Sunday, June 5, 2016

How to raise a pint sized activist while having fun

When we hear the word "activist" we immediately think of Khadi clad, jhola carrying men and women braving water cannons and lathi charges. But an activist is one who campaigns for social change of any kind, someone who identifies the rot in society and speaks about it. There are various degrees of activism and similarly various ways of showing dissent. Thomas Jefferson said "dissent is the highest form of patriotism" and any thriving society needs such voices. Such conscientious persons are not born but raised. One might feel that preteens are too young to grapple with the socio-political dynamics of a complex society but I feel it is never too early to talk to kids about their surroundings they are growing up in. An aware mind will ask questions and if faced with incomplete or unconvincing answers, come up with an alternative. 
To this effect there are some ways to start teaching kids at an early age to question the norm and sniff out the rot.

1. Watch T.V. With your kids: television has become the unpaid nanny of the 21st century.  Whether we admit it or not our kids spend an unhealthy amount of time in front of the infamous "idiot box". But now we can use this "evil" device to our advantage. Try sneaking in an hour or a half and watch tv with them. You will find umpteen opportunities to teach them about gender equality, racism, consumerism and many other socially relevant issues. A fair and lovely advertisement is the perfect opportunity to teach young boys and girls how the colour of their skin is not related to the success they achieve in life. Body shaming and image building can be explained through size zero ads that pressure people to look a certain way. One can also teach them about misrepresentation of facts and distortion of truth. No amount of money spent by giant corporates should ever convince a child that consuming packaged products can be good for them. They must question facts casually mentioned in the ads and passed off as truths! My 9 year old daughter happens to be a healthy eater and avoids junk food. Her scornful looks and snide remarks at Maggie commercials are reassuring that I'm raising a conscious consumer who will not buy in to colorful lies.

2. Discuss the news: in the age of electronic and social media we watch numerous news clips, read copious amounts of articles, receive infinite forwards and if not any of these then we surely read the newspaper. These are such a treasure trove of information. A healthy discussion on any topic can enrich a young mind and channel their obscure thoughts into the right direction. With worldwide debates on free speech to the American Presidential elections, from discussions on nationalism to comedy, we have a moral obligation a responsibility towards our children to enlighten them about the going ons. Social injustices to climate change, world refugee problems to the present political situation...are all very tangible problems that affect our kids. Instead of letting our kids form ideas based on incomplete or inaccurate facts, let us arm them with information to make logical conclusions devoid of any confusion. A favourite topic of discussion between my daughter and I is Global warming and the environmental crisis. This has led her to vow to plant trees on her birthdays and other special occasions. It might be a small step but we can advocate for a better world one tree at a time!

3. Take them shopping: shopping provides the best excuse to teach young kids about poverty and social inequality. A toy costing 5000 rupees is the best opportunity to teach them about the lesser fortunate who might earn the same amount in an entire month by putting in hard work and labour. It is also the best time to teach them about value of money and dignity of labour. In my experience it might be a little troublesome to shop with a 7 year old but the values taught are well worth the effort. Shopping also provides a healthy peek into budgeting and rationing, both life skills that make us better adults. Our shopping trips have transformed my daughter into the Ant from the famous poem "The ant and the cricket". I love it when she proudly exclaims how she can't "afford" an article worth 50 bucks and chides her father for his "extravagance"!

4. Sharing your workplace stories: your everyday mundane stories of office can teach your child how to behave in a workplace and tackle social relations. They learn to be a team player and an achiever. But most importantly they learn about gender bias and gender inequality. Such kids will grow up to be champions for the cause of gender egalitarianism. Talking about gender equality reminds me of a funny incident not too long ago. My daughter was relating to me how a woman in Egypt (probably Nefertiti) became a King. I told her it was impossible for a woman to become a king and that the woman must've become a Queen. My daughter would not accept this and continued to argue how she has infact become a king. Flustered on not being able to convey the oxymoron of a woman being a king, I said it's as impossible as a woman becoming a ______________and she challenged me to complete the sentence. I'm happy to report that I didn't have an occupation to fill in the blank with. She continued with the story of the woman becoming the "king". I could not make her understand the rules of grammar but she had made me understand the rules of gender!

5. Watch movies: we enjoy our weekends watching the latest bollywood releases and gobbling up buckets of popcorn. But these movies serve a side dish of misogyny and sexism. The item number that objectify women or the romeo who doesn't give up chasing the girl next door, all provide an unhealthy outlook to love. After watching a movie it is important as parents to tell them why certain songs or scenes were superfluous. It is imperative than we teach them the difference between stalking, bullying and being in love. Allow them to hum and sing songs but do tell them what the words mean and how questionable the lyrics are. This will definitely deter them from repeating the filthy words on a loop.
There are some movies in which you can point out the obvious and then there are some that makes a young mind question. We had just finished watching the much acclaimed "Kapoor and Sons" and were still reeling under the dreaminess of Fawad Khan when my daughter asked what being gay was? Suddenly the evening became as much about fun as it did about forming a young mind's opinion on the LGBT community. 

6. Go on a vacation: another great and fun way to teach kids is through vacations. Exploring new places opens up the mind and broadens the horizons. They meet people different from themselves and learn first hand about problems faced by people outside their immediate society. A recent trip to Kashmir gave us an opprtunity to teach our daughter as much about the Chinaar trees as about militancy and terrorism. Separatism and border violations might appear too delicate an issue to discuss with a 10 year old but a mild introduction to these topics makes them aware of the country they live in and the problems it is plaqued with.  There is no education greater than the ones provided on a family vacation. 

7. Teach them about religion and history: the ways of worship and the names might differ but all religions unanimously teach us to be good human beings. They teach us to be morally upright, practice and preach peace and brotherhood and above all require us to be the best versions of ourselves. A person conscious of such teachings will automatically question wrong when he/she sees it. 
If not religion then tell them about our past struggles, it's revolutionaries. History is replete with men and women who have reshaped the world as we know it. A healthy dose of positive role models, mythological or historical will make for a morally conscious adult. 
Following these tips, even one or two, will shape your child into a sensitive and aware citizen of the country. I still remember the day my daughter wanted to write a letter to the Prime Minister asking him to get the Kohinoor back! 

Friday, May 27, 2016

I taught my daughter to Lie

Raising a young mind can be a challenge everyday. I don't mean the physical kind of challenge of running around trying to get them to study or do their chores, all the while keeping an imaginary scorecard of their meals! By challenge I mean the mental kind that comes from raising a vibrant and inquisitive mind. I am lucky to be the mother of a 9 year old girl and I'm faced with this challenge a few hundred times a day myself. A questioning and curious mind keeps throwing curveballs and I have to walk a tightrope knowing full well that the answers will mould and shape her. Every answer to a 'why' will form her opinion, personality and beliefs. We as parents always want our kids to think for themselves but at an early stage we help them form ideas and ideals about the world they inhabit.
In a recent development I noticed my 'honest to a fault' daughter lying through her teeth! Every question was met with a small and often disernable lie. This was very disturbing to me as a mother. I have always prided myself with imparting the highest moral standards to my child. Without sounding too pompous I should mention how my little one would own up to everything fearlessly. And now the same not - so - little - anymore girl was brazenly lying her way out of situations. This drastic change in her not only worried me but scared me aswell. I read articles on why kids start to lie and Googled all I could about children and the psychology behind lying. While all the articles treated this as a common practice among children,none of the reasons mentioned applied to why my daughter had picked up this nasty habit. I blamed the company she kept to the shows she watched on tv. But nothing could explain the change in her personality. After suspecting everyone and blaming everything I chanced upon the reason when my daughter very nonchalantly mentioned that "YOU say it's okay to lie sometimes"!!!!! I was shocked that it was I who had made this very reckless statement. I implored her to tell me more and she related how once she had missed school on account of me having overslept and the next day I mentioned in the leave application that she had been unwell. It all came back to me how she had pointed out that it would be lying and I told her it was okay to do so not explaining that a leave letter mentioning an over sleeping mother would not go down too well with the school authorities. This little incident which we can all relate to all too well taught her indirectly the very bad habit of lying. I had inadvertently taught her to lie at her convenience. She learnt that day that lying was easy and it helped in  avoiding an uncomfortable situation.
Honesty in real life can be tricky and get you into trouble. Lying in crtain situations can be the wise thing to do and can be called being "street smart".  But is it right to teach out kids one thing and practice the opposite in real life? Are the moral science lessons learnt not applicable in the real world? And if they are, then why do we, as adults act contrary to what we teach?
After realising this terrible truth, I started noticing a very troubling pattern with everything we taught our kids. We teach them to help a person in need even if it's a stranger. But in case of a road mishap do we ever stop and help? The "adult thing to do" is to move on and if, maybe you have a heart, call the cops. But NEVER stop and help because life has taught us that more often than naught, the person who helps gets into the most trouble! The dilemma of being good versus being smart is one that we fight with everyday. If one lives up to a high moral code of conduct, they are regarded as an oddity, a fossil from another time with no connect to the "real world". Why do we have to live in two different worlds? Why can't the world of our textbooks and childhood stories be one and the same thing? A poor impoverished woodcutter today who refuses a gold and a silver axe for an iron one would make the headlines as the "dumbest man alive"!! Why do we start teaching kids "ways of the world" and to be practical as opposed to being an idealist?
How many times have we talked about the new bride bringing gifts from her parents' house knowing all too well what an evil practice this is and a veiled way of taking dowry. How many times have we remained seated while the national anthem plays on all the while teaching our kids to love their country. And yes I still believe in standing while the national anthem plays because it might not be the only way but it is definitely one way of showing my respect to my motherland.
Our words and actions, big or small are being soaked up by an ever eager and responsive sponge that will form the future generation. We have to invest time and attention on it. We have to be conscious of what we say and do. And above all we have to practice what we preach.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Sense and Sensibility

Growing up as children we unconsciously take in the sounds and smells of our surroundings and form memories with them. It is truly amazing how sounds of inanimate objects can remind one of their childhoods. The lazy sunny afternoons when winter is forgiving and a light shawl is all one needs, when the sun doesn’t hurt the eye, when the air is neither chilly nor warm, just crisp enough, it is times like these when my heart skips a beat and I am overcome with a sense of panic. One would wonder why a balmy afternoon would send shivers down a grown woman’s back. It is because the end of fatal February and the march of March announce the arrival of the final examinations! It is the time for average students like me to take stock of matters and go into an overdrive. Nervous preparations, long telephone conversations, endless pots of tea and the quintessential oiling of the hair are the high points of the day. With the standard rituals complete, there is nothing more to do than to take one’s books and find a quiet corner on the terrace. What is foolishly funny is that to date the change of season brings with it a slight flutter to my heart. A delayed sense of fear. A longing for a hot a hot cup of tea!

Then there’s the sound of hymns from the distant temple that fill the twilight sky. The cassette playing beautiful, melancholic, unintelligible songs which sound from a different era altogether reminds me of my childhood when, as kids, we were served oily and fried snacks in the evenings, so full of fat, so full of love!

The sound of children screaming has the power to transport me to the nearby field 20 years ago. Screams when someone hits a boundary, screams when somebody gets out. These screams carry the voice of my brother in them. I, a lone figure standing atop the balcony shouting in support of family, shouting to be heard, to be acknowledged.

The vendors and hawkers in the by-lanes still remind of simpler times when buying a 2 rupee ice-cream seemed like an indomitable task. Whether it was peanuts or popcorns, the price always bordered between one and two. Now with my fist full of pennies I feel no need for them. So I give them to my daughter who still values them and makes an imaginary shopping list.

When such small and inconsequential things hold such deep memories for me, I am forced to think what will trigger off these feelings in my daughter? The sound of drilling, the sound of hammering? If these may be, then will they remind her of a pleasant childhood? Will the churning of the cement machine churn her stomach too? Will the screams of kids remind her of her friends or the longing for a sibling? Will she ever feel any affinity towards the hawkers and vendors or is the screaming construction workers she relates to?

Asking these questions now are as futile as asking who she grows up to be? But there is a blurry picture in my mind which shows me how she’ll be, and I want a blurry picture of how she thought her childhood to be.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Friends,Foes and Bitches

Five hours after my sister returns from a phone conversation with her friend, all she can remember is....that rogue cribbing about how her imaginary love life has come to a screeching halt!!! The babe expects all her friends to stop breathing and come to her immidiate aid, some with advise, some with sympathy and some with an alternative plan of action! The earth should stop revolving and change its planetary course so that the stars predict a different future for her and the dude she barely knows but definitely IS somehow her true love!!!
Yeah right!! Like hell he is!!! I mean what the hell is wrong with you girls? When did u cease to be a rational person and become brain dead??? how can something as small an argument with a local loafer convince you to jump off your two storeyed house..... which mind you will only ruin your chances in the future of finding a better guy as you'd be badly battered and probably missing a few limbs!!
Seriously, why has listening to parents become outdated? Who said it was bieng conformist? and even if it is....when did it become wrong??? Why are you guys becoming rebels (more often than not) without a cause? Why do you have to create a big fuss and make a mountain out of a molehill .....get real gals....stop being so dramatic!! you're not in a hindi movie stop committing suicide at every drop of a hat! And neither are you in a hollywood teen movie trying to get back at the high school stop trying and move on duharling!!
Why do you teens think yourselves to be wiser beyond your years??? Who asked you to be the agony aunt and go about problem solving...??? Well urrmmm....reality check : your friends are as inexperienced and as immature as you are....its like banging you're head against a wall !!! Simply taking the advise of you're friends is going to get you nowhere......its actually the advise of you're parents that you should keep in serious consideration.....coz seriously hun, they're the only ones who REALLY care!
This brings me to an even more important point that, you teens, and more so tweens are increasingly becoming malcontents....nothing is good enough, no one is right, and everyone is aganist you guys. Well snap out of it.
Its not too long ago that I was sixteen myself. I was a thoughtless, inexperienced, self-obssessed daddy's girl.....but then i decided to step out of my comfort zone, rather my ignorant trance. But the problem today is that even after you girls grow well out of your teens you still dont want to grow up! How long can you go on living in your own dream world where you're the foolish little princess??? Get a life....start living! The sooner you face up to the wolrld the better, coz the bubble has to burst sometime! And if, it is done by others (senoirs in college , colleague at work or worse, whites in a far away land) it hurts big time!
Let this be an Oprah 'aha' moment for you where the light bulb goes on. Allow that adult to come out and breathe in fresh air. Get rid of that fake attitude and the even faker life! My advice to you dear is TO KILL THE TEENAGER AND NOT THE CHILD IN YOU! Be free spirited not immature, be open to impromtu friendships not relationships. Embrace life and soon you'll realise that the world is full of friends and not foes and bitches!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Shooting Stars

I'm sure this little piece of writing will strike a chord with anyone who is sloppy,lethargic and doesn't mind wasting some time in front of the infamous "idiot box."
i mean what the bloody hell !!! whats wrong with the Hindi television industry?? why the hell would they expect smart, educated, working women to watch the crap they dish out monotonously day in n day out!
i mean wot do they think... we watch these mind numbingly boring make -believe sagas and feel the pain n connect with the foundation coated protagonist?? well we've got news for you cheap three piece suited pimp like producers n directors, sitting in your air conditioned dingy offices...with sly blinds screening twinkys on musty sofas...WE DON'T GIVE A SODDING SHIT!!!!
when it all started some 8-10 years ago with Tulsi holding the torch for women across the country, it was a welcome change. then came her poor cousin version Parvati with the same issues n solutions minus the zing....coz tulsi had already beaten her to it!!! but still we sympathised when the quintessential good boy mihir died.... we felt horrid when we found out what a bitch pallavi turned out to be....and we also felt bad for kumkum(a much poorer version) for the loss of her few episodes old husband.
but then the bombarding started, with the monday to thursday routine...everyday, day in and day out,month after month, year after year, and with no intention of ever stopping!!
i refuse to get into the details of their "K" starting names, their identical plots n often the identical actors....c'mon man give us all a break!! the cause of the nosedive of Hindi television is the commercially viable and (i wonder how) profitable Monday to Friday routine. i mean the kind of pressure on the poor ill fed writer (probably a guy)to churn out problems faced by an ideal Indian married wonder the writer's imagination gives up and the brain commits suicide!!! this may explain the open plagiarism of plots and resulting in the repetitive soaps. the channel might change, but the story never does.
in this day and age we are faced with a monster called "jassi jaise koi nahi"(thank god there aren't anymore crawling about). i mean really now, who believes such crap! a 21st century girl living in a metropolitan like mumbai (and it gets better) working in a fashion house...will wear long ill-fitted warden looking shalwar kurtas, accessorising with 1930s barrister glasses! oh n not to forget those thick black (oh so out) fringes,and armoured teeth! the fashion police must have been in the lock up have let this kind of faux pas to pass! people often believe jassi to be the "missing link" from the evolution chart.
well the situation is not completely hopeless...when bollywood started copying Hollywood took them time. there is still hope for the television industry thus. they've started copying "who wants to be a millionaire","weakest link","big brother" and many more. it will take about a hundred years for the Indian television industry to meet the standards of international television,but atleast our grandchildren will have a better world to live in!
and dont get me started on the award functions!!! rewarding "stars" for their hamming, zooming in and out of the frame with earth shattering background music is hardly acting! infact who says they're stars at all... at best they're asteroids!! with a dime a dozen teenagers pretending to be thrice their age playing moms to grown men.....if i ever bump into one i'd hardly lift up my head, leave alone recognise them. id do what i generally do, bad mouth them and move on!!!