Thursday, January 03, 2008


The other day, we went to a nearby park with little Biyadiya. This one, near my house, is frequented by all nearby kids, including kids from nearby construction sites who do not know any language other than Tamil. It is a great experience to watch all these kids treating one another as just playmates, no strings attached.

That evening, there were two kids, who were evidently Muslims. The boy was young, five or six years old, with a skullcap on. The girl was slightly older, and wearing a worked-on red churidar. Both of them were conversing in Urdu. Now there are three slides in the park, one for big kids and two that are more toddler-friendly. While my little one is not scared of slides, he is usually reluctant to actually slide. This girl held him while he slid down, like the protective elder sister. The boy then tried to climb up the slide, but his big toe got stuck in a hole on the slide (did I mention that this park is maintained by the BDA?). He started crying. R tried to take his toe out, but it was stuck tight. The girl then cried "arey, Allah ka naam le ke nikaalo, aa jayega!". After some struggle, the toe came out, and everybody was happy.

I was amazed at the girl's maturity. She was helping kids onto swings and merry-go-rounds, held on to little Biyadiya because he was not comfortable sliding down the slide. She was but only slightly older than the boy, but had already taken on the role of a nurturer, a person who was capable of comforting others. One may say that girls are wired that way, but this one was extraordinary. She was far too intelligent, nay, mature for her age. What would she grow up to be? Would she grow up to be a Benazir Bhutto or a Taslima Nasreen? I wondered about the boy, too. Would he look up to his sister as he did now? And the other kids - would they (including my son) treat these two kids as somehow different when they grew up? I, an adult with reasonable sensitivity and intelligence, was thinking so much about the girl just because she was a muslim. This, in spite of knowing about cases of women-abuse in my own community!

Now, before people start accusing me of looking at people with colored glasses, let me make it clear that I have had, and still have muslim friends. And I think that it was much easier for us to befriend people from other religions, than it is for today's kids. Some boundaries are vanishing, but other, more unsurpassable boundaries are rising.

The truth hit me hard when we listened to some older children (probably 10-12 years old) talking in another park. One was asking another "Hey, what caste is yours?". When we were young, we were taught that asking about another's caste was wrong. I am definitely going to teach my children the same thing, but with so many divisive forces around us, is it possible?


Aram said...

"One may say that girls are wired that way,...." You said it before I was about to say the same thought.

Remember Sharbat Gula, the National Geographic's Afghan Girl with the captivating eyes and what she became after 17 long years?

Wonder if your muslim girl will become a Sania Mirza or another Sharbat Gula! Guess that would depend upon the kind of education she is given. Saddening to see such tremendous leadership potential going to waste.

But then, the qualities you see in a child mostly vanish with childhood itself. My kid when he was a Biyadiya was very playful, naughty, and always full of mirth. Now, he is the exact opposite.

(Sharbat Gula is a Pashtun...It is said of the Pashtun that they are only at peace when they are at war...)

ಹಂಸಾನಂದಿ Hamsanandi said...

"When we were young, we were taught that asking about another's caste was wrong."

True - I was raised that way too. There has been a change in the values, unfortunately for the worse :(

turanga said...

On the other hand, people from even older generations ( I am thinking of D.V.G., Masti, Gorur and G. P. Rajaratnam) used to unabashedly ask new acquaintences what their castes were. Knowledge of caste (language, place of origin, relatives, friends, ...) used to provide them with a lot of their backgrounds.

Anonymous said...

For one, girls are certainly wired that way. Plus, girls mentally mature so much earlier than the boys - it has plusses and minuses. In this country, a lot of minuses actually.

Yep, I can't ever recall asking anyone what their caste was. As I grew older, some of that became quite obvious by the food they eat, and language they speak.

I agree with Aram that most of the times we lose our childhood qualities and transform into complete opposites. Environment plays it's part to a certaind degree. Me, for example, was so silent, quiet and the most obedient kid....Yeah, I am telling the truth :) Look at me now....I can't close my mouth for one second!!!

parijata said...

The NG article makes a very sad reading. The beautiful, innocent girl transformed into a woman with a hard mouth. But her eyes retain their beauty, don't they? I hope this bright girl I met becomes an achiever and does not go the way of Sharbat Gula (she actually said in an interview that Taliban's rule was good for Afghanistan because it gave stability after Soviet invasion!).

Only at peace when they are at war - that's a nice way to describe somebody. Some years ago, I had read a novel about Russia's invasion of Afghanistan, and it was really an eye-opener. The women in the book seemed so liberated. But of course, it was before the Taliban took over.

What you say about qualities changing over time, is very true. I was the shy, silent child, but now I am a lot more talkative (but not so much as DS, I think :D).

Values have changed, certainly for the worse. We choose to follow the letter of the law and never the intent of the law, and that is the cause of this degeneration.

True. One's caste revealed a lot about oneself (Food habits, philosophical inclination, etc) during those days. But why would 10-12 year-olds of the present generation ask acquaintances about their castes? I am all for following sampradaaya, but things like religion and caste and other such aspects of one's background should never enter certain areas, like the playground and school.

I really cannot believe that you used to be silent! :) I have become more talkative after growing up, too.

Agree with what you say. But sometimes I wonder if girls are brought up to be more mature. A girl has to help with siblings because she has to take care of her children in future. And she has to learn to be accommodating so that she adjusts well in her in-laws' house, in future. I hope I am not sounding like a feminist, but I cringe whenever somebody tells my little son "yaako ninage ee karma", when he is playing with pots and pans. But I am going off-topic (as usual!)

Coming to caste, yes, sometimes it is obvious. But I guess that at that age, we never used to care about our playmates' castes.

suptadeepti said...

Being a little older than you lot, I too don't remember asking any of my classmates' cast. We grew up in cities where there were quite strong Hindu-Muslim clashes time to time. Even then, we- my brothers and myself had a few muslim friends and also SC-ST friends in our band wagon. Their socio-economic status was never a problem for us (though it was an issue for some friends of mine).

Changing our nature as we grow... Yes, thats mostly due to the environment that we are brought up, with the kind of feedback that we recieve for our actions. These feedback need not be very explicite, verbal ones. Children observe a lot more that we think, and as kids we did the same thing too. We learn a lot from our surroundings and shape ourselves.

Girls maturing early with nurturing nature... no comments on that. Its all said here already.

mouna said...

It is still possible, as long as u believe in it.

frankly, i like the way u address your kid 'biyadiya'. whether u want to reveal the real name or not, is your choice. i read this word long back in a hindi novel(it's english translate), and had fallen in love with it. you remind me of it.

thanks :D

Aram said...

If your post and the comments inspire you to focus on how best to help Biyadiya retain the best of his childhood even in his full blossom adulthood, then you will have succeeded in creating a fine human. Only a great mother can do it. Good Luck.

Kodi's Mom said...

thx for visiting my blog and for the wishes! we have to compare notes! :)

parijata said...

Sorry for replying so late.

Agree with you. And I just loved your poem on Chitrakavana.

My kid's name has four syllables, and is a little difficult to pronounce. 'Biyadiya' is what he used to say when asked his name, a few months ago. Now he tells his name almost clearly. Thanks.

Thanks a lot for the wishes.

@Kodi's Mom,
Thanks for stopping by. Yes, we need to compare notes!