Come on quick! Change the channel! They are showing some terrorist attack with the bodies strewn all over!
And hide the newspapers while you are about it! Look at those corpses lined up after the Naxalite attack! What will we tell the child if she asks about it?
You check the movies they are allowed to see, you are careful to select books that are suitable for them…The lengths we go to protect our children from the violent world!
Then we sit the child down and ask her to recite the nursery rhymes.
“Twinkle twinkle…” she sings and we smile. “Baa baa black sheep…” she lisps and we applaud.
“Jack and Jill….”
Hang on! Jack fell and broke his head and for good measure Jill also came tumbling down and God knows broke what else!
Humpty Dumpty not only had a great fall but split apart so badly that he couldn’t be assembled again! What were they trying to teach the kids? That it is not safe to go up a hill? That being fat had its dangers?
We have any number of rhymes that have all sorts of cruelty and violent behavior depicted in them.
Take for instance the pussy cat that went all the way to London to frighten a little mouse under the Queen’s chair! Now why would any stupid cat go to so much trouble unless the creator of the rhyme had some reason to depict that?
The two cruel little boys, Tommy Thin and Tommy Stout. The rhyme starts innocuously enough: Ding Dong bell, pussy in the well…But then goes on to become violent; she didn’t fall into it by accident but was put in by a very naughty Tommy Thin. What’s more, he gets off lightly with just being scolded for being naughty and drowning her. Reminds us of all the criminals who manage to get away with just a rap on their knuckles for the worst crimes, doesn’t it?
There is more: The old woman who lived in a shoe who had so many children that she couldn’t give them any bread. So what does she do? She feeds them broth without any bread and whips them soundly in lieu of that, before sending them to bed on an empty stomach! What cruelty! What will the kids learn from this? That adults are heartless? That their own mother might do something similar to them?
There are several rhymes that are not so popular now, but they were there when we were kids. Take Goosey gander for instance. I am giving the full rhyme in case some of you don’t know the full verse:
“Goosey goosey gander where shall I wander,
Upstairs, downstairs and in my lady’s chamber
There I met an old man who wouldn’t say his prayers,
I took him by the left leg and threw him down the stairs
Imagine a kid doing that! Does it preach that it is okay to take matters into one’s own hands and punish someone who doesn’t respect the Lord?
They get even more violent in Rock-a-by-baby…
Rock-a-bye-baby on the treetop.
When the wind blows the cradle will rock.
If the bough breaks the cradle will fall
And down will come the cradle, baby and all!
What a horror! Imagine the baby falling from the tree top. And which moron mother tied the cradle up there? Couldn’t she find a decent place down below? Thank God the kids who recite these rhymes didn’t understand anything of their gruesome meaning!
There is another that outdoes even this one. It is by far the most depressing and violent one I can remember.
Ladybug ladybug fly away home,
Your house in on fire and your children are gone,
All except one and that’s little Ann,
For she crept under the frying pan.
The ladybug is told that not only her house is burnt down but her babies are all dead and even the only one who tries to get away creeps under the frying pan. Did she fall into the fire or get charred by the heat? Shudder, shudder!
The one good thing about nursery rhymes is that they are taught to very small children who don’t ask you the meaning of the words but happily sing them! And so they don’t ask about the really gruesome ones, thank God! But the adults who composed them (where they sadists or what?) and those that teach them definitely do! So we have the option of picking and choosing the good ones, which is why we don’t hear our kids singing the really gruesome rhymes like Rock-a-bye baby and Ladybug!
The fairy tales are even worse. If not actual violence some implied violence is depicted in many of them, especially those by the Grimm Brothers. Did they get their name from the ‘grim’ tales they wrote or did they write them to justify their name? The tales are replete with wicked stepmothers, the apparent storehouses of cruelty! Perhaps the brothers suffered at their own stepmothers’ hands and got all the dope for the tales!
Hansel and Gretel are driven out by their stepmother into the forest where they are almost killed by the old woman in the cottage made of chocolate and biscuit! Cindrella is made to slog for her stepmother and her daughters till she finds her prince charming! Rapunzel’s wicked stepmother imprisons her in a tower. Snow White is sent off to be killed by her wicked stepmother who wants to see her heart as proof! And when she survives, is fed poisoned apples. The story of the very cute Red Riding Hood has the fox gobbling up her grandmother before trying to eat her too! The worst part is the clinical way these are depicted.
The Ugly Duckling deals with the very adult theme of inferiority complex! Did all those poor girls who are depressed by their dark complexion as shown in the Fair and Lovely ads, get inspired by this tale?
By comparison, the tales of the Panchantra and Aesop’s fables (do kids get to hear them these days?) have a moral even while being entertaining. Likewise, rhymes in regional languages deal with everyday animals and birds and are beautiful to boot. I have heard some lovely rhymes in Tamil about little mice which peep from their holes with their huge eyes and about large ones dancing for idlis and vadas!
Some decades ago, there were efforts to make rhymes in English from the mythological tales detailing the exploits of characters like Hanuman and Krishna. Wonder what happened to them.
One went like this:
Who will leap, who will leap
Across the deep?
He alone, said Jambavan!
Simple words and ample scope for the adult to tell them the story of Hanuman.
(I would love to hear the regional language rhymes, if you know them!)
To give the creators of fairy tales and fables the benefit of doubt, they must have had some noble intention in mind. They probably tried to teach the children that good triumphs over evil in the end and violence doesn’t pay. Something we can’t say for the real world villains and criminals who seem to be getting the better of the legal system. So many of them go scot-free thanks to the loopholes in the law that allows them to escape even death on the strength of trivial technicalities and a smart lawyer!
So let’s continue to switch channels and hide the newspapers while scouting round for meaningful and beautiful nursery rhymes and tales for our children.