Questions Are Answers!

Quick. Take a shot at this. What are the top questions that you were asked as a child? Come on, take a shot.

Question Are Answers!

Did they resemble this set?

  1. What is your name?
  2. What is your father’s / mothers / brothers / dogs / name?
  3. Which school do you go to? Which class do you study in?
  4. Who is your best friend in school?
  5. What is the name of your class teacher?

I remember getting plain bored with these questions. Sometimes answering the same questions to the same folks in the same birthday parties with a year’s difference. My answers wouldn’t have changed. But hey, neither did their questions.

To figure out why at all anyone would be curious about my class teacher’s name, was clearly beyond me. But that question always managed to shove a frog down my throat and I suddenly became interested in the cake. Or whatever was the nearest object.

Cultures pass down furniture and jewelry as heirlooms. I guess with many of us, these questions get passed down as intact heirlooms ready to be deployed on the nearest kid available. Incredible isn’t it. That these questions are still in vogue.

I know that these questions are still in vogue, for I caught myself asking these questions in yet another random birthday party!! The needle on the time machine has moved on to bring in french-fries and burgers to birthday parties, but left these questions as religious relics of sorts.

There must be strong reasons why these have survived. Well, for one, they are easy to ask. And almost everyone that asks has been asked the same question. Two, It usually gets a definitive answer. Dug out of memory.

Three, It is safe territory. The kid has been that question a zillion times before that. Usually, the kid doesn’t ask ‘what do you think?’ when you ask them ‘what’s the name of your class teacher?’.

Kite Train

Questions can do many things to children. They can help sharpen the memory, or maybe, even their routines. And many times, get a conversation started! And these questions are super good value at that. The trouble is many of us don’t go beyond these questions!

There however are another set of questions. Those that shape imagination.  Those need some effort and involvement. Definitely more than ‘what the name of your class teacher?’  There is very little a child has to do to ‘IMAGINE’ the name of the school, the class teacher or the class.

As a young boy my dad introduced me to a very old friend of his. For the ostensible reason of learning ‘English’ and ‘correct grammar’. Am sure you have a point or two about how ridiculously lousy my English grammar is. But then, I ended up learning several other things from him. He was a frail old man and all I remember is looking forward to talk to him. In retrospect, I think it is because he never cared for my class teacher’s name!

‘Why is banana yellow?’ he would ask. And I would rack my brains and ask him, ‘Why’? He would shrug his shoulders and say, ‘I don’t know’.  ‘How about finding out’, he would say. That used to be my quest until the next weekend when we would usually meet.

“If there is one thing about your shirt colour that you would want to change, what would that be?” He would ask and after parsimonious sipping of some filter coffee accompanied by disproportionately loud slurps he would ask, ‘why?’. The ‘why’ would reek genuine curiosity. Once I got started speaking, he would let me go. On and on. Nodding. Leaning forward. Smiling. His parsimony was not restricted to the coffee sips, but also extended to what he spoke!

As the weeks flew by, he would extend his hand and get the next available object out and place it on the teak table in front of him. “Now, let’s go”, he would say. The game was simple. Each of us had to write down as many questions as we could about that object. It could be a banana. It could be the day’s newspaper. It could be his glasses. His cycle keys. Whatever. We had to think up as many questions as we could.

Some we answered then and there. The rest of the week, was usually spent in quest of the answers that we couldn’t find. Those were pre-google days.

I was gripped with intrigue and joy in that quest for questions, even as the world around me was looking for answers. More often than not, one thing leading to another and a thought train that would touch the sky.

I didn’t think of it as big deal back then. But as I tumble around in the corporate world, and as Microsoft Word keeps correcting my grammar I sometimes wonder about my time with him. And when I chance upon such stuff like this in the Boston Globe and other stuff like this in the Harvard Education Letter, I realise what a gift he left me with. He was a man ahead of his times.

All that I recall was that I could ask questions. So could he. I could be curious. So could he. There was nothing wrong with ‘I don’t know’. For he himself would say that often. When the questions are right, the answers usually flow! He taught me that the joy was in the search.

So the other day, I narrated all of this to the missus. And told her about my grand plan to ask questions that would spark our daughter’s imagination and let her mind roam the blue sky. The missus crosses her hands shakes her head, tilts her chin and asks, ‘So you think, that would give her a complete education?’

‘I think it will’, I say, emphatically. And then realise who I am talking to. I issue a correction. Thinking of the frail old man who would have said, ’I don’t know. But how about finding out’!

Kavi dabbles in writing, reading, traveling, photography, long distance running amongst other things. He and Shanti have their hands full with their adorable toddler, Kayal. In-between all of this, he gives an arm, leg and everything else to earn a living. Usually accomplished by punching keys, attending meetings and trying to sound profound. He blogs at http://kavismusings.blogspot.com & tweets @kavismusings. Just in case you are intrigued enough to know more about him please head to http://about.me/kaviarasu.

  • Awesome.. Good way to tickle that tiny brain to get some exercise. I am adopting this..

    • Lovely ! Good luck with it. I think it will work. Well, actually, I dont know. But I think we should give it a good shot! 🙂

  • Amrita Thavrani

    Had questions been not the answers, there would have not existed any answers to any questions. What pushes the imagination is not answers, but the questions. You spark the need of questions so beautifully. Keep writing K!

    • “Had questions been not the answers, there would have not existed any answers to any questions” Whoa!

      Nice ! Chuffed and all that reading you comment. Thank you 🙂

  • Nicely written! I will remember not to ask those questions to kids 🙂

    • LOL ! Thats fantastic. Yes. And this post came alive because I caught myself asking the same questions. 🙂

  • I love this approach, the old gent was definitively ahead of his times. The challenge is we ourselves are guilty of killing the curiosity bug and focus on what is going to come in the Tuesday test… 🙁 Education = Marks not true, not true

    • I read somewhere today, “You were born awesome. Please ensure you dont die average” ! We need to pass the mantle of wholesome growth stoking curiosity.

      And I realise, today is Tuesday. Oh! Good luck with the test! 🙂

  • Roshni

    uh oh! Now, I need to look up why a banana is yellow!! 😛
    The question about my teacher’s name always used to fox me…I never got quite why they wanted to know! It was like they had just come up with a random list of things to ask and were just crossing them off one by one for no apparent reason! That in turn fosters similar mindless activities in kids!

    • I dont know why the banana is yellow either. But hey, how about finding out!?! 🙂

      I am glad I wasnt the only one perplexed about the class teacher’s name business. Infact I am relieved! We need to be mindful of the mindless actions our meaningless questions can trigger. hmm !

      Thanks a ton!

  • i think imagination is what pushes the kids to ask question.. like the other day my niece was like… ‘can i run like mowgli’…. i told her to try and find out… she ran and fell and said she wud try again the next day and wen she did jump / hop or whatever (but definitely not run) the next day, she was happy beyond description and told everyone to call her mowgli now… lol!!

    • Hello Supriya !

      Its a jungle out there. And there are mowglis galore. The only difference is not many are having the time of their lives as your niece is !

      thank you for connecting ! 🙂

  • Oh Ya! Questions are very important. They help us to bond with the children and I think today’s children are bored of our historical questions. They are more interested to talk about cars, or angry birds, being like Poke mon etc. We must try to frame questions that would interest them and also make them rake their brains. Its important to let them use their brains.

    • Hello Manjulika
      You’ve hit the nail on its head. Questions that deepen their quest for more questions will get us some place good !

      “Its important to let them use their brains.” I mean…thank you for saying that!

      🙂

  • The Power of Why! Currently I am in the ‘Whaa is theesse’ phase for everything the toddler sees. I reply with “What do you think theessse is?” , I get myriad answers sometimes and sometimes I get a blank stare which says ‘ you just answer my question,woman!’
    I also have gone through the basic question sets . They have to be taught too na 😀

  • Very interesting post. Asking questions do have a way of inciting the child’s imagination like nothing else, doesn’t it? Questions force a child to think, to imagine, to create….and it’s the best way to keep a child entertained and deflect his attention from TV, for every child would rather talk to you and have you listen than passively watch television. Children are naturally curious and are trying to learn about the world around them – so asking them questions actually help them think beyond the regular.

    Of course, as parents, we should be prepared to answer their questions as well if we want to keep that curiosity alive – sometimes with direct answers, sometimes with an ‘I don’t know, let’s find out’ and sometimes with ‘what do you think?’

    Kritika Srinivasan
    http://www.parentedge.in

    • Hello Kritika!

      Ofcourse we should! Ofcourse ! And once we are done, we should do more of it! Questions are indeed the answers.

  • Mercy Livi

    A much needed point to discuss and happy that you came up with one ! I am huge fan of Open Ended Questions and when asked to kids they amuses us with their answers.

    During my childhood, on summer vacations my dad used to ask us (needless to say all cousins get-together) such question. Those who gives him interesting answer get a golden color wrapped “Groundnut Candy” (We call kadalai mittai in Tamil) as a reward ! 🙂 awww…. Good Old Days !

    I try to reproduce the same skill when I talk with my son and hope I can do better if not best as my dad !

    • Anything for Kadalai mittai! I mean, anything!!

      :))

      Am sure you will pass on the legacy. Of the kadali mittai too! 🙂