As a teenager living in Karachi I was appalled that our neighbour’s little daughter was always in the lap, or was carried around by their twenty something old male cook. I promised myself that I would never expose my unaware children to the possibility of child abuse, and the assumption here is that most parents do not hand their kids over to the desi male caretaker thinking that he will indulge in the heinous and wicked act of child abuse. But that is almost like the ostrich hiding its head in the dirt thinking that danger does not exist; it exists, very subtle, yet loud.
I moved to the US almost seventeen years ago and noticed that the quiet child abuse that the children of Pakistan suffer is a not a very quiet child abuse in the US, but despite the awareness children suffer it everyday; at the hands of the mother’s boyfriends, neighbours and the list goes on.
Today I sit down and write a little kissa, read it, ponder on it, and thank God you escaped it.
Baabu was domestic help, or a servant as they are still referred to in Pakistan . He worked in my house for over twenty years and was a gift to my father by his father. Baabu’s great grandfather, Baabu Lal, crossed the Durand line at the time when Mortimer Durand of British India submitted the Amir of Afghanistan into dividing the porous border between then British India and Afghanistan.
Baabu was never considered hired help; he was family. Many a child grew up in his nurturing, but with my childhood fondness also came the vague awareness that he was doing something wrong, subtly. Not overtly, but his clever and indirect, yet deliberate holding was different from the way other people held me, it was almost similar to that of the white bearded gentleman’s, the very same man we met at Hill Park everyday. One day the bearded man stopped coming to the park, and years later came the revelation that his neighbor caught him trying to get his dirty old ways with the thirteen year old aayaa hired to play with his grandchildren.
I almost hear myself sighing with relief at Baabu’s almost decency, maybe his behavior triggered the red signal in my growing awareness, or he himself put a stop to the antics, one will never know, but thankfully it never became an incident considering he carried almost two dozen children. The question that comes to mind is that was our parents’ generation unaware of the perversity that surely threads every society and culture? The sexual undercurrent that children meet in the person of the bearded old man at the park, Baabu and one creepy man I will only refer to as the Man, how is it missed by the adult radar of our traditional society. Are we so proud and confident in our centuries old south Asian values that we have willed ourselves into believing that our culture supersedes human perverseness? Many a sub continental children of my generation quietly nod with me in unison and then look away.