Monday, 21 July 2014

Which story will you tell your daughter tonight?

"Tell me a story, Mummy" she will say at bedtime, her eyes still wide open, her tiny fingers holding on to your hand, the night lamp still darting shadows on the childish paintings that adorn her bedroom walls. Paintings of rainbows, of butterflies, of a Sun that shines over a small house, stick figures of a family with smiling, happy faces.

Yes, a story. You want to tell her stories of bravery, of dreams, of reaching for the impossible and finding her true self. All that you want her to achieve. You want to tell her a story about the rainbow and the sunlight, about the Sun that shines brightly as she hopskotches her way onto her shiny dreams.

But then there is another story you need to tell her. A story about darkness and a cloud called bad touch, that rains only in the dark shadows where evil awaits wearing masks that she may not recognize - a relative, a helper, a cleaner, a neighbour. Someone she trusts. Someone she has seen everyday. Yet someone who could blacken the rainbow forever. Who could turn her brightly colored paintings into splashes of black and red in an instant.

It is a story that is probably being shared by millions of parents to their children in homes across India tonight even as the latest Bangalore rape reminds us again of the monsters that lurk beneath the faces we see everyday and the utter fear and the utter helplessness that we feel as parents.

Which story will you tell her? How can she be brave if you ask her to be scared?  How can we say we are free if we are worried sick every moment our children are away from us in schools, in daycares, in the very places that are supposed to nurture them and guide them?

How can we answer their innocent questions?

"Is touching on the shoulder ok, Mama?" "Or on the leg?"

"Are we safe outside school?"

"Why are bad people allowed in the school?"

One incident. Many questions. Are we brave enough to answer them for our children? Will we again forget till the next incident comes back to haunt us? How can we tell them the right stories, make them continue to paint in the bright colours that is their right as children?

I am a mother. I have a daughter. And I want to hold her hand and show her the stars, help her paint her dreams in myriad hues of imagination. I do not want her to cower in fear, afraid of lurking shadows at every corner. I am a mother. I want my daughter to be safe. Is that too much to ask for?

So yes, I will tell her a story tonight. A story of rainbows and the Sun that shines over all the dark clouds. Tonight and every single night till no monsters can even lurk near her dreams.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Bookworm Gardens and Tall Tales

Far away from the addictive laddoos of Chotta Bheem, far away from the flashing screens of the iPad, far away from the digital world that is increasingly locking our children and possibly their imaginations too, there lies another magical world that sets them free, a world of books. At a time when they and their imaginations should both be running free and wild in the meadows of childhood, scraping their knees, falling down, but experiencing the sheer joy of running without fear; a lot of todays' children are unfortunately ignoring the magical world that can shape their minds, increase their vocabulary, widen their horizons and indeed, paint a whole new world.

A world that a lot of us parents wish our children to enter into as we keep taking them to bookshops and buying the latest stories that seem to be firing their imagination from Wimpy Kids' wimpy antics to Geronimo Sliton's scaredy mouse habits. But it is a world that is increasingly becoming difficult for our children to comprehend and understand given the explosion of other media that is blinding them with their bright colors and jazzy images as they stand transfixed, lost, as if admiring candies in a candy store but unable to make up their minds.

Yes, we read them bed-time tales, yes there are storytelling sessions nowadays which encourage creativity and reading habits in children. But they all seem to be fighting a losing battle as bookstore sales drop and library memberships dwindle and children wrinkle their noses at classics and fairy tales as if they were poisons similar to another forced dose of carrots or banana.

And then I read about this. Bookworm Gardens. 

Located in Wisconsin, a DisneyWorld to a booklover, the park, which has free entrance for all, is a place where children and their imaginations can roam free, in a world of classic stories and much loved tales brought to life creatively and humorously. A packed lunch and a day to roam free with stories and imaginations. That is what the park offers.

We may not have such a luxury here. But we do have farms and parks, gardens and myriad lost, old stories that lurk in the everyday mundane. Can we not use them to create such a beautiful world for our children through storytelling; can we not picturize for them a world full of the greatest riches and boundless pleasures, a world locked between the covers of the old pages of a book, a world which only they have the magic key to open, when they finally flip the covers open?

A confirmed bookworm I am for sure, my world shaped by the books I have read since childhood and the new ones that I hope to read everyday. But after all, John Lenon did say, "You may say I am a dreamer, but I am not the only one."

If more and more parents, try painting this picture, our children too will rediscover the magic of books all over again. Till then we may as well cower in fear as the screechy sirens of the Chotta Bheem theme song threatens to invade sanity.