21 November 2014

Still looking for that secret passage?*

Many believe that the world is made of secrets.  One reason for this is that we are not born knowing everything.  There’s so much we don’t know.  The moment we recognize this, we start getting curious. 

We want to know stuff.  We want to know the names of things we encounter for the first time.  We want to know what’s special about these things.  We want to know why water flows downwards, what keeps stars from falling, why the moon changes its shape every night, what moves the clouds, why ants ‘kiss’ and so on.  Some questions are answered for us and some answers we figure out on our own.  We never stop.  Curiosity is a constant companion throughout our lives.  Questions find ways of getting into our heads. 

Maybe it is this knowledge that there’s so much out there we don’t know about that makes us believe in fairies, angels, miracles, genie-lamps and kisses that turn frogs into princes and princesses.  We read about these things and we want to know if it’s all true.  We read about secret passages, mysterious caves, rocks that move when we whisper a password in a language we have never heard and mirrors that take us to strange lands.  We look for them.  We see or enter an old house and we immediately wonder what secrets it holds. 

The truth is that there are many secret passages in the houses we live in, the places we visit and the gardens we wander around.  They are not like anything we read about in books or see in movies though. 

I know a father whose daughters insisted that he relate ‘a new story’ at bedtime every night.  This was in addition to reading one or two of their favorite stories.  Both wanted a new story, so he had to come up with two.  The younger one had just wanted to be on par with the sister so all he had to do was to think up some characters with names and make up a short story which ended with a ‘happily ever after’.  It would take all of one minute.  The older one wasn’t satisfied with that.  Names weren’t enough.  The characters had to have important roles to play.  The story had to be interesting and not like anything she had heard or read before.  The younger one, with time caught up with her sister. 

‘I want a loooooong story.  It can’t be an old story.  Everyone has to be new.  And you can’t send people on a loooong journey just to make the story seem to be long,’ she said. 

After a few days the father’s imagination failed him.  He couldn’t think of new stories or new characters.  He desperately wanted to be a good father and make sure his little girls went to bed happy.    He thought of what he found most interesting as a child.  He remembered libraries and book shelves. He remembered old books which smelled strange and mysterious.  He didn’t think his daughters would be interested.
Then he thought of books.  Story books.  Picture-stories.  Encyclopedias.  So he made it rain.

‘It was a rainy day.  Actually it had rained for three days in a row.  Our little friends, Lady Bug-Bug and Lady Bug-Bee couldn’t go out and play.  They had spent two whole days exploring the house.  They hadn’t found any secret passages.  There was only the “Book Room”.  Boring.  They had nothing to do so in desperation they went into the “Book Room”.   All the books were either old or big.  They couldn’t find any picture-stories.

‘”Maybe there’s a secret chamber inside one of the big books,” Lady Bug-Bug said, remembering a story where someone hid a precious ring inside a small space created by carefully cutting up the center of about 50 pages. 

‘”That’s only in story books!’ Lady Bug-Bee said and added, ‘It is not nice to cut up books!’

‘They decided it won’t hurt to look.  So they picked up the biggest book.  An encyclopedia.  They opened it to a random page.  It was a page that had a picture of glaziers.  They had never seen one and they were amazed.  Immediately they found themselves in another world.  A world of glaziers.  It was cold but they found they were wearing warm clothing and covered from head to toe.’ 

And so, this father found that he could take the two characters to any country he liked and get them to talk about things they saw, the people they met, the customs and traditions that amazed them and create some situation which they wanted to escape from.  Back to the library and familiar surroundings. 

So there’s nothing wrong in looking for secret passages and mysterious caves.  But while you wait for miracles, you could pick up a random book and if you are amazed by what you see and read, you can go to amazing people and meet amazing people.  There’s a secret passage close to you.  It won’t harm to explore. 

* This is the eighth article in a series I am writing for the JEANS section of 'The Nation'.  The series is for children, adults consider yourselves warned! :)

Other articles in this series
How would you paint the sky?
It is cool to slosh around
You can compose your own music
Pebbles are amazing things
You can fly if you want to
The happiest days of our lives
So what do you want to do with the rain?