Do our children look around them? If they do, what do they see? How fertile is their imagination? Do they indulge in fantasy play? Intrigued by the question, I decided to find out.
I asked a Prachi 10, about the stars and the moon. Had she ever tried counting them? “I can google all about the solar system,” she proudly claimed.
Had she ever seen the real sky and tried figuring them out for herself? “I persisted, unwilling to give up. “There are so many mosquitoes outside at night!” said the kid with a grimace!
And then there was the day I saw a large grasshopper on the staircase. It was sitting perfectly still, as if holding a pose for a photograph, its front legs raised and together as if praying. In fact I thought it was a praying mantis at first. But on closer inspection, decided it was not. I was excited.
There were three kids in the building. I ran up and down the stairs rounding them up, taking care not to disturb the grasshopper
‘What is it?’ they kept asking me as they ran after me.
Pointing at the grasshopper like a magician showing off the rabbit he has just pulled out of the hat, I exclaimed, “There! Look! Do you know what that it?”
They looked on curiously, but with no sense of excitement. Of them all, perhaps, I was the most animated and excited. If I’d expected them to show some life, maybe ask questions and explore, I was disappointed.
“Maar do, (kill it) aunty!” said the eight-year-old. His words were dispassionate — a simple statement, as if by eliminating the creature, he would be free to leave.
The youngest boy was more promising. “What is it?” he asked.
But before I could answer, he had jumped off my arms, his momentary interest gone.
He called to the older boys, “Want to play He-man?”
That’s when I lost all hopes for this generation of kids growing up without magic, without imagination, without zest in their lives. They are growing up into consumers — of pre-cooked food, packaged fun and readymade adventures. And the worst part of it is that the fun is vicarious and the activities passive, where at best they are spectators. Their activities are structured, planned to the last detail and even summer holidays are crammed with activities, all of which are again, carefully planned. There is no spontaneity in our children’s lives.
But I’m being hasty in condemning the children for growing up without imagination. Adults, especially the parents, share the blame for this sorry state of affairs. How many of the adults we know of, can find magic around them? One of my acquaintances told me once that they always went to places where they could have readymade fun — fun fairs, films and such. The next thing she told me threw me completely. “Unless we spend money, we don’t feel we have had a good time,” she said.
Had they tried making their own fun? “Oh, it would be too tiring. Besides, who has the patience?” was her reply!
Here I’m reminded of an adventure camp that my son had gone to. He was thrilled to hear that they would be staying in tents. Imagine his disappointment to find instead, a tent-like structure thoughtfully furnished with all the comforts of a hotel room! So much for adventure!
I feel children from small towns and rural areas are more fortunate, for, they still have all these activities to make their lives more spontaneous.
Imagination has also taken a beating because the reading habit is fast disappearing. While reading a book, the imagery is vivid in the reader’s mind. Ask any parent about the reading habits of their children and you get the standard response: “where is the time to read, with so much homework and tuitions?”
But they omit to say that these same children sit for hours before the TV late into the night watching inane soaps and other programmes. Where do they find the time then?
The truth is that many parents themselves don’t have the reading habit, preferring the passive entertainment offered by the idiot box. So how can they motivate their children to read? Worse, they equate ‘reading’ with ‘studying’. Reading for pleasure is an alien concept to many parents. Studies have proved beyond doubt that reading parents inspire reading children. So unless the parents pick up a book, there is little chance of their children doing likewise.
Do these children know that things can be different? Can they ever capture the joy of throwing stones at the muddy ponds, trying to catch a frog, chasing a lizard out of the house, floating a paper boat in puddles formed by rainwater, trying to race the clouds, enjoying the thrill of a book….Oh, I could go on from now to eternity enumerating all the stuff they are missing. I remember how as a teenager my brother and I had once raced a storm, to beat it reaching home. I can still feel the racing pulse, the cool wind whipping at my face, the clouds following us in hot pursuit as I urged my brother to go a little faster on his ancient scooter.
Or the times we lay on the terrace on muggy summer nights counting stars and arguing about constellations and looking for shooting stars and Sputniks and later on the Aryabhatta as it lazily went round the earth. We didn’t even have any fan or cooler, leave alone an AC to pamper our bodies, and I thank god for that. For then we would have slept inside rooms, with doors and windows shut and thus missed on wonderful experiences offered by the magic of sleeping under the open sky.
Perhaps because of my own childhood, I have been able to instill some sense of magic in the lives of my boys. When my first son was a child, he had to be confined to the bed for a prolonged period of recuperation after a near fatal bout of diphtheria. How does one make a lively three-year-old stay in bed? I harked back to my own childhood and voila! I had all the necessary ammo to do it. The bed became an island surrounded by water infested with deadly sharks and crocodiles that would gobble us up the moment we stepped into the water. This involved showing him pictures of sharks and crocodiles and explaining about them. Odd items on the floor became crocodiles and sharks and he imagined them snapping at us. ‘Come here or the shark will gobble you,’ he would call from one corner of the bed, all excited.
Then there were the stories their father used to tell the boys. Of dragons and lions and wicked magicians who were after innocent children and how a brave boy (one of them, naturally) fought them and saved the children. There was no plot, and no storyline and the stories were repetitive. But they loved them nevertheless and would clamour for one everyday at bedtime. I have a sneaking suspicion that those stories helped them sleep without fear, for weren’t they capable of fighting anything that might scare them at night?
Why, only the other evening, as we were sitting on the terrace, we looked across at the tree opposite our house. ‘Doesn’t it look like a shaggy dog?’ I asked. ‘No, it looks like King Kong,’ said my eldest son. ‘I feel it looks like a monster,’ said his father. Then we asked my youngest. ‘Doesn’t it look like a lollipop?’ he questioned.
Make-believe; pretending — the watchwords of all the magic of childhood are fast vanishing. Pretend play doesn’t exist anymore. Reality is the name of the game. Pretend play helps children cope by taking them into the realm of fantasy. The most famous example I can think of is that of the book ‘Little Princess’, in which the little girl Susan pretends to be a princess, even in the cold attic, with barely enough to eat, wearing threadbare clothes and working like a slave. By pretending to be a princess she acts like one, not only carrying herself with regality but also overcoming her privation.
One need not have oodles of money to have fun. All it requires is imagination and some effort.
It breaks my heart to see children growing up without this vital ingredient. And let us not say that they are too smart to be lured by such pretend games, when they are such computer whiz kids, little scientists and speakers and whatever not. All it requires is a little bit of imagination and effort on the part of the adults who inhabit their world. Hasn’t one such adult (J.K.Rowling) created an entire world of fantasy for children the world over, with her bespectacled boy wizard Harry Potter? Not to forget Roald Dahl with his Charlie and Chocolate Factory, BFG, etc.
Swati has said it succinctly in her comment, children today are, ‘low on spark and high on ignition.’
So let’s switch off the mobile phone and shut the TV down while we take the hands of our children to dance in the rain, run over fields and look at the butterflies. Let’s not deprive them of the magic of growing up — the very magic of life.
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