Filmmaker Butalia compiles stories of child sexuality in book
Documentary filmmaker Pankaj Butalia elucidates the centrality of sex in pre-teen years in ‘Dark Room’
In his first book, “Dark Room: Child Sexuality in India”, Butalia narrates poignant accounts of eleven people cutting across class, caste, gender and geographical areas, narrating stories of child sexuality with a significant number being centered around ‘guilt’ in experiencing sexuality in pre-teen years.
The idea to sew together stories of child sexuality in India came about when HarperCollins proposed to Butalia to work on a book about Delhi.
“I was asked to write about Delhi but I said no. I had my own set of experiences and wanted to see if I could collect many more from others,” says Butalia, who soon began speaking with people about their childhood experiences.
This filmmaker-turned-author spoke to more than hundred people belonging to different age groups about their early childhood experiences but nobody was willing to be a subject of stories Butalia wished to focus on.
“I spoke to about hundred people. They were friends, friends of friends. A couple of them narrated their stories but none wanted me to put down these accounts in a book. It took me a while to convince them, I even agreed to make these accounts anonymous but no one agreed. And I could certainly not pen it down without consent,” he said.
With numerous failed attempts, Butalia almost gave up. But soon, people agreed to talk. Ranging from Pune to Odisha, Ambala and Delhi among other places, he managed to put together eleven stories about varied childhood experiences in a span of more than two years.
The book strikes as the much-needed conversation, out of academic areas on child sexuality in India. It aims to highlight the taboo around sex which is perceived to be completely absent in the pre-teen years. Yet, the ‘innocent’ memories of childhood are many a time tainted with sexual abuse and fear.
The author says he refuses to have drawn any inferences or colored stories with judgment.
Butalia vividly recalls one story titled ‘The Landscape of Garbage’ about rag-picker from Delhi-Ghaziabad border who was accused of raping a young girl.
The 226-page book also encapsulates Butalia’s personal account of growing up as a child in Ambala in one of the narratives titled, “Love, Kiss, Marry, Fac.”
The book further aims to remind us about the centrality of sex in life which is not restricted to a certain age and compels adults to rethink on how to deal with a development stage which most often passes off as ‘innocent’, devoid of ‘age-inappropriate’ ideas of sex and pleasure.
This documentary filmmaker has received several international accolades for “Moksha” (Salvation) a documentary made in 1993 about the widows of Brindavan that has been screened throughout the world. He has also directed a feature film “Karavan” starring actors Naseeruddin Shah.