The anxiety with respect to teachers, parents, textbooks and exams…
The joy of the 3 o’clock bell, when we dispersed from school, to run home, and to break free from a world we didn’t understand…
The joy of finally teaming up with friends, and experiencing freedom in its most absolute form-
The freedom to run, jump, bake in the sun, drench in the rain, soak in mud…
The freedom to be a child.
We grew up in the outdoors, in the sun and the rain. Our toys were simple, and in any case, they were only accessories.
We dreamt ardently- of owning a hoop or a catapult or a tricycle, and we would fantasize over it day and night, as if that was the ultimate goal in our life.
Holi, Diwali, and Christmas were all special, because holidays signified unrestricted freedom. We would break loose from our homes early in the morning, and celebrate our togetherness with colors and crackers and cakes.
Childhood, to me, was a perpetual celebration of togetherness and freedom.
It was an effort to let go of ‘Swami’, and to get back to myself. But when I finally did, I realized that we were fortunate with respect to childhood. It might have been a bit of an ‘urban childhood’, but it was far from being a ‘technological childhood’.
Today, childhood has a completely new dimension.
My colleague’s son was only an year old, when the computer made an entry into his little world. He was fascinated by the gadget, and this fascination turned into an obsession. To the extent that the child lost interest in his physical environment.Over the next couple of years, when he should probably have been growing up amidst his grandparents’ love and pampering, amidst other children, amidst his parents’ care and attention, in a world of stories and pets and parks, he grew up with a machine. His parents reveled in his computer skills, until the teacher at his playschool identified a subtle speech deficit in him. A visit to the paediatrician confirmed a speech deficit, predominantly with respect to comprehension. Inadequate environmental stimulation and communication were identified as part of the contributory factors. In the subsequent months, the child was subjected to an overdose of speech therapy, and it was agonizing for the parents.
A documentary comes to my mind. A girl child, with her tresses uncombed, falling on her shoulders, sitting by a pond studded with water lilies. There is silence around her, and that serenity is reflected in her being. She dreams as she plays with a water lily, and nature caresses her in its lap.
In stark contrast is the picture of a boy who sits in his room, playing a game on the computer. The room echoes with noise, as the boy fires bullets in the game. There is something profoundly disturbing in the contrast between the two scenes.
Somewhere along the line, childhood moved from the outdoors into the confines of a room. A child now grows up within the four walls of his room. There are stress lines on his face, as he desperately tries to fit into the world. He goes to school with a heavy burden on his shoulders. The 3 o’clock bell is no longer exciting, because he has to rush for tuitions.
In the emptiness of his plush apartment, he finds solace in machines and gadgets. There is an entire spectrum to choose from. He grows up with gadgets. He develops technical skills at the expense of emotional intelligence, at the expense of artistic creativity. He struggles at all his relationships, and battles with stress in his day to day life, unable to deal with the pressures. Relationships break and marriages fail.
And my mind wanders back to the little girl by the pond, feeling her peace, her contentment, her joy…