Introducing Hindu Mythology to Children

Why did Krishna and Balarama never come back to Vrindavan?

Why did Krishna never meet Yashoda, Nand Maharaj and his friends of Vrindavan again?

The demons knew that Krishna is God and they will be killed by him, yet why did they continue attacking him one after the other?

Why did Dasaratha have 3 wives?

If Hanuman can go and meet Sita in Lanka, why did not Sita come back with him?

Why did Rama shoot the arrow at Vali hiding behind a tree?

As we have started introducing Hindu mythology, starting with Ramayana and Krishna to O +ve and B +ve, we are being bombarded with the questions. The above is a sample list of questions asked by them.

Neither of us, my wife and me, remembers when we were introduced to the 2 epics. Now, for what seemed like the well-accepted story to us, almost everything is getting questioned and we have no sensible answers for satisfying the curiosity of 4-year olds.

I have tried checking the internet for answers and speaking to our respective parents. However, I am realizing that as grown-ups, we seem to readily accept what we have been told/are being told rather than raising innocuous questions that stem from the innocence of 4-year olds.

For us, the religious beliefs gets interwoven with the story and the mere thought of raising a question of why such an event occurred or why such an event did not occur seem sacrilegious. The 4-year olds are oblivious to the adult way of life. They just speak for themselves and not for the putting up of pretence.

We are realizing that the same story can get told; actually, need to be re-told at the various stages of growing up of a child. As children grow and mature, their perspective evolves and develops a better understanding of the world around them. Accordingly, the stories being told to them need to evolve accordingly. The story that can be told to a 4-year old can and need to be different to the story being told to a 14-year old. Just that, we have no mechanism to do this.

Similar to the age-appropriate versions of the same story, it is also a case of age-appropriate answers for the questions raised by the children. There cannot be one standardized answer, though the question can remain the same. Just that, we do not seem to know any answers for any of the age-groups.

What would be the end-product of narrating a story to a child? I suppose it has to be the child asking for more. It has to be the case of the child coming up with a narrative and explanation of his/her own. The story-telling has to ignite the curiosity of the child, raise his/her inquisitiveness, and make the child live the story in his /her own personal manner. Just that, we do not know how to plot a storyline for the already well-itched out epic in our minds?

As adults, for reasons explained by the society, we accept simple and superficial answers. It makes our life simple and also of the people around us. In reality, the 2 epics have layers of complexity for each of the deeds – the whys and why not’s. Just that, when we ourselves are clueless, how are we supposed to make this age-appropriate and explain to 4-year olds?

We have realized the above limitations from our side and have decided to go slow in introducing our daughters to Hindu mythology. Rather we have decided that the issues of cousins killing each other, a brother-in-law disrobing his sister-in-law in front of her 5 husbands, a lady having 5 husbands – The Mahabharata can wait for some more time. Or for that matter, a father cutting down the head of his son with both of them not aware of each other’s existence.

After all, the girls are still not letting go of the fact that Krishna never ever came back to his cherished Vrindavan.

I am sure that each one of us would have faced this challenge. Currently, we are at our wit’s end and trying to find resources to better introduce Hindu mythology to children.

What’s your suggestion?

Schools continue to be far for girls in India

We visited my home-town Rajkot in Diwali. The girls get the luxury of the play area in the apartment, where my parents stay, and they make full use of it. During the time that we were in Rajkot, apart from O +ve and B +ve, they were only a couple of children in the play area meant for residents of 50 flats. I had a passing discussion with one of the children about his schooling, and I realized that the schools continue to be far for girls in India.

The child I spoke to studies in the 5th standard of DPS, Rajkot. As per the school’s website, Delhi Public School Rajkot founded in 2002, is one of the schools run under the aegis of Delhi Public School Society, recognized throughout the academic world for its progressive approach to education, path breaking educational practices and commitment to excellence.

I was speaking to the child about his school, classes, course and so on. I asked him about the number of girls in his class and he told me that the number of girls is limited in the school itself, and not just his class. He actually gave me his own version of the reason for this scenario. He told me that the school is far from the city, so the girls are less in the school. I asked him that he goes in the school bus, then how could it be far for the girls? He again repeated that the girls in the school are less as the school is far and what has it got to do with the school transport provided by the school itself? We moved on to other topic but his answer that the school is far for girls stayed with me.

Gender stereotypes built at an early age

I realized from the child’s answer that he has been already programmed. From someone, from somewhere, he has already learnt and accepted that the girls should not be going to the schools far from home. Availability of school transport does not make him budge from his position. The idea of equality of opportunities does not appeal to him. The notion that he, as a boy, is privileged is drilled into his mind.

Differential gender behaviour

My mother informed me a bit about the child and his family. His elder sister works as an interior designer in Dubai and did a course in France – everything all alone. Now, it does not occur to him that it is fine for his sister to venture out of the country but not all right for a girl to go to a school on the outskirts of the city. The double standard of the expected gender behaviour from the mother, sister, wife, daughter and others is getting added to the thought pattern.

The role of the school

The school, of course, would know that the number of boys outnumber the girls. What would have they done to reverse this trend/discrimination? Apart from perpetuating the situation by being a passive bystander, the organization does not do any justice to the vision and mission of its existence. This is a guess, though. I am sure that if the school is working towards this issue, the 5th grader would not have answered the way, he did.

The origin of gender stereotyping

I believe that this gender attitude gets inculcated in a child from the family, including the double standard. Yet, it is considered inappropriate to involve the family in this discussion. I am sure that if I would have gone to discuss this with the child’s father, I would have been asked to leave. It is something like we know that someone is corrupt, is taking dowry, is a bigot yet we continue the relationship with a pretension that everything is fine and we should not intrude in one’s personal space, even though it is detrimental to the society. They, after all, walk among us.

Conclusion

I know that India is progressing. The women are making the country proud in various spheres – they are heading corporates, winning medals, leading changes in the society. I also know that we continue to have one of the worst male:female ratio and a gender discrimination that starts from birth and continues for the entire life-cycle of the woman.

I understand that the readers of this article might feel that I am being needlessly pessimistic when the positive change is happening all-around and the girls are outshining the boys.

Speaking to the 5th grader of one of the elite schools of the country led me to believe that the wheels of change in India is going to grind way too slowly and schools continue to be far for girls in India.

Maybe, I am reading too much from one example.

What is your say?

Warangal Zoo Visit – Our Children Deserves More

What should differentiate a child from a metro city to a non-metro city, or an up-country town? The child has the access to the same curriculum, similar technology – internet, even the malls irrespective of the place where s/he stays. Ideally, the difference has to be none, but that is not the case and we know it.

I suppose among the few differentiating factors – one is the physical experience that a child can get for his/her exposure. A visit to Warangal Zoo set me thinking on why we treat the children from non-metro locations as lesser mortals when it comes to investing in a better experiential environment for them.

The First Step

I visited Warangal Zoo on 27th October 2018 with my 4-year old twin daughters. They really look forward to visiting a zoo and this was no different. At the ticket counter, a charge for a battery operated vehicle was mentioned. I asked about the same, I was told that they have only one vehicle and it has broken down.

After entering the zoo, I asked the security and he said that the driver was on leave. Whatever be the reason, an organization focusing on customer service would never have been so casual in their approach to their customers – children in this case. If it is broken, get it repaired; if the driver is on leave, I suppose it is not rocket science to drive a battery operated vehicle for n number of staff working in the zoo.

The Animals

Warangal zoo has three large animals – the bears, the jackals and a leopard. We went to the jackal moat first. The girls are under the jungle book trance currently, so they started shouting for Tabaqui, unfortunately, we found none. We went to the bear enclosure next; the girls started shouting for Baloo, again we did not find any animals.

Both the enclosures are in such bad shape; I was convinced that there are no animals inside. There was no staff around for us to ask. The girls were very discouraged to see that their efforts were not yielding any results.

The next up was the leopard enclosure. The leopard was in a good mood to give a close-up to the visitors. The girls were overjoyed. We saw that there was a bird inside the enclosure, sitting on the opposite end to the leopard. The leopard also noticed the bird, sat still for a couple of minutes, ran and pounced on the bird. The bird managed to flew away. It was some sight. And a thought that enclosure was broken from somewhere for the bird to fly in and fly out!!

We finally saw one zoo-keeper. The girls asked the leopard’s name, it was called Deva. We also asked about the jackals and the bears but realized that the zoo-keeper could not communicate except for Telugu and the girls did not understand what he was speaking. The girls wanted to know the age of the leopard, what is fed to the leopard, was the leopard a boy or a girl, did the leopard have a friend – but the zoo-keeper was in no¬†mood to talk to us. He was busy chatting with his colleagues who had come to meet him.

Next stop was the ostrich enclosure. The girls were very excited to see the giant birds. Next, to the enclosure, a person was cutting some leaves, presumably to feed the birds. The girls asked about what the leaves were and if they can try their hand at cutting the leaves. He shooed us away, maybe the zoo has some secret feed ingredients that it wants nobody to see.

We thought that we were coming to the end of the zoo, it was wilderness ahead. There were no signs anywhere. We just walked on enjoying the shade of the trees and the tweeting of the birds. And, we stumbled upon the deer enclosures – the sambar deer and the spotted deer. The other 2 enclosures were empty.

As we kept walking on, it was another shot at the wilderness and a wooden bridge to cross a dirty stream – looking like drainage water. The girls had an adventure crossing the bridge with the large cracks, where they could actually lose their foot down, and the creaking sounds it made.

We realized later that we were actually encircling the zoo and we came up on the other side – we saw 3 iguanas in a small cage, a crocodile in water with an empty enclosure next to it, lots and lots of tortoise hatchlings, an aviary with 19 cages (O+ve counted them). We also saw “the beautiful bird of the earth” – a blue-coloured bird, as one of the girls called it. My wife told us later that it was the state bird of Telangana. We also saw 2 black swans and a white swan, in the water dirty enough to make the white swan black by the time we visit again.

The End

That was it. We were through with the visit of a 50-acre zoo. Very fortunately, the girls brought us back to the jackal and the bear enclosures all over again. The sun had set, the guard was whistling for the visitors to leave and taking it as a sign, animals had come out. We did manage to see them.

I did not find Environment Education Centre, Library, Auditorium and Museum in the Warangal Zoo premises; as I found them on the net. The Facebook page of Warangal Zoo – Kakatiya Zoological Park has no updates since 29 July 2017. The last 6 updates have photographs of politicians and no animals. Wondering what that means?

All in all, I remember Warangal Zoo for non-functional battery operated vehicle, a lot of empty enclosures, poorly kept enclosures where the animals were actually present and no signage for the visitors, beyond the first turn. I would also remember it for the stinking toilet and a non-functional water dispenser. I am sure that a zoo in a metro location would have none of these. Why should the children in a non-metro location have such a third-grade experience? If their parents can pay for the fancy schools, multiplex, internet bandwidth, online shopping – why would they not afford a zoo which is better managed and with animals?

It is about my perspective though. My girls did enjoy their outing of the Warangal Zoo. But for that matter, put them in a green space with squirrels, insects, leaves and twigs and they will enjoy that too. The crux of the matter is why we raise children with an experience, calling it a Zoo, which kills their quest for a better experience.

PS: Regarding zoo-keeper’s attitude towards children of not speaking to them / not answering their queries, each of the zoos in India, I suppose, will score the same. We know how to reduce an experiential venture to just a visual thing to pass by as a customary task.