In Mar 2014, I went for a baby’s first birthday party. I hadn’t met the birthday boy before, but my then-new friend, Mel, who eventually becomes the subject of my long-term photography project, invited me to attend. “You will meet a lot of people. The dancers also going. And anyway, it is Prem’s son’s party. You can go help him take pictures.” 

I gladly obliged. To me, it was another opportunity to get to know my subjects better. 

After that birthday, I didn’t see much of Kavi. Prem’s marriage was on the rocks and he decided to let Kavi’s biological mother, Gowri, care for his son. Few months later when the couple officially split up, Prem and Mel started dating. While Mel and her kids became a mainstay in Prem’s life, he took time to check on his son once in awhile. 

When he found out that his ex-wife was abusing drugs and leading a hedonistic lifestyle, Prem realised that he needed to step up and be a better parent. He decided to bring Kavi home, to give him a safe space to grow up. So it was only in 2016 that I started to see Kavi a lot more. 

Having a ‘new’ younger brother at home was very exciting for the kids because they not only had a new playmate but another boy at home. They come from a family of six sisters and one brother, but the latter is currently serving a sentence in RTC. The younger three sisters, Shivani, Shanthani and Nesa, would fight to sleep next to Kavi, squabble to feed him and vie for his attention during playtime. They are also now in charge of mothering Kavi - which includes picking him up from school and seeing to his daily needs and hygiene.

Amongst the three sisters, Kavi enjoys his time with Nesa the most. “Nesa akka is funny and kind. She also plays with me,” Kavi shared. The other night when I was over at Mel’s, I asked Kavi if he’d like to come over to my new place. 

“What can I do there?” he asked. 

“Oh, you can watch TV or you can play on my computer,” I replied. 

“I want to play computer!”

“Okay, you can come later.”

“….myself? Nesa akka also ok?”

Kavi is now 4.5 years old. He gets away with some mischief through his good looks, charm and cheeky nature but otherwise dramatises when he doesn’t get his way with the sisters (i.e. fake cry!!!). He learns Chinese in pre-school but isn’t too good at it. He loves to eat ice-cream and cold drinks but knows that he shouldn’t consume them, especially not in front of Mel, because of his asthma. He taught his friend to brush his teeth with body foam (what a prankster!). 

Kavi is only 4.5 years old but has been passed through many different hands and lived in more than 4 homes and guardians/parents. He remembers his biological mother but does not have strong feelings towards her - neither love nor dislike. He does not understand why his paternal grandfather came over one day and snatched him home. He has a hole in his heart which we only learnt about recently. 

If we use our ‘adult’ lens to look at his world, it hasn’t been easy. But I am guessing Kavi doesn’t think much of it. At least not now. For the most part, he’s still a very happy-go-lucky boy.

Not sure what life has in store for him in the long run but looking forward to see how boyhood pans out for him in the next few years. 

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