The five year old from Noida said to the child, lets play a game.
She was more than willing, following him around like a puppy dog.
"I am the gang leader, you follow me."
" Yes, yes..."
He picked up the hapless stuffed bear. " This bachcha has no mummy or papa, lets beat him up and kill him."
My eyes widened with horror,at his little game, at what sense my child might make of this game and I attempted to step in and talk them through, and out of, this grotesque game.
His mother, equally horrified, stepped in and blasted her child. The game was over, sidelong glances were cast at the cuddly bear, and they moved onto something else.
I had meant to do a post about it - about growing up in Noida where stories of rich children being kidnapped, and poor children being hacked and probably eaten, would be searing the air.
Many months later when I think back to the game conjured up by a five year old I am no longer as 'shocked' or 'outraged' that this five year old could come with a game like this. Its how we mediate the horror of the world around us that is our responsibility as parents, adults.
But the aura of the grotesque for a child can not be discounted.
The blood spurting out of an arm, a neck, or even the bleeding fingers of angulimaal in amar chitra katha is vivid in my head many decades later. I know that I became a newspaper-reading addict during the reporting of the Billa-Ranga case in Delhi. With no access to television, and the newspapers carrying tame photographs of death and violence, we still came up with rather macabre stories to entertain one another.
I have bought unusual stuffed toys for the child since she was born- snakes and crows and other not so cuddly toys- but they are all bright and happy. I told her stories of fantasic animals that were all friendly. I tried to conjure the forest to be a place for adventure and discovery. She did buy into it, but refused to be denied the metaphor of the forest and its beings as 'the other', the 'unknown, and the potentially 'terrifying'.
She jumps up happpily when I pick up a book on amazing beetles. ( I am quirky that way, but my most amazing walk has been an ant/beetle watching walk in the forest, so I grabbed the book when I saw it) She marvels at painted and photographed animals.
But when she begins a story and her protagonist feels unsure, she enters a forest...
I can ban newspapers, tv news, censor her racist/sexist fairytales... but to deny her an attempt to deal with her doubts, fears, anxiety?
Let the grotesque and the macabre enter her imagination.
But one will have to work hard to not let the 'other' become the one whose face is covered in a chequered scarf (generously bought and provided by the police!). Or the watchman who works a twelve hour shift and becomes the first suspect when a fancy car is scratched.