The bus stop at Mohanpur en route Midnapore town is right beside a big field which, according to the seasons, and the different festivities typical of Indian seasons, serves as a venue for Puja Pandals, club football, cultural programmes and political rallies. This winter morning it dressed up in pretty colourful paper flags and bright big balloons to host the annual sports of the local primary school. The kids of the primary, in their freshly pressed school uniforms and clean socks and shoes added even more colour to the usually bleak vastness, and believe you me, when I say, that the winter morning haze was momentarily lifted and the sight painted bright.
The bus, in which I was travelling, was typically overcrowded, and the passengers were squabbling over seats and standing spaces, as is usual in crowded Indian public conveyances. The moment the bus stopped at Mohanpur and the people’s faces were turned in the direction of the sound of cheers and applause, the abrupt change in the countenance of the quarreling and bickering mass, astounded me. And I swear I wasn’t imagining things.
People, who were moments before crying murder, smiled wide and looked, dewy eyed, at the unblemished mirth and gaiety cheering the chilly morning air. People on the other side of the bus, away from the field, left their seats to get a glimpse and smile. The oppressive atmosphere inside the bus lightened in a snap and, for one moment, we all were back in our schooldays, back at a time when having much fun was never enough.
Instantly, I felt sad. No, not because of any pathological ‘kill-joy’ or ‘fusspot’ syndrome; because I caught a glimpse of a sour looking school master, frowning heavily and threatening to ruin the magic of the merry morning with a thunderous roar. And he proved I was suspecting right, by roughly jerking a little runner into the starting line. The perfect picture was dented by one man who, perhaps, because of troubles at work or home or both, stood out as a poisonous thorn, ruining pristine pleasures of all petite participants, winners and losers alike. And I realized, we grown-ups, all of us, mostly, are supreme spoilsports.
Growing up is essentially accumulating unnecessary baggage, the burden of which turns us abrasive. And negative emotions typically follow the course of gravity; hence the ill treatment of subordinates, abuse of children and torture of dependent women. There are scores of instances of inappropriate treatment of children at the hands of their teachers, in Bengal and in India, from last year. And if you have read the news, you would know that in some cases, the teachers became extremely imaginative, while punishing the children. The offending teachers would perhaps say in their defense that they were encouraging creativity. Yes, they were, if they were tutoring Attila and Chengiz Khan.
Think of the unreported cases of child abuse at school. Add to that the abuse of children at home. Shivers one’s timbers, doesn’t it? And in most cases the punishment is inappropriate of the crime committed. I am not a proponent of overindulgence, mind you. But there’s this quote attributed to Rabindranath, regarding punishment, which I believe in, thoroughly. It says
“শুন হে জগদানন্দ দাদা,
গাধারে পিটিলে হয়না অশ্ব,
অশ্বে পিটিলে হয় যে গাধা। ”
Translated it means, “Brother Jagadananda, you might beat a donkey as much as you want, it shall still not change into a horse. But keep beating and bullying a horse, and it shall surely turn into an ass”. The implied meaning deals with misplaced expectations and suppression of true potential by constant harsh treatment. Legend has it that this was quoted to a tyrannical teacher at Vishwabharati by Rabindranath in an attempt to change the former’s abusive methods of teaching mathematics to his students. Irony is, such abusive treatment of school kids is still being reported from Tagore’s own Shantiniketan.
Children make mistakes. Children may often wreck havoc. But there is always a source from where they learn such behavior. Cruelest of punishments merely prune the poison ivy. Uprooting, needs care and patience, and above all, examples set forth to follow. And that last bit is becoming steadily rare; but it is the bit that makes all the difference. We cannot expect today’s children to be paradigms of civility when we ourselves present our worst manners, cruelest intentions, repugnant atrociousness and arrogant self-centeredness as examples before our kids. And then, we cannot punish them for imitating our actions.
Even more, our children are not responsible for the burden of the baggage that we carry, as grown-ups. When a kid is punished for no fault of his own, at the hands of a drunk, depressed father, or a frustrated teacher, I keep thinking of those comedy flicks which show a Chinese or a Polish man being persecuted in Somalia or Malaysia for having asked for a glass of water, which sounded offensive to his oppressors. Whatever the place or the ethnicity, the innocent guy gets roughed up by no fault of his own, and he never even gets to know what he did that brought him such misery.
Disciplining doesn’t mean straight-jacketing. Bullying a kid because one has had a bad day, or a bad life, as for the matter, is insane. If a few dozen kids, by the virtue of being children, as God intended them to be, can make a whole bus-load of bickering, petty-fogging adults momentarily forget their acquired meanness and fall back to their innate goodness, think, what wonders we adults, with the power to rationalize, can work, if we are willing. So why choose to be a sourpuss and rain on our children’s parade?