Husband came home after one of his jaunts across the railway over bridge. Even without removing his mask, I could see the joy in his eyes.
It was the day the Corporation Schools had reopened for the Primary Classes. He had just witnessed the children walking on the over bridge at the end of the school day.
- He had heard the loud chatter of children in Tamil
- He saw these children in shabby uniforms but with joy in their hearts
- Boys and girls holding each other’s hands as there was no adult to chaperone them
- They all stopped for stragglers and called out loudly for the straggler to hurry up.
- They spoke to each other across many heads, forming a web of sounds, yet they understood each other
- They were happy and overjoyed to be back at school and their demeanour and laughter showed it all.
No politics of age!
No politics of gender! They held each other’s hands, didn’t they?
No politics of comparison and one up man ship!
No politics of religion!
Only sheer joy of childhood!!!
And then I went down memory lane and took a few more down theirs too.
This is what came through:
Childhood is simple with no complications whatsoever.
The smallest things gave immense pleasure:
- Tricycles and bicycles
- Blowing soap bubbles in the air
- Skipping and hopscotch
- Building dens with sheets and pillows
- Climbing trees
- Dressing up
- Gilli danda, seven tiles and hide and seek
- Bruised knees
- Slides, swings and merry go rounds
And then there were not such small things to enjoy:
- Exploration and curiosity that sometimes killed the cat
- Hanging out with friends
- Playing pranks like throwing stones at the neighbour’s mango trees with an escape route already planned out
- Music, song and dance and so much more
But wait a minute; something seems to be wrong here.
Did I just describe the ‘activities’ that made childhood memorable?
Do all children have access to and the freedom to indulge in such activities?
Are these activities timeless or is it all about, ‘in the good old days’?
Children do have characteristics that are universal — joy, playfulness, curiosity, resilience, creativity, resourcefulness, empathy, assertiveness and many others that I have left out.
However a suitable environment is fundamental to facilitate the growth of the characteristics.
That environment has to be provided for by adults — parents, teachers and caregivers and for that matter by all adults in every walk of life.
We say, ‘Rani is a happy child’.
Why not, Ravi, Roshan or Reena?
Do they lack the ability to be happy, or do adults — parents, teachers, caregivers and others create obstacles?
This has nothing to do with wealth.
Rich parents can have happy and unhappy children.
Poor parents can have happy and unhappy children.
Would it have something to do with parenting styles, teacher styles and values and attitudes?
Along with parameters like personality types, pampered children can lose their smile when they hear a ‘no’.
Our children need freedom with age appropriate boundaries and limits.
It would do well to keep in mind the words of Kahlil Gibran on children.
I have taken a few lines –
‘You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit,
Not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
But seek not to make them like you’
Let us look at the other side of the coin, — the dark side of exploitation of children.
- Poverty and hunger leading on to activities like rag picking and rummaging in garbage dumps.
- Domestic child labour — I recall an incident during a parenting session. A mother was concerned that her toddler was getting very attached to the maid. I asked her how old the maid was, and she answered 10 years. I told her that she was exploiting a child and child labour being illegal; she did not deserve an answer. One could hear the silence in the hall
- Cheap child labour
- Lack of access to schooling and education leaving large number of children illiterate.
- Under nourished and malnourished children
- Abuse of all kinds, even sexual and drug abuse — rag pickers use whiteners, thinners and stolen petrol to get their daily fix.
Do these children experience the joys of childhood?
During this season of Diwali and Children’s day that is just a few days away — let us, each one of us light up the life of a child.
Light a Diya — so that
- Every child has food, shelter and clothes
- Every child can sleep in safety and security
- Every child has access to education
- Every child is healthy in mind and body
- Every child has the freedom to laugh and play
- Every child is loved
- Every happy child continues to be happy
But that is not enough
We need to go beyond the lighting of diyas and that will need action and commitment so that one child lived life better because I lived and cared.
Happy Children’s Day — Let us celebrate the child in us.
I will leave you with a famous line of Wordsworth — ‘The child is the father of man’