Saturday, December 24, 2011

Penguins In Space and Other Lessons

By Gaurav Parab

I was wrong about burying every kid that calls me Uncle under a pile of Barney Dinosaurs. Spending time with my young nephews proved there is more to children than messy noses, out of control tummies, and high pitched screams that made one wish that every child was but a Sponge Bob square pants wax statue at Tussads. Dhruv and Yash taught me that some kids are way too brilliant to be wasted by the act of growing up. The two boys dished out the following lessons we can do well to learn.

1) Kids remind us of what we were and what we can be

Most readers of this blog are at the cruel age of relentless compromises with our dreams. Some of us, still clueless about our calling, are learning one thing at a time what we do not want to be. We are dream thrashing machines. One way a dream enters, the other side it comes out crushed. The process is rapid and we don’t even realize the creative journey of hope and imagination that we once undertook so often.

Dhruv is five and Yash is three. Yash’s ambition in life is to tell everyone “You are funny” and then break out into man giggles. Dhruv has a better plan. He wants to be an astronaut. It could be a fleeting fad or something concrete. But today he knows what he wants to be. He is not overwhelmed by his dream.

Dhruv took my hand, asked me to sit and started the reverse countdown. When he saw Yash still stuck at mission control with his magic wand (a toothbrush or pencil depending on the day of the week) he shouted at his younger brother to come aboard the spacecraft. And we were off on a wonderful journey. While I only saw a packet of half eaten chips (tummy growl) and a bunch of sofas looking with fright at an orange false ceiling – Dhruv saw planets, stars, galaxies, and aliens. As he described the scene and the two young ones got immersed in their space man spiff fantasy – I could not help but feel sorry for myself. I could not see what they were seeing. Was it a sudden event, or a gradual de-evolution? When did I lose my imagination? It must have been the saddest day in my life.

Gone are the days when I could see things that were not there.

2) Straight talk, no bull shit.

Kids get to the point faster than adults. If they want to be fed, they let it be known they want to be fed. If they want to do PP, they declare it to the entire world. When their business is done, you want to make sure you are miles away – for they will shout from the toilet that they are done and they expect you to come and clean their bum bum. Their bum bum! They show it proudly, even if they have a rash on it.

If adults talked as straight as kids did, we would have a boring yet peaceful world. Language would be restricted to its functional aspects, and diplomats and politicians will be packed off to where they belong - to deep space, with the planets, stars, and aliens.

We should learn plain speak from kids and not show our bum bums.

3) Dig Deeper – there are layers to everything

The ability to talk straight should not be confused with limited intelligence. The truth is kids are smarter than adults; they just don’t feel the need to show it. They question even after receiving answers. They manage to reach the core issue in a conversation better than any adult can. They are not ashamed to ask questions, no matter how stupid it might sound.

We were driving and Dhruv saw the larger than life cutouts of politicians that Pune is famous for. The road was surrounded by these cutouts and banners – each wishing each other Happy Birthday in cutout language. Each having the picture of men so ugly and so menacing that it is important that their face be put on another cutout two feet away. Even for a child on his first visit to India – Dhruv sensed these people were trouble. As an African guide once described a Cheetah to me “Bwana, he is one with bad habits”

Dhruv had a question. “Gaurav Mama, who are these people?” he pointed at the cutout.

“They are goondas” I replied.

“You mean bad people?” Dhruv’s eyes went wide.

The Indian in me awoke. I wanted to defend these goondas against this good looking five year old child from New Jersey. So what if they are goondas, they are my Indian goondas. “Not they are not bad people” I reply.

“So why did you call them goondas?”

His Hindi was better than previously expected. I tried to distract him by making a King Kong face and beating my chest. “There are no bad people in India” I said and felt a surge of pride run through my chest. I saw images of Anna Hazaare and Sunny Deol in Hero – The love story of a spy flash past my eyes.

“You mean there are no bad people in India?” Dhruv asked.

“Yes, India is a wonderful country. There are no bad people here”.

Dhruv was not satisfied. Hesitantly, as if he knew that this conversation will end with me looking like a fool, he asked, “So, if there are no bad people, why is there police in India?”

Kids. They are one question ahead of you. I do the right thing. I beat my chest again and scream King Kong.

The point is, adults have forgotten to ask questions. The practice of questioning status quo is reduced to a fancy management practice called the five Ws. That’s about it. We never ask Why to our boss, because we are afraid not of the answer but of the repercussion, we never ask why not to our friends because we are afraid of hurting feelings, and we never ask Why cant we have a road without potholes because people with bad habits are running this country.

4) Going up the slide

Yash is three years old. He is positive, charming, and always on the lookout for hugs from beautiful women. I was playing with him in the park. Afraid that the rides were too big for Yash, I asked him to start small. He went through every slide, swing and roundabout till only the big Yellow Slide was left unchallenged. Naturally, Yash wanted to have a go at it. Before I could stop him, he went up the steps and was zooming down with a smile on his face. Next, he wanted to climb the wall that led up the same slide. It was clear that the wall was too big for him. But he labored and finally scaled it. There was nothing left in the park to do. He looked around – half triumphant half disappointed. And then he said,

“GOYAV MAMA, I want to go the other way”

“What other way?” I asked.

“I want to go like this” and then he went up to the slipper slide and started climbing it. Every time he slipped and came back down he laughed harder and his eyes became more determined. And then, he scaled his Everest from the South Side.

When was the last time we pushed ourselves and went up the slide?

5) Every word Means Something

Kids ramble a lot. In the dust and grease of all the small talk, adults lose the significance of their words. I learnt that every single word that a child says has some meaning. They are not random as they may appear at first.

We were on a roundabout in the park. Dhruv was inside one of his space fantasies and describing the things he could see. “Gaurav Mama, I can see planets, stars, galaxies…blackholes” ( I crossed my fingers, praying he does not ask the question about how black holes are formed)

‘That’s great” I said, distracted. My attention was on Yash who was using his magic wand to start a revolution of the swings against the slides.

“But Gaurav Mama” Dhruv said, “I see something that does not belong in space”

“Sure” I replied and continued observing Yash. “Gaurav mama, I see something that does not belong in space”

“What do you see Dhruv?”

“I see a Penguin” and Dhruv smiled.

I had no idea what he was talking about. We started back for home. About a fifty yards from the park, I stopped in my tracks. Staring back at me was a Penguin.

It was a dustbin shaped like a Penguin. I turned back at Dhruv who nodded and looked at the park. The only thing visible was the roundabout. He was not kidding. Dhruv had seen a Penguin from space, and naturally he was disturbed about it.

If only adults were as expressive in their choice of words, every one of them would be worth a beautiful moment.

I am closing this piece with an appeal to stop the act of growing up as fast as possible. We don’t have any time to lose. Being a kid is far more fun than being software programmers, fighter pilots, superstars, and writers. Seriously.

When we are kids we are only restricted by our imagination. Those were the days, oh yes those were the days.

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Anonymous said...

A Child's innocence & imagination knows no boundary :-)

Loved the write-up!

Monali Churi said...

notions of childhood have been beautifully crafted, giving thoughtful ideas...loved it..

Neha said...

We all need to learn a lot from kids..nicely written...