the social sector. Whether it was organizations helping street children, middle-class school children, victims of abuse and abuse-based incest, they all realized the seriousness of the issue. Most such groups had come across enough instances of child sexual behavior to not think of it as an aberration. However for them the focus was not so much child sexual behavior as child sexual abuse. Many of them had already brought out small pamphlets, booklets and full-length publication documenting some of the cases of abuse they had come across.

RAHI (Recovering and Healing from Incest), for instance, is one such organization. It works primarily with victims of incest, which is defined much more broadly than merely sexual relationships within the (blood) family or even extended family. It covers all sexual activity which takes place within what is considered a personal or protected environment, that is, one in which the child has learnt to feel secure. Incest, therefore, is a threat from within surroundings previously considered safe. A violation of this trust can have devastating consequences. It leaves the child defenceless because it takes away the existence of the guaranteed safe haven children need till they grow into adulthood (or perhaps throughout their lives).

Both Anuja Gupta and Ashwini Ailawadi, who founded RAHI and continue to run it, have worked extensively on the issue of incest. In addition to the counselling they provide, they have also published a collection of stories written by some of the abused women who came to them for assistance. The house I Grew Up In is a compilation of stories by five women who were abused within the confines of their homes. The perpetrators were members of the family – father, stepfather, brother, uncle or some other close relative. The women write about the relentlessness of the abuse and the emotional turmoil they went through as they tried to deal with their trauma. Their chronicles are poignant and point to the damage done to the victims by those who were closest to them. Often, such damage is irreversible. Abused children could end up becoming abusers themselves or become completely dysfunctional. One of the women hints at the fact that she herself became abusive towards her younger relatives as she grew older. Fortunately, not everyone is affected in the same manner, because another narrator in that group is today the primary care-giver of her now old and ailing abusers. Finding a coping mechanism is critical and those who manage to do so are able to deal with the trauma of their abuse, while others can remain trapped in that disturbing moment.






Introduction: Childhood Sexuality - History,



memory, Mythology



Love, Kiss, Marry, Fac'



I Don't Want to Talk About It



Trellis Yarn



The Back Benches



The Landscape of Garbage



Diary of a Child Moll



Matinee Shows



The Tenant's Son



Elizabeth's Tale



A Game of 'Seep'



You, and You, and You



The Long Shadow of Guilt: An Afterword


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