Saturday, August 22, 2015
Once at the bookstore in Rangashankara (Bangalore) I found a children's book on trees filled with amazing, highly stylized illustrations (in the style of old fresco paintings) and with actual twigs, flowers and leaves pressed in each page along with seeds that the child could pick out and plant. It was a small book just 10-15 pages made of beautifully-textured, natural-dyed recycled paper and rather expensive (Rs. 600/- I think). For a parent who is looking for a lot of pages filled with 'good, relevant, value-added' stories this may look like a bad deal. Of course, it had no mention of how to succeed in life, it didn't glorify purposefulness or busy-ness, it has no story of ambitious, morally-sound characters conquering larger-than-life bad guys after going on a series of adventures.
The idea behind the book was slowness, of cultivating the art of listening and observing, of perceiving what is beyond the peripheral and to help one live a profoundly enriching, cultured life appreciating art, the aesthetics of color, texture, history and the natural world. One had to delve into and dwell on each page - spend time meandering over the illustrations, the mouth-watering descriptions, touch the reverently placed pressed leaves and then plant the seeds.
None of the parents who walked by wanted to buy that book although many children became engrossed in the beautiful colours and textures. They simply asked the kids to 'keep it back' and when the shop assistant tried to get them interested in buying the book, they commented on how the book is so short. I was surprised to find a lot of parents saying the same identical statement:'Oh, who has the time for all this? S/he will finish it in 2 minutes and I want something that will keep him/her quiet for hours. S/he should watch some cartoons'.
I wondered on the society's preoccupation with parenthood and shaming married adults who are not parents as selfish, lazy individuals. And here I witness parenthood as a troublesome phase that one has to overcome by somehow making the kid study for a series of exams and keep him occupied during free-time with numerous passive-entertainments until childhood somehow passes by and then push him into a world were you are measured based on your monetary success. Even when it is not studies, every other interest (sports, music, art) is encouraged with the intention of making him participate in competitions and win prizes. Any alternate suggestion is furiously attacked. Offense is the best defense apparently. Economically well-off parents simply say 'Who has the time?", "He won't be interested" or "But he has to study." Middle-class parents come up with melodramatic statements, "We are thankful that we can at least send him to school" and even "It is easy for you to say, one day you will be in our position" The solution is so evident, it is sometimes right there in their indignant retorts. I am be generalizing here, but for the crowd who usually comes to Rangashankara, Rs. 600 may not be such a staggering amount, a bit less than one family dinner in a reasonable restaurant.
A little time to spare, a little imagination, a step back into your own childhood, and what a world you will unfold for your child! And such an exquisite, priceless thing to own and cherish for years! It is time to do things for the fun of it. To encourage a sweaty, exhilarating day in a park than in front of a TV, to watch interesting documentaries and children's movies from around the world than an endless feed of sexist, offensive, consumerist programs, to learn an instrument so that she can compose her own music rather than to participate in youth festivals or show-off to relatives, to draw from dreams, to develop an engaging hobby, to collect things, love a pet, to follow seemingly 'scopeless' but soul-satisfying career paths, to understand a kind of happiness which is not in buying cars and owning houses but is eating a perfect little meal, discovering and buying a rare book or having a peaceful sleep every day.
Eventually a middle-aged man bought the book, the shop-assistant eagerly said "Your kids will love the book". To which he replied, "Oh, I don't have kids. But I adore such books."