Last week was about long conversations on sexuality, sex, porn, and ‘private parts’. Such wealth of conversations is a rarity.
This was triggered by Memories of a Machine a beautiful Malayalam fictional monologue, in which an adult recollects how she began exploring her sexuality as a child. I urge you to take ten minutes to watch the film and then continue reading.
As the credits ran I kept repeating under my breath: “Finally someone said it.”
At school we had our first discussion about our bodies and sexual abuse when we were in seventh standard. Though the forum avoided thoughts on same sex relationships or gender-determination, there was only so much that could be taboo. A lot had already transpired in my life, barring puberty, with little or no talk. Halfway through the discussion a classmate asked, “But, what if I like it when I have watched something sexy on TV? I sometimes switch to such channels when my parents are not around.” I joined the mob at sniggering at this girl until our teacher shut us up for trying to ridicule someone for opening up. So I immediately bit my tongue and apologised. Then I added to the discussion, “I know adults are not supposed to touch us like that. I know it’s sick and some of it is abuse and that you are supposed to say no. But it was very hard to say no, because I didn’t know what to do when I liked something or it felt funny and good in a weird sort of way. And what to do if other children touch you?” My teacher then told me that this confusion of whether something is good or not and the secrecy that goes along with these things is precisely why we should protect ourselves until someone comes along when we are older to have an intelligible conversation about sex and then if we consent we can explore. Bless that teacher. She helped me survive a lot of abuse before and after.
Memories of a Machine has been bombarded with a lot of criticism, especially from Kerala. A state where Premam was such a big hit. Did someone miss who Nivin Pauly finally ended up with in the film? Okay! They were adults when they finally got married, but even then… Sigh! All my stupid touristy notions of Kerala crumble as I read the comments section in YouTube.
The critiques say that the film normalises paedophilia. However, what this film does is to force open a dialogue on a child’s body and sexual experiences. Eras have gone by without talking about this. Too many will suppress a nod when asked if they experimented with cousins, classmates and friends. This film normalises a child’s curiousity and physical feelings. It does not justify any adult’s intention to violate a child physically or emotionally.
But I also understand what is causing this widespread negative feedback to this film. Many people are just shit scared. It is already hard enough to keep your child safe. It is already awkward enough to talk about body hair growth. The majority of people lack the provisions to have conversations around the body and sexuality even with other adults. Sex related talk and thoughts, even though we know this is not true, is assumed the domain of the bedroom and a reason to procreate or keep the husband on a leash. There are people who lack the language to talk about their bodies even for health reasons. For instance, I spent hours at the hospital trying to deliver a baby, while two nurses staring down at my vagina refused to call it that. They just kept referring to it as ‘down there’.
So is it too soon for this country to handle such a film? Are we incapacitated to dialogue or just plainly reluctant? I think no time is so soon. It is the right time because a filmmaker made this possible.
But how to talk about this film? Shall we just get cranky and harass the filmmaker and actor for giving us hard things to do? How dare they urge us to think of our children as beings with natural urges? Aren’t kids just supposed to be focused on getting top grades in classes? The sarcasm in my words might fly over your paranoid head if you are one of the parents or just one of those deeply concerned public that wants to harass the makers of this film. Well…we can only try to open the grounds for you and hope for the best.
Rewatch this. Please talk about it at home, work and the tea kadai. Force yourself to have uncomfortable conversations. They will cease to be uncomfortable soon. If talking with children is too hard, begin with asking your parents, friends or your partner.
In the first two weeks of our relationship, Muthu and I hardly spoke about anything other than our sexual adventures since childhood. If we hadn’t, I couldn’t have felt the least bit comfortable letting him describe to me how my vagina had changed post delivery.
Please for the health of your children and yourselves, stop repressing your thoughts and questions about sexuality and pleasure. Stop being shit scared. It’s alright.
Here’s just a few more videos you can use for information and perspective (unfortunately none in regional languages! See, the obvious necessity for a film like Memories of a Machine):