Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Of the childhood we "left"

There was a time when a child could watch T.V. and enjoy that act of watching. A time when T.V. could engage the child without insulting his/her intelligence. Not that things are too different today. But kids these days, and I am sure of this, will never get to enjoy that same T.V. we lived through once upon a time. This may be a personal opinion, but I know it’s true. Not that I’m happy with it. I’m anything but. And I think I’m not alone in this. I know several friends, all of whom grew up in the same childhood I did, who feel the same way. Perhaps it’s inevitable. I agree. But that this should mean things should continue the way they have so far, I don’t.

Time was when all that we had to do was wake up, go to school, come back home, and spend the rest of the day living. No computers. No video games. And best of all, no tuition. To be young, as we were then, was certainly not heaven. But it was something to drink, to love, to savor, to breathe. Being an only child, and thereby open to the privileges bestowed on only children, I felt this a hundred times over. When I look back, there is somewhere within me a feeling of hurt. I bear no grudge, nor harbor bitterness. But it’s like watching an old film, seeing a more carefree time, daintier and freer life in it, and having nostalgia well up in you. That hurts.

Inevitable? Certainly. That’s what makes everything all the more depressing.

My childhood was spent in a twilight world: back when new was meeting old in practically every sphere, from drama to music to television to film. I was part of the generation that saw Amaradeva, hailed him, and then turned around to welcome Bathiya and Santhush. We saw Dosthara Hodhahitha, Tintin, Robinson Andare, and also saw how, in the inevitable rush to import every foreign T.V. show, the quality of dubbed programs went for a six. Almost literally. We watched Doo Daruwo, Yashorawaya and Charitha Thunak (for me still the best of them all) and watched how tele-series became replaced by mega-series. The changeover hurt. I was sad.

That’s why I worry. Not for myself, much less for those generations that never got to see this transition, but for the generations that are yet to come. I worry because three out of five 10-year olds don’t know who Amaradeva is. I worry because some 13-year olds think he’s dead. I worry because some younger children call him a “gorakaya” (I kid you not). I worry because this country is going down the garden path, not up. I worry because, despite all the hype over “development,” we are neglecting the very same children who have gone and are going down this path.

And I worry because I don’t know what to do. Being angry never helps. I’m not angry, not because there’s no room for anger, but because I cannot blame anyone in particular. Not the children, because I know their ignorance and “philistinism” aren’t their own doing. Not the parents, because in their humdrum existence, they can do precious little else than leave their children be. Not the education system, because despite its ills and shortcomings, we’re yet to come up with a viable alternative. And certainly not the schools or teachers, because they’re following that same system for which no policymaker has offered a viable alternative. It’s more or less a vicious circle. No-one to blame, at least not in particular.

But we are a nation of blame-shooters. If the man at the top is to blame, s/he lays it at the doorstep of the person beneath him. It’s the same story with pretty much everyone else. At the end, we are left with no-one to blame. So, in this game of blaming, I won’t join. I’ll just recount some observations I’ve made, tested, and found to be true.

I start with children. I have said their ignorance is not their own doing. That’s true. From day one, they’re forced to follow a curriculum that privileges blind faith over reason and submission over inquiry. Most of all, that curriculum inculcates in them a fierce “grab all or have none” competitive attitude which persists them till, I’m sorry to say, the day they leave school. Or is it till the day they die? I never can tell. But the story remains the same: in this vicious jungle, there’s really little else to do but follow the leaders.

And follow them these kids do. They follow the syllabus that’s impossibly overstuffed with absolutely nothing. They follow teachers who prefer status quo to innovation in the classroom. They follow their noses to tuition class after tuition class, either because their school teachers are too lazy and take “paid” leave so frequently that the absent days outnumber the present ones, or because the syllabus is too overstuffed – or sometimes both. They follow the dross that some of those “tuition kades” churn out, and, in the inevitable conflict between the tuition-subject and class-subject, they become more and more apathetic.

Call it a rat-race after the cheese. Problem is, it’s not just the cheese the kids are following. There will most probably be a mouse-trap hidden underneath. For some at least.

It doesn’t end here, of course. There’s pressure and something needed to get that pressure off. So these children listen to “music.” They watch “T.V.” They read “books.” And they play “games.” I don’t think I need to explain those apostrophes. They are there for a reason. You know the story.

We live in a culture that has deified noise to the exclusion of pretty much everything else. So, inevitably, children follow that noise. I know I’m of a dying breed and generation, very possibly the last which grew up savoring both old and new. Today, though, everything’s changed. The child in you and me is dying. Fast. What’s deplorable is that there’s no-one in particular to blame. The blame-game can only start with someone. That someone is you. So start with yourself. Start making a change. Start living life. And, for the sake of decency and goodness, stop calling everyone old a “gorakaya.”

I know Amaradeva, and of the legacy he bestowed on this country. I know many other old people. Not personally, but well enough to know that they do not deserve indifference, ignorance or condescension. So start with yourselves. Live the old and the new. Live life. Taste it. The child in you is waiting. So let it out.