Friday, October 30, 2015

Do you know where your children are?

Sometimes I look back on my childhood and think we were a privileged lot. Of course, we did not know it then. We had no TV and the lone telephone rarely, if ever, worked. Computers were myths and radios were about the only exposure to a live world outside.
I'll tell you what we did have: we had the outdoors. We had a cycle and a huge garden and a pond and all the freedom to explore every inch. We had earthworms, we had fireflies, we had ladybirds and butterflies. We skinned our knees and wiped away the blood without a thought of running to tell our mother for fear of tincture iodine that burnt like hell and when we fell we never cried out. I remember being chased around the fields by my aged grandfather who wanted to put tincture iodine on a cut, I remember sneaking into the neighboring houses from under the fence and always being welcomed with orange squash, I remember lazy somersaults in the pond, our bodies tanned and black in the summer sun and I remember turning a deaf ear when being called to go indoors because the sun was too hot. We explored the streams near the house, swung from the branches of the Litchi trees and ate raw tamarind and mangoes drying in the sun with our grubby fingers and imagined nobody knew about it. We had the terrace, we had kites, we had the skies and we were our own masters. We had endless hours of making tea out of mud and water and making a mess. We played with our imaginations, and we bent them to our will. Dinner times always had the whole family gather at the table (no exceptions) and we'd  all sit and share our day. There was warmth and there was conversation. Often, there was Laughter... in our lives there was always room for Laughter and I am glad, that even now, he has lingered in my life. Sometimes, after dinner, we’d play chess or scrabble or just read a book. Often, we would go for long walks in the night and my father would point out the stars and I’d gaze at him in admiration and now I desperately try to remember all that he said but I was too self involved to pay attention to back then.
The TV was actually the first intruder in our home. Dinners were accompanied by the news and conversations verged on the (often) boring matters of State. We were, by and large not allowed to switch on the TV at any other time so I grew up unable to appreciate the finer aesthetics of TV serials and shows although I hankered for them after hearing all about it in school, but that is another story.
Foreign holidays were unheard of. We never came home and told our mothers "so and so is going to Spain, again" or, "can we go to Paris, three of our friends are going!" For our holidays we had my maternal grandparents' house in Kanke, we had the garden house in Maniktala and we had Madhupur, famous for its ghosts where we let our imaginations roam wild.... For serious diversion we had the beaches at Puri. Don't get me wrong... we did go on other holidays, we travelled to Lucknow, Agra, Darjeeling, even Kovalam and Kanyakumari but those were later, those came when we were older. The places I describe here are when we were younger and when, come winter, all the cousins would gather round from near and far and just fill the houses with love and happiness and lots of memories.
Now I look at my girls and wonder. Living in a joint family, they do have cousins at hand. They also  have TV which apparently tells them all they need to know, they have social media so they can communicate with their cousins and never have to climb on top of the tank just to share a secret that cannot be heard by others. They have computers that can download information in seconds so they never know the joy of hunting through an encyclopedia. They have cell phones to tell me just where they are and when they reached…hell, we ourselves never knew where our adventures would take us and when we were out, well, we were out. They have SnapChat and Instagrams and weird games, if I ask them to go out and play I may as well be punishing them! They have amusement parks; for us, the annual rickety Ferris wheel at the Park Circus mela at puja time was enough. And candy floss. And if you teamed it up with pop-corn our lives were full! Now pop-corn comes in microwavable packets in an assortment of flavours and any toddler that can reach the microwave will be able to make you some! My girls know all about international immigration and customs but they have never dabbled in the sand at the local stream where the clear water reflects every blade of grass. My girls promptly take off their shoes while undergoing Security check in foreign airports but have never walked barefoot in the soft dew-laden grass at dawn.

Their lives are fraught with dangers, real and imagined: physical punishment or criticism can traumatize them, or so I have been told. In our time we all recall a few well placed slaps that did us no harm, and criticism made us cringe but also made us want to be better. Yesterday I attended a Twitter Chat on cyber safety for kids. How much is too much? How far should we let them go? We have new worries to worry us: too much time on the net, social websites, strangers approaching them online, meeting up with strange people who they have met only online, peer pressure to participate in groups online, the trauma of not having enough 'likes' on a facebook post, the list goes on and on. It's not that the fears have changed all that much, it's just taken on a new name: The Internet. Over exposure to the media shares the blame. Every teenager wants to be as cool as the kids in those serials they watch. Every other child has a boyfriend! Our parents dealt with their fears their way; they warned us about the wolves out there and let us be. There was little else they could do, short of keeping us housebound. Those real fears of  letting the kids out alone, bus rides, accidents, not knowing where the children were going and pedophiles are rampant even today. In fact, I would say it is more of a threat now, "too much traffic, have you heard of the bus accidents? The auto drivers are too rash, so many rape cases!" We dare not allow them out on the streets on their own. So we do the next best thing we can, we give them the internet that opens up worlds for them. We allow them to chat online and leave them be. It's only facebook or twitter or whatever and you hope the friends are all people they know. But can you be sure? Do you know who your child is talking to? Do you know who their friends are? Most of all, yes, I know she is sitting at her desk in front of the computer, but do you know where your child is?  

No, I don’t blame anyone, and as they say, the old order changeth….the new has many wonders too. It’s just that once in a while I wonder where we are headed. A part of me feels sad that my daughters cannot hear the music of the stars and are instead lulled by the song of the air-conditioner. I guess I just feel nostalgic and wish those idyllic days were once more in my fist and I had my entire life to re live them and share them with my kids!

C’est la vie!

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