Asterix And The Chieftain’s Daughter: Parenting Lessons

The latest book in the Asterix series “Asterix And The Chieftain’s Daughter” is full of parenting gems and wisdom. The comic book is as enjoyable as always and the parenting counsels are a pleasant addition. It has been interwoven with the narrative so brilliantly that the reader barely notices them, yet the impact is hard-hitting and remains with the reader much after s/he has completed the story.

The book is about Adrenalin, the teenage daughter of the defeated Gaulish chief Vercingetorix. Julius Caesar wants to capture her. For Adrenalin’s safe-keeping, till they raise an army, her two foster fathers bring her to the little Gaulish village, we know so well. Vitalstatistix orders Asterix and Obelix to keep a watch on Adrenaline. However, the girl, who is a bolter, has other ideas. We are also introduced to Blinix and Selfipix, the teenage sons of Unhygienix and Fulliautomatix.

The above context, which could have been a regular Roman bash-up story, which it is; and in addition the author also gives parenting lessons. Some parenting advice is mentioned explicitly and a few of them are embedded throughout the storyline.

Here we go:
  • Violence won’t get you anywhere with children. Remember, talk and nothing else.
  • The teenage years are a difficult time. Be gentle and don’t upset the kid.
  • It won’t do the parent any good, over-parenting the young like that.
  • The main thing is that the child gets plenty of character.
  • All that really matters is our children’s happiness.

The above is mentioned clearly. The below requires a context and we have plenty of it in our daily lives.

  • Her father told her to resist conquest and to be free, and that’s what she did…in her own way.

The parents can wish and have ambition for their children. The children, in turn, should be free to have their own interpretation. The parents’ desire to having a safe and sound future for their kids can be fulfilled by children in ways and means that parents may not have even imagined. And, that has to be actually fine for parents.

  • I am not wearing girls’ tunics.

Girls do not have to wear pink. Boys do not have to wear blue. The identity is not shaped by what is worn by norms and traditions, but by what is carried by self-belief and conviction. The parents can get bound by gender stereotypes; however, there is no such need for kids to be shackled down to. And, that has to be actually fine for parents.

  • Wherever I go, Alesia breaks out all over again, I can’t take it anymore. / I’m so over people using me and my torc to start wars.

The kids are not the means to further the hostile cause for the warring adults. For that matter, the kids are not the means to further any type of cause for any kind of adults, even well-meaning ones. The children have to be free to choose the cause of their liking, and even not to choose, should they want to. And, that has to be actually fine for parents.

  • Blinix and Selfipix have no interest in their fathers’ battles and vocations. They actually fancy exchanging their trades.

The parents’ task is to give exposure to their kids, enable them to think and act. The parents’ have to facilitate the kids to grow up to be the individuals with their own judgement, identity and application. The kids are not the means to further the parents’ reasons, leave alone the vocation. And, that has to be actually fine for parents.

  • What are the Gauls like? A throwaway society, they consume and then boom, they throw away.

Remember, what is broken is not repaired by people who have been party to it and allowed it to rot to reach its current stage. The adults do not, always, get it right. The kids have a stake in tomorrow’s society and the world for they are going to inherit it. The children may not have a charitable opinion about the social order they are growing up in. And, that has to be actually fine for parents.

I am sure that there are more parenting lessons in “Asterix And The Chieftain’s Daughter” than what I could muster above.

To be honest, it is not easy to imbibe the above lessons in me. As a first step, I have kept the book away from my twin daughters’ reach. They are sure to ask uncomfortable questions about me and my behaviour basis their interpretation of what they read in the book. They have every right to do so. I am doing a soul-searching to arrive at potential answers and show perceptible changes in me. After all, parenting is growing up together.

Never had I thought that apart from the usual dose of fun and laughter, an Asterix comic would have so much to offer in parenting lessons.

Please do read “Asterix And The Chieftain’s Daughter” and share your thoughts.

Open Spaces For Children In India: A Myth

What is the ultimate joy of being a child? What should be the perk of being children? Where and how children get to live their childhood?

Few more questions. What is the most blissful for an adult in watching over children? What is it that delights adults, which a child engages in? For adults, what would be their childhood memories?

These are no trick questions. Think hard. A hint – All the above questions and even more questions that you can think of, similar to the above, has a single answer. Irrespective of who you are, where you are, varied social/economic class, the answer remains the same and yes, again an only answer.

For me, the answer is children in their natural surroundings, exploring, interacting and playing with other children, oblivious of the world around, just being children and having fun. There cannot be any other answer.

A child is not going to remember gadgets and toys, clothes and gifts when s/he grows up. A child is surely not going to recollect when s/he first saw the mobile and the countless mind-numbing screen time s/he had. But, a child is surely going to remember the experiences and the events that s/he has lived through; outside the home and more so, with other children. Come to think of it, these are the memories of your childhood that you still carry with you.

By default, these memories and experiences will have a common thread – open spaces. There is no exact definition of these open spaces. They can be a playground, an empty plot of land, a vacant parking lot, a gully/road with less vehicular traffic, with/without shade, but open nonetheless and also, safe and secure for children to mingle and goof around without adult/parental supervision.

Importance of open spaces for children

Open spaces and children obviously go hand-in-hand. Childhood connotes freedom and being self, uninhibited and natural. What better place to express this, than open spaces? Not just outside the confines of the four walls, but also beyond the endless directives of overbearing parents/adults?

Open spaces expose a child to all kinds of environs and interactions. It gives an opportunity to children for hands-on and experiential learning that no amount of simulated and artificial set-ups can ever do. And, yes it is free of cost, available any time of the day, never stocked out, fresh and novel every time and a lot more.

I can go on and on about the importance of open spaces for children. But I suppose, each one of us is aware of it and that’s not the point. The point is that even though all of us know about the benefits of open spaces for kids, all of us are blissfully unaware about the conspicuous absence of the open spaces, anywhere and everywhere, for children to express themselves.

Where are the open spaces?

Try to recall open spaces for children in any of India’s cities of today. Try harder. Come on, there has to be at least one, hidden somewhere, in the neighbourhood, in the ward/locality, or maybe in the entire city/state/country. Sigh, I cannot find any. You are lucky if you have found one for your child.

Mind you, similar to a spontaneous childhood not amenable to exacting adulthood, open spaces do not fall in the realm of adult understanding.

A playground is not an open space. It is not accessible to children across age-groups/it may not be free. More so, most of the playgrounds have now been taken over for some sort of sports coaching or the other purposes.

A park is not an open space. Do not believe me. Try visiting any large-enough park that is open from dawn to dusk. The trees will be taken over by swarming couples in dire needs of privacy. Surely, they are no places for children to be left alone. A community park is a shared resource between the retirees and children. Retirees do not like to have any kind of disturbance in their eternal chit-chats. The result – children of all ages are driven out from the parks or caged in one corner.

A play-area of a gated community is not an open space. Yes, it is open and accessible, but selectively. It is not within reach of the children of maids and drivers working there, children cutting across social and economic strata. This is a must-have condition of open spaces – kids getting diverse and heterogeneous exposure and not a mono-culture of ivory towers.

Vacant plots and parking lots, empty roads and by-lanes hardly exist in today’s urban India. If they do, they are not safe and secure.

Options, Choices, Future

In such a scenario wherein open spaces for children in India have turned into a mirage, what could be the options, the choices that we could have made and have actually made? What does the present herald about the future of open spaces for children? I have written about this in the second part to the current article. Publishing soon.

What are your thoughts on the open spaces, rather the absence of it, for India’s children?

Reopen Schools And Colleges. Lockdown Everything Non-Essential.

The Government of India has opened up everything in COVID-19 Unlock, except for schools and colleges. The Central Government, which presided over all the aspects of Unlock, has handed over the decision-making for reopening of schools and colleges to the State Governments. They, in turn, are dragging their feet over how and when to reopen schools and colleges.

From the peak of 95,000 + cases, the current daily case-load has dropped below 50,000 cases. Yet, few Governments have dared to reopen schools and colleges. The second wave of COVID-19 infections is expected sometime after Diwali. If schools and colleges do not reopen, now, even when the cases are down by 50% from the peak, reopening has no chance to happen when the cases soar again.

This would mean that almost the entire academic year would be lost for the students in terms of not able to attend schools and colleges for in-person teaching. In such a grim scenario, what could be the option to salvage the situation? Is it possible to ensure that a generation of students does not miss out on the essential learning outcome of an entire year?

I propose: Reopen Schools and Colleges. Lockdown Everything Non-Essential.

The detractors will say that it is a silly/ridiculous/impractical suggestion with no saving grace. As a parent, a citizen and a human being, I am convinced about the feasibility of my suggestion. I argue as given below to support my proposition.

Is Education Essential or Non-Essential?

In the Unlock, the Government of India started reopening essential services in decreasing order of priority. Hence, the iterations of Unlock 1.0 to 5.0. Now, with everything else open and only schools and colleges remaining closed, how is the Central Government viewing the education? Is it essential or non-essential? Surely, it cannot be later.

Let us compare the criticality of education vis-a-vis other sectors already reopened. Restaurants, malls, hotels, theatres, non-essential shops like garments, electronics etc. are open. The public gatherings of all the denominations are allowed. The Bihar state election too got conducted in the middle of the pandemic. How would you rate the importance of all these as compared to education?

In fact, the logic of essential/non-essential can be flipped to gauge the significance of education. The Government considers the education to be of the utmost consequence, that it does not even consider to reopen schools and colleges. By keeping them shut, the Government is admitting that education is the most valued aspect for the country and it cannot be risked.

Everybody agrees that education is vital for the future of the country. Then, why not walk the talk?

Adverse Impact on Economy/Jobs

The critics of the suggestion to shut down everything non-essential, to reopen schools and colleges, will say that the economy will be devastated. They will say that an enormous number of jobs will be lost. They will say that the GDP will contract, the share-market will collapse, the investors’ will lose confidence in the country etc.

Look at the actual picture, as on date. Share-market has regained all the 2020 losses and is inching northwards. The forex reserves of the country are at a record high. The GST collections have crossed the psychological 1 lac crore mark in October. Even with most of Q1 2020-21 lost in a lockdown, the GDP contraction was limited to 24%. As per Government projections, it will turn positive soon.

The Government has announced the Atmanirbhar Bharat package amounting to 10% of the GDP. The RBI has drastically reduced the interest rates. EMI moratorium has been backed up with interest waiver. The Government is so flush with funds; it is going around paying Diwali bonus. With so much going for the economy, it can surely absorb the shock of a few months.

Everybody will agree that the economic losses are transient and the economy will recover, as it has done already. More so, the Government has stepped in to support livelihoods and will keep doing, as the situation demands. However, the learning outcome loss for students cannot be bridged. It is gone forever unless there is a zero academic year.

Nobody Wants a Zero Academic Year

Ramesh Pokhriyal has already said that the Government will not allow a zero academic year. He is right. Not just the Government, the schools and colleges, the parents and most of all, the students do not deserve a zero academic year. Now, if that is out of the question, what should be done about ensuring the learning outcome for all the students?

Please keep out the charade of online learning from the discussion. If quality education can be had from watching the screens, let’s dismantle the schools and colleges. Has online learning ensured that no child is left behind? Is access to online learning been fair and equitable? Has the Government made even any effort in this direction?

BTW, if online learning from home is so effective, the JEE/NEET should have been conducted with students at home. Why should the exams be away from home when the study is fine being at home? The Government would say that this is silly/absurd/impractical. If that is so, so is the step to not own up to reopen schools and colleges.

Everybody will agree that the Government is treating physical attendance in schools and colleges arbitrarily, as it suits its objectives.

Reopen Schools and Colleges

The children have the right to proper education. It is dreadful to rob the children of their chance to excel in future. To make matters worse, the children do not even know what they are losing out on. For sure, no parent would want to see their children get promoted irrespective of the learning outcome.

Is it right to focus on today’s economic gain at the cost of tomorrow’s knowledge loss?

It is time to get our priorities right. Let’s reopen schools and colleges. Lockdown everything non-essential.

PS: European countries did precisely this. In their first COVID-19 lockdown, they started unlocking with educational institutions. Now, in their second lockdown, they are shutting down the rest, but not educational institutions. They know that education is essential and they walk the talk; not shy away unlike our Government and us.