When I first came across independent film-maker Yashasvi Juyal’s photo series ‘Shrinking Spaces’ for The Minor Project, the contrasting childhoods in varying geographies impacted me beyond expectation. Since the idea of existence is fast becoming a stagnating concept, what we fail to realize is the fact that we’re taking away from the experience of fully living in the moment and not just for ourselves. As I drew parallels between how much I enjoyed being a child myself with the children of today, it made me think of days where I lived off of ice pops costing a rupee, tall glasses of mango milkshake in the summer and an extra hour of television before bed. I remember running around endlessly playing with miniature kitchen sets and board games and looking forward to my playtime more than anything else during the course of the day. Even then, somewhere in the back of my head, I always wondered what it would feel like to have played with my friends one last time before all of us decided we were too old for it; to have our childhoods die a slow death one fine day.
As part of his project, Juyal intends to showcase what one can essentially describe as the death of juvenescence, more specifically in urban set-ups. “The idea of childhood should be one where one is not afraid of the risk of falling down and being able to get up and run around again”, he says as we trace back to the seed for the series. “The stark difference between children in both set-ups was how much the parents wanted to involve themselves during the course of my interaction with the kids in the city versus how freely children moved without a care in the world as I photographed them away from all the noise in the mountains and grasslands”, Juyal says.
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He recalls a time when he would look out of his window and was able to see all of Mussoorie which has sadly been replaced by cement structures under the guise of development. As a natural consequence of this, he was alarmed by how kids took to finding comfort in electronic devices and were discouraged to venture out of the limits of their homes. He adds that, “Unorganized development not only affects multiple childhoods but also has political consequences. It directly affects how establishments are structured to function which automatically affects the child’s growth and mental health.”
Juyal firmly believes that a childhood that is constantly riddled with the worry of safety, minimal human interaction and being surrounded by continuous springing of urban jungles is one that is as good as none. He points out that the more he observed children that lived in environments where there was plenty of space and surrounded by nature, the more it allowed them to fully explore their identities. The hounding need to be perfect has led to the death of spontaneity and crucial imperfections that more or less becomes the crux of a child’s existence in the world. He further elaborates, “Imperfection gives us a deeper sense of the understanding of aesthetics which allows room for unhinged imagination.” It is then, he says, that one can claim to have had a ‘proper’ childhood.
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As unfortunate as it is though, every single step we take towards material progress leads us away from reflecting within ourselves. We turn into individuals that are in pursuit for the best of everything only to find out that the white noise has taken away the possibility of understanding what really matters. We teach our children to be competitive and pressure them to excel at everything they do. They find solace in escaping the realities surrounding them by cocooning themselves in virtual mediums and shut themselves to all the possibilities around them. They expose themselves to unknown and ever-increasing dangers that come with the digital age thereby losing their sense of wonder about the world. Urbanization limits their opportunities of getting to know someone who is potentially different than they are and become inclusive individuals; and the cycle repeats itself when they grow up to be deformed of any sense of truth and value for their own lives. The death of innocence is the death of the joy that comes with discovering new things as a child. So, if to live is to exist, then death has long commenced.
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