When I meet other survivors, it comes with that strange sense of knowing: knowing that our childhoods were different from others. Knowing that despite all that we had gone through, we had managed to survive, and grow. And so there is that feeling of kinship, one forged through the hell fires of pain.
I often meet survivors of children of alcoholic parents, or child labourers. In the former, their parents’ behaviour may have echoes in themselves: strong imprints from abusing alcohol. In the latter, there are also physical, not just psychological scars.
I pointed at a child labourer’s arm, a fierce scar streaked across his left forearm, visible despite his tanned skin. “How did you get this?” I asked.
“Mera pitaji (from my father),” came the reply, his voice matter-of-fact.
This is something that I admire, meeting these child labourers. Their huge capacity for joy and to celebrate life, despite having been sold and resold by their parents. Despite having no one to turn to. Despite having to fend for oneself from the age of eight or nine.
“I had stolen something. And so he did this to me,” the boy continued. His face remained neutral, almost as if he had told this story many times.
And perhaps, he had.
I looked at the boys around me, other former child labourers, former child slaves. All are still children: young boys or teenagers. They laugh easily and sing songs, play cricket and jump over walls, demonstrating amazing agility. I wish I was as young as them again, so I could join them.
A girlfriend translated the songs for me so I could understand, my Hindi not being very good: “It’s almost like a taunt, a challenge. To say to other villagers: come out and light the fire so that we can all be educated. Come and join us!” To stamp out child slavery and illiteracy.
And these boys: they are brave. They continue to sing the songs of the morrow.