When your mind is not in a turmoil, close your eyes and think about your childhood. Dive as deep as you can and remember the moments of a different era, a warmth of a different kind. Remember the time when the complications and realities of the world meant nothing.
It is such a strange feeling to remember your childhood. It is as if you are watching a movie of someone else’s life. Did that really happen, you keep asking yourself? But every child is not that lucky. Our world is brutal and sometimes there are scars that should never have appeared in those tender minds; scars that could never be healed.
Think of a child in Syria. Think of the trauma she would carry all her life of seeing her house destroyed, of seeing dead bodies covered in blood, of her parents risking their life trying to cross the ocean in the dead of the night in an overloaded boat. Do you think she will ever forget that? Do you think that in her moments of happiness in her later life, the images will not claw her heart? Won’t she carry that brick in her pocket all her life?
Syria is just a tiny example. There are millions of children who are scarred for life after being subjected to trauma. Think of a child in Africa, yielding a gun, without understanding the purpose or the horror of such an act. Think of a child in India, begging on the streets all day so that he could have food at night. Think of a child who has been sexually assaulted for years. Think of a girl who is raped repeatedly by a terrorist in the name of his God so that he could purify himself. Think of a child who has witnessed riots in his city.
What are we leaving behind for our children? Aren’t we raising a generation that is angry, frustrated and confused? A generation that is so unhinged, that moments of happiness open their wounds again.
I have a daughter who is just three and I constantly worry about her. I am scared to send her to school because I don’t know in what condition she will return home one day, or not return at all. I can’t imagine leaving her to play in the park in the future because I might never see her again. I constantly keep praying that she is not marred for life as I was when I was five.
My novel False Ceilings is based partially on true events, and there is one event that happened when I was just a child. The incident has haunted me all my life. In the novel, Aaryan witnesses a Sikh burn to ashes during the riots of 1984. He is five and the incident snaps all his ties with any sort of human emotions.
There was something burning on the road. Aaryan looked closely and recognized it as one of the black and yellow Ambassador taxis which plied on Delhi roads. The taxi was on fire and there were people dancing around it with hockey sticks, cricket bats and swords in their hands. They were clapping and cheering like a couple of youngsters dancing around a bonfire in a picnic. Aaryan was amused. He couldn’t understand what those people were trying to do. Everything happened very rapidly after that. Aaryan heard a distinct scream and a burning hand came out of the broken window of the taxi. Someone from the crowd hit it with a bat and the hand went inside. A man was desperately trying to come out of the burning taxi and the people dancing around it were pushing the man inside using rods and bats. The screams which came from the taxi were blood curdling.
~ An extract from False Ceilings
This wasn’t fiction. I was five when I witnessed the incident. I was too young to understand the meaning of what I saw, but I was full of anger and hatred for mankind when I grew up. I don’t want my daughter to carry on my legacy, but I cannot control her fate. I can only pray that there shall be more positivity in her life, that her outlook during her growing up years is not impaired by the mess that we have created and will continue to create. She will have questions. She will be confused. As parents, we have a humongous task to instil a balanced view of the world in our children. How do you explain the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to a child? How do you explain Apartheid? How do you explain the partition of India and Pakistan and the butchery of 1947? How do you explain murders in the name of religion? How do you explain a vulture sitting near a starved African child waiting for him to die? How do you explain a dead Syrian child washed ashore? How do you explain a man burning in a car?
Sometimes I look into her eyes and her intoxicating innocence bring tears in mine. I stroke her cheeks as she smiles and I wish we had a better world to give to our children. I wish I could convince myself that she won’t face trauma or memories that would trouble her. She would require not just courage but a heart of steel to understand the world, to accept it with all its fallacies and to work towards making it a better place to live, to find and bottle happiness, to rise above the darkness and move ahead with all her strength.