02 October 2015

There's a kite and a dolls' house in every adult

Pic courtesy lionsclubs.org
As I wrote the world was celebrating ‘Children’s Day’. By the time you read this, the world would have lapsed into its usual childless state of being, i.e. if child were giant today in terms of media presence tomorrow, when you read this, child would have diminished to the usual dimensions of neglect, abuse, irrelevance, manipulation and prop and symbol of adult design. 

As you read this, ‘child’ would have reverted to being easy proxy for ‘future’, a politician’s toy, a parent’s alibi for doing the wrong thing or not doing the right thing, the proverbial puvak gediya (Areca Nut) caught in a parental giraya (nut cracker) and so on. 

That’s the story of ‘days’, children’s day included. Talk. Lip service. Photo ops. 

Promises. And when the clock strikes midnight Cinderella has to get back into kitchen rags and unlike in the fairytale there is no fairy godmother and Prince Charming doesn’t turn up looking for a non-existent shoe. 

So, as you read this, you might as well reflect on the hypocrisy of days and the lies we tell ourselves, our vanity as a species and in this particular instance our utter complicity in the child-abusing projects of fellow adults. 

There is something else we can do. We can look for children. We can look for a single child in a way that makes us see all children, understand their world and engage with them in far more useful, nurturing, caring and fulfilling ways not just on the first day of October in the years we have left but everyday from now until death. Let me explain by way of anecdote. 

About 20 years ago in the middle of a huge argument with my father I snapped at him, ‘you are talking nonsense Appachchi; you must have reached your second childhood!’ 

Children do that some times. They feel they have a special license to say nasty things to their parents or at least threw ‘looks’ at them they would not dare toss at anyone else. 

Parents have their own way of dealing with insolence. Being imperfect they sometimes err, but by and large they handle things well, teaching all the time, nurturing and protecting even as they chide or retort in like manner. 

My father didn’t have a fixed methodology. His instrument was the word. He obtained variation in speed of delivery, tone, pitch, volume, length and substance. 

On this occasion he said slowly and softly, ‘children are innocent’. I felt bested but also humbled, educated and loved. I said nothing. The argument ended. 
Innocent smile 

I think part of the problem is that we see children as being ‘external’ and not as being a part of who we are. No, I am not referring to one’s own child/children, for that is a category where ownership is felt, certified, affirmed, jealously guarded and flaunted. I’ve wondered how it is that we don’t generally notice the dancing eyes of a little girl within the wrinkle-encircled eyes of an old woman. I’m sure that people see a child swinging a school bag in the gaze of a lover and have wondered why we fail to see child in those who look at someone else in like manner or do things that are irrelevant to us. 

It is fascinating to look at a child and extrapolate; project possible image 30 years hence. It is fascinating to imagine the worry lines that would someday materialize in the happy and incorruptible face of an infant. The reverse is no less fascinating. 

Look at the face of the first adult you see after reading this. Check if you can see kite and dolls’ house, soiled school clothes and tousled hair, stick-figures and the charm of polgedi akuru (large, untidy, ‘ill-crafted’ letters), demand and dismay, the most innocent smile and the uncontrollable sob and the mother’s milk fragrance that obliterates all. Do you wonder how and why children who fall over adult traps themselves trip little children when they grow up? Do you realize you are as much a ‘tripper’ as the tripper who got your heart-knees bruised when you were a kid? That’s one set of questions. I believe there’s another set of questions and consideration of these I believe are what would have made it possible for my father to ‘adult’ me and simultaneously ‘child’ me with that observation, ‘children are innocent’. Here goes? 

Have you looked in the mirror of mind, heart and memory and even that glass-thing in your bedroom or toilet and found a little child look back at you? Was the child wearing the clothes you loved most but your mother thought were too soiled and frayed to be worn outside the house? Was the child’s cheeks shining with joy or tear-stained? Did you realize that the only thing that’s changed is the names of the toys you want and play with, break and repair, take apart to see how they work and put together in ways that no one every believed was possible and that the joy, though never envisaged, was no less magical and so too the sorrow of dispossession? 

There are two children yearning for recognition and love. One outside, trapped in an adult world and another within, trapped in an adult body. I am thinking that the liberation of both constitute the objective preconditions for the full flowering of the human potential.

First published in the Daily News under the title 'International Adult Day yesterday but it need not be so' exactly 5 years ago, October 2, 2010.