A cure for childhood!
“Anarko ke aath din”, The Eight Days of Anarko By Satyu is a delightful tale of eight days in a young girl Anarko’s life. Sprightly and imaginative, Anarko often transcends her surroundings to build another world in which doctors become patients and teachers become students and face the sort of treatment they administer in the real world; where her mother and father exchanged roles….where colourful birds fly around in huge numbers, and explorations are not limited by the rules of our world. Anarko’s world is packed with thoughts, visions, ideas and episodes, a rich repertoire that kept her always, somewhat apart from what was happening around her. She delights in these fantasies and playfully engages with things around that is hard for others to estimate what is going on inside her head. These imaginings raise questions in her mind which she mostly addresses to her parents, but even with them, she sometimes realises that she should restrain herself. When answers do not satisfy her curiosity, she is irked with the others around her, and searches for them herself. The magazine Ekalavya has published a brief extract of the second day, which is the trigger of Shashi’s note for this week’s Masala Chai. The reader, of course, has access to this conversation. After all, imaginary conversations are a reality for all of us. Anarko is like the child that resides in each one of us.
Anarko’s questions defines her search for her serious attempts to understand the way her life is organised, and she is often left dissatisfied by what is said to her. When she confronts her parents with queries, they are often stumped, sometimes silent and occasionally curt. But they are always stumped by the very fundamental nature of her doubts, and unable to find an appropriate answer, her incessant probing is sometimes thwarted.
Anarko is reluctant to abandon her free exploration of the spaces around her, the street, a red silk cotton tree in bloom, the playground. The author’s descriptions are so beautifully illustrated with similes and metaphors that are genuinely child-like in the nicest possible way. One is left admiring the capability shown by Satyu to climb inside a child’s mind and walk around in it. For instance, Anarko’s encounter with the cloudy fluff that bursts out of the ripe fruit of the red silk cotton, is so evocative that it comes alive for the reader, who is left clutching at memories of one’s own past.
Anarko’s second day and Shashi’s essay
The child longs to transcend the confines of her home (she is not unhappy, just searching for more) and is reluctant to go to school. In Anarko ka doosra din (The second day of Anarko), she has a series of questions for her parents about the importance of school from her perspective. I cannot imagine anyone who wouldn’t have questioned this when they were young. To pick it up and write about it rings so true from a child’s perspective. For most of us, the resistance to school-going is a past emotion that has been buried deep under the discourse of the important of school, learning and the long-term benefits. School is taken for granted and the questions from childhood years are forever silenced. Yet, they were there, and so strong when we were children, and Satyu brings that alive for us.
On the second day (of the story) Anarko rises quite reluctantly from her restful morning sleep that is filled with visions of colourful birds, as her mother reminds her that she needs to get ready. She needed to leave soon. Her recent apparition of her teacher being punished by her friend Kinku who made her (the trembling teacher) stand on the desk as a punishment was still fresh in her mind! Her reluctance and gentle defiance raise a series of questions in her mind and she asks her mother for permission to do other things instead, can she be allowed to stay out of school? Her mother passes her onto the father whom Anarko addresses thus. Here, translated from Hindi:
Anarko: “Papa, I won’t go to school today.”
Father: “What did you say? Not going to school? Then where will you gain knowledge from?”
Anarko: “Papa, what will I do with the knowledge I gain?”
Caught quite unawares with this query, the father says “The knowledge you gain will help you when you grow up”
Anarko: “But won’t I forget it by the time I grow up”?
Exasperated, the father says quite sternly, in no mood for a long discussion: “Such a small girl…..and early in the morning bak-bak bak-bak. Go! Get ready, wash your face, rinse your mouth!”
Quietened, Anarko proceeds with her preparations, but the doubts sustain, going round and round in her mind……. As soon as she emerges, ready for school she approaches her father again, somewhat tentatively: “May I ask you one thing?”
“Go ahead” the father replied.
Anarko: “Papa, is knowledge gained only through school?”
Father: “What ulti-seedhi (illogical?) questions you ask. Go, eat your breakfast and go to school!”
Yet another question was lurking at the edge of her tongue, but she decided against it realising she may receive a spanking if she extends this session, but the doubts churn inside her head like a whirlpool. Anarko leaves for school, but the dusty path holds so many treasures: curling insects, shaky shadows, colourful flowers, a rail-track, light poles, fields……and beyond the fields……the beautiful hills….. She finds everything distracting and lands up getting a bit delayed in reaching. Huffing and puffing, she makes it to the queue of children lined up for morning prayers.
In class a bit later, she starts to study a passage, but soon her thoughts carry her away from the classroom to a far-away place……and into a conversation about Bachpan ka illaj (a cure for childhood) which Shashi addresses below. In her imaginings, Anarko sees a bunch of defiant fish in a pond who were found to be unwilling to follow the conventions of their community. They would dance as and when they liked, frolic and fool around as and when they liked, creating ‘havoc’, the older fish concluded. A meeting was called to find a solution, a ‘cure’ for this problem. “Cure?” one of mature fish questioned “How can we find a cure for this when they have been like this from childhood?” The conversations border on a proposal that children’s (fish children) should be organised from an early age and made to sit in one place and made to obey the rules of the community from the outset! They would need to display the rules of the community about what NOT to do widely. “But where all will we display our posters”, some questioned. A solution was found that because rules cannot be displayed in so many places which children inhabit, a room should be constructed in which children (little fish) should be placed, not allowed to move, and within that room, they would be taught the rules! When another doubted children’s willingness to sit in one room for so long, it was discussed that perhaps they could be let out for short periods of time to give them some relief………[POOF!] suddenly, Anarko returned to her immediate surroundings and said to herself “Ugggh! Schools, even for fish?”
If this passage has raised your interest about how Anarko’s dialogue proceeds in the rest of the six chapters, here is the reference:
Satya. (1994/2013). Anarko ke aath din. New Delhi: Rajkamal Prakashan. Isbn: 9788126771783748 (Available online on snapdeal: https://www.snapdeal.com/product/anarko-ke-aath-din/635675410753 for a small sum of Rs. 50/-)
Eight days of Anarko is thus about a child’s mind and its relationship with the world around, about how out thoughts are in fact free and unfettered and how, gradually, the external world of people and nature that provides extensions and opportunities also places constraints what we can do, and in fact, what we think as well. Yet there is a part of all of us, inside our minds, that remains indomitable, Anarko’s story is about that freedom. This essay by Shashi describes how as a teacher of teachers, the story raised a whole host of doubts in the minds of her students (as well as in her own) about the role of society and the dynamics of ‘curing’ children of their natural tendency for an unfettered engagement with their worlds. Other questions arose about the ways in which adults tend to place moral evaluations of children’s actions, and about the ideal objectives of gyan, or knowledge and where all, in fact, knowledge can be found and how this can best be facilitated in children. Here is Shashi’s essay. Happy reading! Shashi writes eloquently in Hindi, and I wanted to share the beauty of her prose before providing a translation, assisted by her.
‘बचपन का इलाज’
िशक्षक होने के कई फायदों में से एक सबसे रोचक फायदा है युवाओं के साथ पिरचचार् कर पाना…उनके िवचारो को सुन पाना और अपने कह पाना. एक ऐसी ही कक्षा के दौरान िजसका िवषय था सत्यु द्वारा िलिखत ‘ अनाकोर् के आठ िदन’नाम कि कताब पेअपनेि ववेचनपूणर् प्रितिक्रया देना. वातार्के दौरान कुछ मनोरजंक तथ्यो पे ध्यान गयापर सबसे रोमांचक और मन में ठहर जाने वाला िवचार था ‘बचपन का इलाज’, इस िवचार पे बात करते हुए युवती बताती है की कैसे िकताब में बच्चों को हर काम करने के िलए िहदायत दी जाती ह,ै बच्चो की सोच और उनकी समझ का कोई भी स्वरुप बड़ो को कम समझआता ह.ै बचपन की बात तो हम सब करते है पर बचपन कीसमझ हमारी सोच से नदारद ह.ै ..यह िवचार और इसपे िववेचना करना बहुत महत्व्यपूणर् ह.ै कक्षा में प्रस्तुत की गयी लाक्षिणक धुन को मैं अपने िवचारो के सूत्र में गुथकर कु छ परोसने का प्रयास कर रही हूँl मेरे इस साधारण से िलखे लेख को समझने के िलए आपको कु छ जिटल सवालो का जवाब ढूंढ़ना होगाl
बच्चे जो कु छ भी करते हैं वह हमेशा एक िनगरानी के अंतगर्त होता है l बच्चो की हरकतों की हमेशा ऐसे संिवक्षा होती रहती है की सहीि कया या गलत, ठीकि कया या नहीं.. लोगो को ठीक लगा या नहीं वगरह वगैरह मुझे बहुत हरैानी होती है यह देखऔर सुनकर के की ‘हरकत’ शब्द को ‘शरारत’ ही समझा जाने लगा है और बच्चो के हरकृत्य को वयस्क के नज़िरये से सही और गलत में मापा जाता है l यहाँ पर हरकत और शरारत दोनों ही शब्दों को सकरात्मक नज़िरये से देखने की जरुरत है l हम अपने बच्चो को हमेशा एक तुलात्मक दृिष्ट के साथ ही देख पाते ह.ै .कभी उनकी दूसरे बच्चो से तुलना, कभी खुद के भाई बहनो से और तो और हम उनकी उनसे ही तुलना करते रहते ह.ै .और यह सब इतने सरल तरीके से करते हैं की रोज मारार्की बात बन जाता हlै
हम चाहते तो हैं की हमारे बच्चे खूब पढ़े, आगे बढ़े पर उनके सवालो के जवाब देने में हम िहचिकचाते हlैं “मेरा बच्चा िकतनाअच्छा बोलता है याि कतना बिढ़या खेलता ह”ै….यह मुझे गवर्से भर जरर देता है परवहगवर्छनभंगुरतो नहीं बाद में क्या बच्चे की जरूरते, सवाल और िदनचयार् मेरे अंदर एक झंझु ुलाहट तो नहीं भर देती l िजतने भी सवाल िलखे गए है वह िकसी न िकसी रूप में मैंने अपने आस पास ही महसूस िकये हlैं बहुत बार मेरे करीबी मुझसे जवाब मांगते भी है ( क्यूंिक मैंने बlल िवकास के िसद्धांत पढ़े ह)ै पर मेरे पास जवाब नहीं होता बिल्क और बहुत से सवाल उमड़ पड़ते है l
A cure for childhood
There are many advantages of being an educator, and the most fascinating of these is the opportunity to discuss issues of significance with students, to engage with their views and find the opportunity to express one’s own opinions as well. During a class with such exchanges, we discussed “Eight days of Anarko”, and students were invited to discuss their views about the story. During the discussions, several interesting perspectives were focussed upon and one of the most pertinent and memorable of these was “The cure for childhood”. One of the students argued how children are always given directives, instructions for this, that and the other. Adults often seem unable to understand children’s perspectives on issues. In fact one can argue that a true understanding and acceptance of children thoughts is absent from adult’s interactions with children. This was followed by an intense discussion about how important this is to discuss.
Children’s activities are often analysed within the binary frame of right vs wrong. I am always amused with the way children’s activities are measured by such parameters. Childhood mischief is not seen as a positive indicator, a sign of development. Rather, it is treated as annoying. Furthermore, we often measure children in comparison with other children, their siblings and even with the child himself/herself (idea, real, a better self) as a matter of routine.
We want our children to study well, progress but frequently, we shy away from answering their questions. “My child is a good orator or an awesome sportsperson”, this fills me with pride but isn’t that pride momentary? Why do parents get irritated with children’s questions? People around me often seek answers from me, assuming that my education (in Child Development) and experience will provide me with the wisdom to answer them. I am able to answer them, but sometimes, I too am filled with doubt and more and more questions arise in my mind.