So today is National Girl Child Day. The ubiquitous mugshots of Sonia Gandhi and our PM stared at me from every newspaper I read this morning, along with a poorly designed full page advertorial with the colour pink all over it! Yech!
What does this mean to us ordinary folks? I thought I’d come up with the strains of thoughts and conversation I consider relevant to the theme.
In 2012, Aamir Khan’s TV show Satyamev Jayate put the spotlight on the issue of female foeticide and infanticide, getting the issue more attention than years of government sponsored advertising or content issued by health institutions. The average middle class TV viewer spent more minutes (or seconds) thinking this issue through than they did when they signed on that ominous declaration while getting pregnancy-related ultrasounds done at the radiologist’s clinic.
I found interesting that this month, there have been several articles, like this one, pointing to China’s skewed sex ratio as well. Of course, much has been written in context of the rising concern over women’s safety since the Delhi gang rape last month. This particular piece conjures a picture of frustrated unemployed men roaming city streets, a potentially hazardous situation, and too few women! In both India and China.
All of this makes us wonder about what we can do, as ‘ordinary’ people? None of us are ordinary and I believe we are enormously powerful in our own spheres of influence. As mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, role models to colleagues and students, etc. I have had many discussions with friends about how to communicate the harsh realities of the world to their children. Much of this concern stems from an urgent need to ‘protect’ our daughters, with very muted attention to how we raise our sons I must say! I’ve admired Natasha Badhwar for writing about the need to tell kids the truth. My own mother wrote an eloquent piece, a year ago, on how fathers need to set the tone for gender neutral thinking inside a home. And now, a dear friend Monolita in Kochi has started a movement to get women in her city and across the nation on an online platform to share experiences, plan strategies to bring about a radical change in attitudes. The initial discussions on the email group she started show how scared even educated middle class women from privileged homes are to speak their minds, how they would rather accept status quo. It has also shown how some of us are willing to work hard for change, to leverage each freedom that we have won or been lucky to get so that women across the world get the same. After all, as Mono puts it, “all I have ever demanded is to be equal!”. Do read our initial posts on our blog and you could follow the blog for activities that we are planning in the future.
Today, as we celebrate the girl child in India, let us not only feel ashamed for the wrongs we have done, but also remember the sheer joy that children have brought to our lives. And resolve that all the little girls we know, along with the little boys, are the seeds of our future. We owe it to them to instill in them values of equality and tolerance, to lead by example lives that are ethical and sensitive, and to see together with them the sheer beauty in our lives….even as we dream of a better world.
Pics below: Aadyaa and a little girl in the Sundernagari slum, where mHS has designed a redevelopment project. Both represent hope and the future. What are we going to do now to ensure they can both reach their potential and enjoy a safe world?
Watching my children grow and hearing the absolutely astonishing things they say and do, I often try and remember what I was like when I was a child. Of course, I cannot. We only know partly what we were and a lot of what we think we know is informed by what older people have told us of our past selves.
This morning, Udai lost one tooth in a really fun way. These two front upper teeth had been hanging loose for weeks. He was to go see a dentist today, but even before that, in a little squabble at waking up time, Aadyaa punched one tooth out of Udai! Now instead of that becoming a full blown fight, we had a whale of a time squealing in laughter, with Udai thanking Aadyaa and the little one admiring this fallen tooth, this hallowed symbol of being grown-up-er!
Udai then went about trying to distract the rest of us so he could hide this tooth in a secret place. Was it so exciting for me, this breaking of my milk teeth? I don’t remember, though I do remember that ritual of my dad tying a thread around these hanging teeth and yanking them off by tying the other end of the thread to the door knob and banging the door shut! I also distinctly remember that feeling of pushing the tender gums around the newly appearing teeth, constantly feeling that gap in a bitter sweet pleasure (I was amused at hearing myself tell Udai not to do this because the new teeth would come out crooked, why do repeat the stuff we hated to hear as kids when we become parents).
These past few days, my children have surprised me in many ways. In Ramgarh, I discovered that Udai is no longer a slightly timid boy who fears taking risks. Instead, he became the lead walker in our small treks, negotiating little slippery patches and jungle streams with confidence, finding the right path and helping us across. I saw his concern for his grandmums, me, Aadyaa, all the women in his life. I admired him, and was touched as well. I also found out that Aadyaa is an unending well of energy, who can walk far more than I had imagined and is up for challenges all the time! From a rather demanding and attention-seeking toddler, she is turning into a well mannered, reasonable little girl, able to keep herself busy and make intelligent enjoyable conversation. Moreover, I found that the siblings had decided to bond, spend more time in harmony that in discord and that certainly made the holiday far more enjoyable! Making and flying paper planes from a book Udai had carried accounted for a lot of the time spent. No TV, no ipad, no phone games….quite the break it was!
The infamous rape incident in Delhi has also changed things in our home. Udai has been an avid newspaper reader for a while now, focusing on the sports pages but scanning all else as well. But now he points out to me tips for women to be safe. He read out rape stats to me by state yesterday, telling me that Uttarakhand (“where we have come from”) was the 2nd best state for women’s safety, etc. Of course he does not technically understand what rape is, but he does know that it is something “very bad” that men do to women, that rape happens because men believe women are inferior, that women and men are equally capable and deserving of respect, etc…..I actually asked him about what he made of this and this is roughly what he told me, no kidding! Partly, he overhears discussions at home and he knew I would want to hear this, but even so….for a boy not yet nine, to glean this from news reports and conversations and take a position on it seemed pretty mature to me.
I am sure many parents are astonished about how their children are reacting to all the awareness and activism around us right now. In times like this, children grow up faster. Their inquisitiveness propels them into unknown terrain and they put pieces pf the puzzle together pretty fast, and well (of course it’s up to us to help them and not mislead, over-protect, hide). Yet, they remain innocent. It’s a wonder that flies in the face of our belief that certain things are ‘adult’ and other things are for kids….
Children are so incredibly resilient and we adults, parents included, underestimate them all the time. My kids never cease to surprise me.
Last night, Aadyaa started complaining of earache. Now that is bad news indeed, for it is an ailment that she has recurrently a few times a year and it is bad news! The earache is usually acute and takes a while to subside and means half a night of her howling in pain, while we scurry around trying to medicate, placate and allay the sinking feeling in our hearts. Over the past year she has had this problem, we have an arsenal of homeopathic, home remedies and mild allopathic medicines ready to combat it. For some reason, last night all the ammunition failed and Aadyaa and we were up most of the night in pain, hers physical and mine mental!
There was the added stress that she had her annual sports meet at school this morning. Something the kids look forward to and have been working really hard to prepare for. She would have been heartbroken if she had missed it and till midnight I was hoping the earache would oblige us and go away. Well, as you know, it didn’t. Surprisingly though, Aadyaa deviated from her pattern of howling through the night and was exceptionally tolerant of the pain. We read books, munched biscuits and chocos, chatted, sang songs and caught 15-minute shut eyes through the night, peppered with the various doses of medication we were trying out.
Eventually when she fell asleep past 5AM, we had decided that sports day happens every year and it wouldn’t be the end of the world if she misses it. On the other hand, she made me promise that I would take her if she woke up in time, even if it meant she simply sits in my lap and watches!
Morning came and we all got ready before we tried to wake Aadyaa up. Not only was she up and about, but she went on to complete all the activities that were planned at the sports meet, displaying her usual balance and poise at all types of physical challenge. No tantrums, no crankiness. Yes, I was pleasantly surprised.
Small things I observed today made me realize just how vital school, her routine, her friends and her teachers are to Aadyaa’s world. For instance, she demanded her teacher’s attention and sat in Mudita didi’s lap through the morning assembly. Once reassured by these minutes of comfort, she gave her best to the day’s proceedings.
I’m glad I decided to play along and let Aadyaa take the decisions this morning. I was rewarded for my trust and she gained another few notches of self-confidence. All in all, a good day!
Sherry Turkle has been thinking about the social and psychological impacts of the Internet and that makes this session super exciting. Technology is having a deep impact on us, changing who we think and even who we are. Is it taking us to places we don’t want to go? What are the ethics of advancement? Questions we ask all the time. Are we humanizing tech while we dehumanize ourselves? Robots become men, men become machines. This is her life’s work. Eager to hear what she has to say!
Hackers gave her a clue that humans now see their minds as a computer. Change in the way we evolve. Changing our identity. Initially celebratory about these changes, Sherry is now not so optimistic. As a psychologist, she thought it fascinating that people could experience playing with identity and learn from their online lives to live better real lives. The situation has turned darker now. She saw in the ‘90s that mobility changes. Transitions between computer identities and real connections become faster. We were never completely present to our reality. Another phenomenon was sociable robots. A new kind that doesn’t try to be smart, but tries to make you think it loves you. By using the right gestures, this robot pushes your Darwinian buttons to make you feel someone is home. Fascinating! We nurture it, we love it. She began to study these bots used in Japan for eldercare and to be nannies. Strong attachments to computers that do not deserve our love and that we never leave ourselves alone at all are disturbing trends we need to be aware of.
Why would we rather text than talk? Because it gives a larger sense of control, which is seductive. We can hide real feelings. Tech allows us to have the illusion of companionship without the demands and intimacy.
So does tech make us lonelier? All those of us addicted to technology, are we actually keeping the real people out? The real relationships away? I wrote about this recently. One of the wonderful things about being here at the Thinkest is to hear experts and researchers take forward my tentative musings about how we live life. That’s why so many of us are back to this fest.
People text at funerals, mothers in the park are texting…Are we losing the sense of human attachment? I find that scary, concerning. Why do we want to be elsewhere when we are somewhere? Why do we go there at all? I don’t want to be this sort of person, who forgets the difference between conversation and mere connection. The person who forget nuance. But yet I love what technology makes possible as well. When we have sessions at Shikshantar where my kids go to school, we often are told about how texting during dinner is not a great thing to do. We roll our eyes, hate the lecture! Well, Sherry used the exact same example today. Children deserve to grow up feeling they are important enough for us to set aside even something as important as technology. And I agree.
We need to set rules for ourselves that will help us achieve some sort of balance. We need to make a better attempt to really connect, with ourselves and then with people around us, then also with issues and events. Many levels of connection make life exciting.
What is reassuring is that Shirley thinks the younger generation is more likely to be able to build a tech Sabbath, build in breaks from technology. We, who came to it later, appear to be completely smitten! Kids might stand a better chance to achieve the balance. I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. What I do know is that when children are little, say pre-teens and teens, we adults who ‘parent’ them (I say that in a larger sense) have the opportunity to give them a real sense of how important human contact is. We can love them with all we have got, reach out to them, involve them. Give them a legacy of humanity so that they can use technology to their advantage without being emotionally consumed by it.
Nostalgia is passé. Post 35, when you meet friends from the past, especially those buddies from college, you talk kids, ethics, life experiences and value systems. Your discussions veer towards perceptions and issues and incidents are shared in the context of making a point.
As Richa’s beautiful little girls hung around us (or pranced around us in the case of the younger one), the four of us- Upali, Richa, Julius and me- talked about the things that concerned us most. I was amazed to find that, despite living countries apart, what worried us all the most were common. All the issues we discussed pertained to the desire to see an improved world in the future. We talked of education quality, the value societies attach to learning and education, the business of education and healthcare, dealing with class issues in a society in rapid transition, parenting and how to help our kids to be good humans while utilising their potential and talent, how it is important for poor business models to fail so that there is a value attached to risk as much as there is to reward (great learning for me, thank you Julius!), can we ever outgrow the obsession for white skin (Upali returned to India after a gap to find the obsession had grown), why advertising and media feeds on insecurity and fear, you get the drift I am sure.
It amazes me and heartens me that there are others (and I have heard from many since I began this blog) that worry like me, that passionately hope for change. That recognise that the sharp edge of profitability must be balanced by the service of the larger good. That balance, not unconditional growth is the way forward. That creativity and design have a larger role to play for humanity to continue a meaningful existence.
I had planned to take pictures of this mini reunion, but I have not a single one. Conversation and food flowed seamlessly. Life was good. The hospitality the best (thanks Richa). Comfort levels high. I guess we’re not the posing types!
Almost on cue, today’s ‘Open House’ at the school (Shikshantar) my kids attend addressed the importance of play for children. The connection of the school’s presentation to my experience at SPA yesterday was astonishing and I’m attempting to draw some relationships here between early education, higher education and professional practice.
‘Play’ is loosely defined as an activity that children (and I think it applies to young and older adults as well) want to do, use their imagination and creativity in, do spontaneously and has an objective (in itself) that may not be apparent to those not involved. In essence, play is an open-ended exploration of whatever the child has on her mind. Instruction deters play and parents were being urged by the school to try and provide the time and space for open-ended, unsupervised play, offering a safe environment for children to simply be! Research has demonstrated strong correlations between this kind of unstructured, open-ended, spontaneous activity and cognitive learning. Children who engage in play are better socially adjusted, have better critical thinking abilities, are more tolerant, etc.
Open-ended, unstructured learning reduces as students move into middle and senior school and, strangely, further reduces during undergraduate courses. To me, that seems ludicrous and I remember a group of us hotly debating this with our teachers back when we were in SPA. The explanation we got was that students would not produce any work if there is no deliverable, no deadline. It was an issue of a lack of trust in the capability of students, but also the knowledge that students have not been oriented to this sort of self-motivated learning from school.
So there you have the problem and a partial answer. To expect undergrad students who can ask questions, be tolerant of conflicting opinions, debate and discuss openly, we need to give children the opportunity to explore and develop their minds through their education cycle as well as in the home environment. Sounds simple, but in a world driven by competition, results and the urge to constantly instruct, it’s one of the toughest things for parents and educators to implement.
Why were things slightly better in our times? Because we had slightly less stressed parents, less isolating lives at home, other children (cousins, friends) to play with, our early lives were not filled with back-to-back instructions-brain-o-brain classes, tennis coaching, dance, music, tuition and what have you. We didn’t have ‘play dates’, we simply played.
Kids are cornered from both ends. While we had structured school, but plenty of unstructured time at home, many children nowadays have structured school and home time. It’s a frightening situation, where they are cornered with no time of their own. Don’t we adults crave me-time, to indulge in pleasurable activities? Then why do we dare to presume what is ‘desirable’ (read appropriate) to our children instead of letting them be and letting them choose for themselves?
I guess the only thing we can do is recognize the need for open-endedness and unstructured time and trust that learning will happen if these were to be provided along with some good inputs and exposure!