So, what was it that has me talking of heaven and hell? If I tell you, the horror of it might not be too obvious to you, it isn’t to too many and that is precisely what is so horrifying.
When I went to class the kids flocked to me like little chicken sidling to the mother hen. I was disarmed by their trust and their guile; guile that I discovered was knowingly or unknowingly exploited. First there was a class where I heard statements like “If I do not do my homework God will punish me.” It was unclear to all of us as to whose God it would be though; The Hindu God, the Muslim God or The Christian God. The children were too sheltered to have heard about all the other Gods fighting for center stage. It was very obvious to everyone though, that there is definitely a God. Also, I heard of this one pond in the village where if a person looks into the water their whole family dies, and that mum said that it really had happened.
We then spoke about healthy food and this one kid got up to tell me that OILY food is unhealthy and one must NEVER eat it. I asked him why he thought oily food was unhealthy. He looked at me as if I had sprouted horns, I mean, there I was asking him the reasoning behind the thought. Then he scratched his head, pondered a minute and said, “Because it’s OILY and Oil is bad.” Similar dictums were unearthed about ice-cream, chips, burgers, candy and a myriad other things. These were all eight year olds. They had learnt all about what’s healthy and what’s not. Just, that they did not understand why they craved the BAD food, and feared God’s wrath a lot of the time when they did. Nor did they understand what was so bad about the food. They knew though that it was bad, and that was obvious.
Then, one day, I was sitting with my six year olds. I had heard that kids this young harbour dreams of becoming superman and rickshaw drivers among other similar visions that reflect their innocence and desires. This class though stripped me of my delusions. There was a small minority of children who said “I want to become a Pilot because Trains are too slow.” Or “I want to become a mechanic and make fast cars”, the few generic doctors and teachers and then these other more popular ambitions with the majority; IAS (spelt IS by the kids) officer, IPS officer, mechanical engineer, software engineer, eye specialist, cardiac specialist, train engineer and I forget some others. Then, in my incorrigible way, I asked them why? It struck me for a second time how foreign the concept of reasoned judgment is to them. They seem to hear and talk in dictates. I, to them, seemed to be talking in a foreign tongue. Also, it struck me how strange it was for them for their opinions to be taken seriously.
In the way of kids they got used to the new language and gave me answers. Sometimes I wonder if I’d have slept more peacefully had they not. IAS officer because umm, I don’t know what he does. But dad says he is respected and he is powerful. IAS officer, umm, what does he really do? IPS officer is Police? Engineer because I will make lots of money. I will buy stuff with the money. Eye specialist; I don’t know why. Cardiac specialist; I don’t know why. Train engineer; umm, what is that? Oops, that was me asking, not the kid. The kid then told me that train driver is a small job and that he can’t do that. Engineers make money. So he’s going to be a train engineer. That, I thought, was such an example of a child realizing that there is only one way to be and one thing to do and it reminded me of a fish caught in a net being pulled out of water trying desperately to flip back in till the last of the fight leaves its rigid dying flesh. Dramatic, I may sound. But then it is a life we are talking about, and it is a dream being lost; along with the thousands of people living aimless, unfulfilled lives; a lost generation, a lost nation…and that’s where they began to lose their way. Dramatic? Indeed. And obvious. When I left, I believe a few of them were thinking why they wanted to be what they wanted to be? And when they did not even know, was it really them who wanted it? Not so obvious.
Another time, I walked into a class of 8 year olds. They had already heard of me from the adjacent class where a heartwarming incident had laid the foundation strongly enough for me to believe that through this horror there was so much to be salvaged, that this really was a slice of heaven, maybe a little distorted. Anyway, that would be a story for another day. This class was eager to be friends with me and enthusiastically bombarded me with obvious questions the minute I walked into class, questions that would determine our friendship. “Ma’am, what is your name?” “Gurleen?” “Ma’am, are you a Muslim?”(4 of seven classes I walked into I was asked this. Maybe I look Muslim.) “No” “Then you must be a Hindu. I am a Hindu, a Brahmin.” “No?” “A Christian?” “No? How is that possible ma’am? You must have a religion?” “What God do you pray to?” “You don’t believe in God?” At which point the conversation was incomprehensible. Obviously. Then they asked, Ma’am, what language do you speak? Then, what is your native place ma’am? You must have a native place? Oh, you don’t? So it went on. Then I asked them why and if this was important. Would they still want to be my friend if I was a Muslim or if I had no religion or if I had a native place different from theirs or spoke in a different language? It seemed they would. We then dissected the importance of each criterion till it came down to the importance of “character and qualities” being the deciding factor. The others? Not so obvious.
Lastly, one glaring obviousness in young minds was that being a man means something and being a woman means something else. That being fair makes me cute to the opposite sex. That a boy with a girl’s name is a sissy and a girl with a boy’s name is doomed. Till they found out that my dad has commanded a battalion in the Indian Army and his name is ROSY and that I have ridden a Thunderbird and a Bullet and that I run my own organization. Then, it wasn’t so obvious. These were 12 year olds.
To all of them it was obvious that hitting children with a wooden scale is the norm and that their opinions do not matter.
So, what is so obviously wrong with the picture? Who are these children? Are they their own person or products of conditioning, knowing and believing things that they don’t yet understand? If this is what we are doing to our children are we surprised that our world is the way it is?
Are we surprised we live in a world where dogma reigns, governments follow on a route of tried and tested variables that keeps the people mollified, that a Raj Thakeray can stand tall in a democratic secular nation and shred its integrity to bits, a world where people who are different and do not fit in are bullied and subdued, where individuality and dreams are for foolish masochists and there are secure prisons for the majority who all come from the same mould, polished and spit shined for added effect? Is all of this my opinion? Yes it is. And would I not be thrilled to hear an opinion thrown back! An opinion born of personal thought and individual belief, of reasoned argument that comes back to me and says “I think differently.” Honestly, I’d be deliriously thrilled to hear the words, “I THINK”.
So, am I an arrogant cynic mocking the majority? No. I am one of you. A fellow human being who lives in the same world and shares the responsibility of what we make of it with you. A fellow human being who’s asking you to ask yourself this; Are all the obviouses (the truths that I have an issue even recognizing as beliefs) that I have really that obvious? My beliefs, are they MY OWN? The answer is yours. It may be a yes, or a no. That’s not for me to comment on. Is this entire article just my point of view? I’d be the first one to say yes, it is. Yet, despite that being the case I can in all integrity ask you to think about it, because it is not a thought that I am propagating, but a way of thinking. What you do with it is absolutely your own choice.
And to end with where I began, what do we want to teach our children; thoughts or a way of thinking?