How old was I? 4 or 5? That Burma teapoy and the plastic doll still remain in my Amma’s home. The cane chairs are long gone. My cousin barely in the frame, my constant childhood playmate, I meet now only on occasion. In that glass case is a replica of some fort — Trichy or Tiruchendur, I don’t recall. It was gifted to my father at a conference. The panchaloham vase must be somewhere gathering dust. The red oxide floor remains, chipped and aged. The photographer once a trusted family friend is now banished from our life.

And there I am, in focus. A dress sewn by my Amma. My hair oiled, tamed and tied into small ponytails, most probably by Anjalai – my caretaker, my protector, my safe space when home was becoming less so.

There I am, captured in a frame, as I hold one of the many conversations with my closest friend. It wasn’t until many years later that I realised that the doll was sitting on a potty. As a child I just thought he was sitting on a moda, bare-bummed.

So here I am, some 40+ years later, looking at the little me.

Did she know that the viewfinder saw a prey not a child?

Did she know that just a few years later the hands wielding the camera would move on to her. Groping, pinching, rubbing, scarring her heart and mind, instilling fear and shame…

I look at that photo, and all I can feel is the angst of the years that would follow.

I wish I could recall as quickly the more pleasant memories, because they existed in parallel – choosing the fabric for the dress, being measured by my Amma, playing choppu with the cousins (one of whom is in the frame), long conversations with my bare-bottomed friend, my athai’s tender hugs and loud smacking kisses on the cheek, Anjalai patiently feeding me a meal, watching Rajni films on Sunday evenings with my cousins on their B&W TV.

Those are memories I must remember to remember, and sometimes question.

Because, that little one in the frame had her childhood tainted and stolen…