Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Of competition, pressure and suicide(s)
Curiosity in children nature has provided, to remove that ignorance they were born with; which, without this busy inquisitiveness, will make them dull.
- John Locke
Sakshi is one of the newspapers I read religiously, everyday, along with The Hindu. I recently happened to read this very interesting and touching story in their Sunday Magazine (dated Sept. 06, 2009) written by their columnist, Mr. G.R. Maharshi. Those who can read Telugu can find the original version here (try opening it in IE).
For the benefit of non-Telugu readers, here's a gist of the story. It revolves around a little parrot (an apt metaphor, I must say) who just wants to fly and enjoy the sense of floating in the air without being caged. But her parents don't really approve of it - they want to send her to a cage (no prizes for guessing what it stands for!) which is guarded 24X7 by teachers, books, canes, exams, homeworks, and punishments among others.
Here's a sample of how our little parrot used to feel in this cage:
Teacher: "Do you know what's gravitation?"
Little Parrot: "Those who love the sky and the air need not think about the earth."
Teacher: "You've got zero marks!"
Little Parrot: "I know what's a zero, it looks like the full moon."
Teacher: "Nonsense! this is an institution which produces doctors and engineers, not poets or philosophers."
Thus goes the conversation... and on several occasions the little one's promptly put in place while being taught the rules of the cage and how not to cross the line. On one such occasion, when our parrot is unable to answer questions on Gama, Alpha, and Beta, the mother parrot was summoned.
After a detailed discussion with the teacher(s), the mother is disappointed that her daughter is not 'normal'. "Your father and I have worked very hard to send you to this cage. We'll ONLY feel happy if you come out donning a doctor's or an engineer's wings," says she. "But I'm good at flying - please let me become an expert at it," our little parrot pleads with her mom, tears glinting in her eyes.
But how dare she! How dare she question the rules of the game... how dare she think of flying in an opposite direction while all the others are flying in the same direction? How dare she answer her mother back!! Just a couple of slaps were enough to set the daughter right!
"You've no choice but learn what fetches you money. Be obedient, stick to the rules of the cage and come out with a doctor's coat so you can earn a lot by coming up with new diseases. Or become an engineer and build bridges between trees. You can collect money at the toll gate from each bird that flies there. If this country doesn't give you enough money, fly to America or Europe. But you cannot think of taking flying lessons anymore," was her last warning to her child.
Can our little parrot go against her parents' warnings? I guess not! She just kept counting days in the cage, occasionally peering out the window with a gloomy expression. Her day would start at 5 a.m. but God knows when it would end after all the lessons she's forced to learn hour after hour. She almost forgot that she has wings and that she used to fly once upon a time. How long can she remain sane if she's not allowed to fly? Soon she fell ill, but the mother would only talk about career, and how important it is to get back to the cage.
One night, when the mother is just about to sleep, there's a knock on their door. "I'm the God," declares the person at the door. "And your daughter wants to come to me. But I don't like it if people come to see me without being summoned. I sent you all to this earth thinking you'll lead a good life. But, contrary to my expectations, you're all spoiling your life with false notions and unnecessary competition(s). I've not created this world for just doctors and engineers, I made it for everybody. And I love all my creations equally. Go tell your daughter that I don't want to see her now," said the tearful God, his words afflicted with pain.
"Does God also cry?" the mother was surprised. "Yes, He cries only because He is God (and is pained to see the plight of His people)." With that, He walked away...
This beautifully narrated tale touched me in more than one ways, I must admit. The writer's subtle-yet-sharp way of dealing with such a tricky subject using simple metaphors drives home the point, loud and clear! The story certainly makes all parents who care for their children sit up and take note. I'm still wondering if the competitive academic environment that's plaguing the present-day Indian education system actually yields desired results!
Why are we so caught up with our own prejudices and sense of right/wrong, good/bad, that we impose our views ruthlessly on our children? Why has it become so essential for our children to achieve what we couldn't? Do we really need to break these young hearts and push them towards taking drastic steps like suicide? Why are we so bent upon killing the child's creativity right at the primary school level? Now, isn't it high time that parents stop driving their children insane?
And the fact that the story was dedicated to all youngsters who ended their life because of parental pressure and stressful competition proves the importance of getting rid of the rat race. I hope somebody makes a beginning somewhere and help curtail the increasing number of teen suicides in the country. Guess educational institutions like these help build a new kind of society free from competition and pressure. Here's three cheers to many more such new beginnings and pressure-free academics!