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Imaginative worlds are peppered with idyllic fantasy; should we get real or enjoy the beauty of our dreams? Sep 24, 2012

Sitting in the lobby of Shikshantar’s middle school block, I see before me an array of illustrated poems composed and drawn by children in Hindi to celebrate Hindi Divas, which comes on 14th September each year as that was when Hindi was adopted as the Indian national language. The story of how that has turned out in a nation that speaks and writes dozens of languages and dialects, we all see. But what has struck me this morning is the recurrence of certain themes that inspire children. Nature in many forms- seasons, creatures and flowers- is a constant subject of fascination. Why is that? Considering these are created by urban children who live in a concrete jungle with manicured lawns and terrace gardens as their only exposure to nature. Another recurring theme is raja-rani. The world of royalty- palaces, luxurious lifestyles intertwined with adventure, romance and power. Again, how do kids who are born in a democracy to parents who have never experienced monarchy in any form, keep returning to this theme?
Are we influenced by an idea that there is a certain innocence in themes such as nature and in stories about princes and princesses? Our folklore and children’s stories are full of these themes. For young children, more urban contemporary stories are still rare. Does it then take many generations of a changed lifestyle to be inspired by the changed environment? Or will we continue to dream of a world full of magical forests as we continue to destroy the real forests we have on earth? Are our works of creation or the way we adults inadvertently influence the creative work of children really wishful in nature rather than a reflection of reality?
Many works, of course, among both children and adults do depict the realities of our times. Aadyaa draws multistorey buildings often, not the typical hut. Udai draws planes and machines but is struggling between his need to reflect reality and draw more romantic themes like rural landscapes that he does not really identify with.
Isn’t that the true conflict for all of us. We all spend our entire lives attempting to reconcile the realities (often ugly and unpalatable) with the world of our dreams and aspiration (always in contrast beautiful and serene). I try to see beauty in the reality and find flaws in my dreams at times, but that’s just twisted old me!

Contrasting perceptions: A rising India and the ‘real’ reality of poverty- April 21, 2012

A reader’s comment on my post about Pune and its quaint bakeries got me thinking. The reader liked the post because it showed a positive, exciting side of India instead of the endless portrayal of the slums! A few days ago, my nearly eight-year old son Udai was wading through a pile of National Geographic back issues, in pursuit of some information for a school project. He came across a map depicting the world’s population by income; this was the issue about the world population reaching 7 billion. So Udai stared and stared and looked quite aghast. For the first time, he realized that India, compared to the rest of the world, was a poor to middle income nation. He also observed that there were only very tiny parts of the word (Europe and coastal strips in the US) that were very high income. And that Africa was the only part of the world that was poorer than India.

It is hard for children raised in privileged, urban families in India to perceive of our nation as poor. Even though they see the beggars and the slums, they also see an overwhelming bombardment of visual and audio information that portrays a bunch of upwardly mobile people buying stuff, going on vacations and having endless fun! In India, for Indians, the image of India as a nation progressing and developing is the image we filter out as the one we want to see. For the rest of the world, the poor, slummy image is what represents India. What a contrasting way to look at one reality!

Poverty is a harsh reality. No matter what the Planning Commission defines as poverty lines (and there is a raging debate about that), there is no doubt that the present and future of millions of people is in jeopardy because they are poor, with little opportunity to break that poverty spiral and access essentials like nutrition and education.

When I took my kids into the slums during the execution of the Jalti Jhopdi project in Gurgaon, I did so deliberately. To show them this other reality, the more real reality, so to speak. People often ask me what I aspire for my children. I have absolutely no pre-conceived notion of what I would want to see them do as adults, but I hope they will be sensitive people. If I were to push myself and zero down, there are two streams I would be happy for my kids to follow. One is the arts; to me, to be true to your art is to be truly free and give meaning to life, yours and that of others! I can see myself being very proud of any child of mine who is a practitioner of creativity (any sort will do-writing, painting music, dance, theater, puppetry…am not choosy!) The other is to be be in professions in which they can make a real difference to the lives of the poor, the underprivileged and the downtrodden.

I know this is dangerous. To pen this down is to set expectations for them, but I had these thoughts and I cannot deny them either!

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