When middle school children were introduced to R K Narayan’s book “Swami and His Friends.” it was astonishing to note that they were not able to relate to the stories at all. No, it is not just about urban kids, even girls and boys from small towns were unable to identify themselves, empathise or laugh with or at Swami and his friends.
It is hard to believe that we as a country have changed so much in just about half a century. When we make a conscious effort to list the similarities between the past and present, the basic facts remain pretty much the same. We are still following the system of education left behind by the British.
The premium is still laid on learning English and being tutored in the English medium schools has not lost momentum. The children get to study the same six or seven subjects with a syllabus that is altered with times. Learners have to take up tests and examinations based on the prescribed books to prove their worth and go on to the next academic level.
When we compare the emotional and intelligence quotient of children in the past and present we find that it operates in inverse proportion. True, children are well informed and intelligent today compared to the earlier generations.
Yet when it comes to happiness and carefree attitude, they fail to measure up to children of previous decades. Even tiny tots who attend pre nursery and montessori classes are being subjected to a lot of stress. Not only do they have to perform well, but they need to clear interviews at esteemed schools to gain admission.
Then the mammoth responsibility of taking care of oneself from preying paedophiles is thrust on them. The ugly truth about the big bad world out there to devour their innocence is slowly but surely injected into their radar of understanding.
Children who instinctively attract a hug, kiss or a pat because of their cuteness now have to evaluate the affection shown to them in terms of good touch or a bad touch.
Gone are the days when young ones could be showered with candies and sweets at
the drop of a hat. A health check up in the school would amount to checking the height weight and sometimes the eyesight of the child.
However, nowadays, children happen to be bearing the brunt of lifestyle diseases for no fault of theirs. Juvenile diabetics, thyroid issues, obesity, asthma, a host of pollution related allergies and even cancer have stepped into the world of youngsters. They cannot enjoy a meal let alone junk food without caution.
Joys of ganging up
Unlike the past, children these days are usually loners either by choice or because the ones they want to associate with prefer being alone. They have one or two and sometimes no siblings to share their toys, clothes and books with.
Moreover, parents who can afford the money ensure that their child does not crave for anything. They seem to be totally unaware of the joys of ganging up to climb up trees and steal fruits, play “I spy” or hopscotch because lessons in being careful have far outweighed lessons on solidarity.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons why children these days are a cleaner lot than their parents were at their age because they only play games on the touch screen when they are not sweating at their studies.
Those who do care for physical activities hardly find playgrounds or parks near their homes and there are also times when they do not have playmates because everyone is busy trying to ace the rat race.
The few who do indulge in sports and athletics do it with a definite aim of making it big; hence the slightest downfall or failure to win makes them turn to drugs or depression.
We cannot expect kids who have inherited an overtly exploited planet riddled with natural calamities and terrorism to be cherubic angels in folk tales and fairy tales. They are dealing with life as directed by their parents, guardians, society and system at large. Hence, it is not their fault if they could not appreciate Swami and his friends.
Nevertheless, it is in our hand to steer them clear from becoming contrite and contrived instead of becoming conscientious and constructive citizens in future.