Little People

A common thread running through three incidents. Picture this…

Little People

A five-year old is at the passport office to get his passport renewed. This is a big event for him. For two days, he has been telling everyone who will listen that he has an appointment to get a new passport.

All documentation has been verified, photograph and fingerprints taken. The official at the counter looks up, then looks down at him and says ‘No passport for you.’ To say he is shocked would be an understatement; it appears as if it is the end of the world for him. The lady then says ‘I was joking’. The five-year old with tears welling up in his eyes turns away. It is clear he doesn’t find the “joke” funny. Seeing his face fall, she seems to regret what she’d said. In a rather feeble attempt to make amends, she asks which school he goes to.

Cut to an extended family get-together. A dozen middle-aged folks are sitting around after a hearty lunch. They look to the youngest member to provide some entertainment. The boy is asked to sing. Now, Boy doesn’t fancy performing before an audience. He politely declines. The group doesn’t want to take No for answer. They insist. He refuses. They persist. His parents are thinking of a way to handle the situation.

Meanwhile, the boy in a show of great skill turns around and declares he is the Ma’am. This is followed by instructions in a stern voice ‘All of you, sing one by one. You start’. He has not just turned around; he has turned the tables too. The hitherto self-assured group doesn’t know how to react. Their vocal skills are as good or as bad as those of the five-year old. They try to wriggle out of it, but now it is the five-year old’s turn to refuse to take no for an answer. After a while, during which there is a lot of discomfort on display, there is a collective decision to present a group performance. The boy gracefully gives in. The point is made.

Another day, another episode. The boy has won a medal at school in a race. A family member wants to let others in the extended family know. The boy doesn’t want to talk about it but family member still wants to, and tries to trick him into blurting it out. Attempts like ‘What don’t you want to talk about?’ fail, the five-year old fields them expertly. There is no sign of a let-up and finally his mother says ‘If he doesn’t want to talk about it, he won’t. You’ll just have to let it go.’

Whether it is a person in a position of authority wielding power over someone fifty years younger as in the first instance; or a proud family member who wants to brag about her progeny’s accomplishments; there seems to be little respect for a child’s wishes or feelings in the adult world. What I find even more disturbing is the unwillingness to make an apology.

What are we teaching the citizens of tomorrow – that it is alright to ridicule or manipulate someone if you get a chance?

I hear parents complaining that their kids don’t like to be laughed at, or any criticism made publicly. So, clearly, this is not specific to my son, but something more generic. But then, is it any surprise? Children do come with minds and hearts of their own, after all.

Children maybe little, but they are people too, aren’t they?

Arundhati Venkatesh is an engineer by degree, a mother, an observer of life and people, a feminist, a minimalist and a compulsive maker of lists! An IT professional in her previous life, Arundhati now works for an NGO that empowers the differently-abled. Arundhati reviews children’s books at saffrontree.org. You can also find her at www.womensweb.in – an online magazine for the thinking woman. She records her adventures with her son at http://arundhativ.blogspot.com.

  • Amrita Thavrani

    Nice read, it was. You posed your point, beautifully. Respect in communication we lack as a society. Change is long due.

    • Thanks, Amrita. You have raised a valid point. There is a lack of respect in general – for public property, personal space, for the differently-abled, for women, children… the list is long! And yes, change is long overdue

  • A nice piece. Yes, children come with a mind of their own and they need to be given space too. How much is that, that is something we all need to find out personally….

    • Thanks, Shail. True, that. How much space – that is something I am grappling with. I’m trying to strike a balance

  • Yes, listening to a child’s need and giving her space is something unheard of and laughable .. Also parents get blamed here for bringing up kids that way.

    • Divya, I think as a society we cater to a child’s needs (food, comfort, education) and material wants (that coveted toy, TV time, fancy gizmo) more, not so much the emotional ones

      And Divya, there will always be people who find fault, one just learns to do what feels right. Pregnancy brings with it “big” changes… everything gets bigger. The only thing one must develop consciously is a thick skin to handle all the criticism!

  • Satarupa

    Good piece, Arundhati; But I am not sure if I agree wholly with it; Or maybe I should say, I agree in principle but am not sure if we should bring up kids sheltered and conditioned to think that people will respect their spaces and preferences always. In the imperfect world that we live in, you don’t have that privilege even as an adult, I am afraid. So, at some stage or the other, you have to accept it. The later that you come to brush with that reality, ruder the shock. So people WILL crack jokes which aren’t in the least bit funny, you will be forced to do certain things that you don’t like to and your secrets MAY get leaked out by a person you trusted with your heart. And while we as parents should hug them tight when we see the hurt on their faces, and make them feel that at least we understand, we must also find a way to tell them that such is the world we live in. We have to face it…

  • Agree, Satarupa. Not in favour of protecting/shielding children at all, hope the article doesn’t come across like that. And yes, all of us (kids included) have to do certain things whether we like it or not. That is life. The kid is told they are non-negotiable.
    Just wishing for a world that were kinder to every living being, not based only on equations of power.
    Also, this attitude towards children may be overlooked, and I feel we need to be mindful. Domestic help in India “plays” with a child by putting a favourite toy out of reach. Extended family teases a kid saying he/she will be taken away from parents…

    In the situations I’ve written about, the upside was that the child handled it remarkably well for his age. I did not have to intervene. We did talk later in private. If the situation ever gets out of hand, I will step in. I do respond firmly (and hopefully, politely) if the kid is being labelled, or if there is a stereotypical statement made. When a remark is directed at me, I stand up for myself. If I find I just cannot get along with someone I try as much as I can to stay away. I do hope I am modelling the right behaviour

    • Satarupa

      Of course, you are, Arundhati. It’s wonderful – the sensitivity with which you talk about these situations. And the best thing you are doing is forcing many of us to think about such issues in depth – bringing them up from the layers of our subconscious… maybe this is how the world will someday change for the better.

  • Beautiful write up. Most of us have never thought of it that way. Now, I would try that my little one gets his space wherever needed. What is important is keeping it balanced. Now that is easier said than done.