When my daughter was all of 6, she adored a certain Bollywood star to bits. She had very famously declared that she would ‘marry’ the star, and go to play in the snow with him. Till, one day, when the actor was on TV, she ran to pick up the remote from the table (as a rule, we don’t keep the remote in our hands – its common property) and changed channels! The conversation that followed went something like this:
Me: “Sweety, why did you change the channel? He’s your favorite actor!
Little G: “No he’s NOT!” There was a certain distress in her voice which made me sit up and probe further.
Me:“Why? You used to like him so much….”
Little G: “Because he’s a (religion).”
My face must have given away my shock. G (the husband), who was sitting a little away, looked at me and shook his head. I understood what he meant – Not now. No reaction. Probe, and discuss later.
I let her watch her cartoon for a little while, I gathered my wits, and had a discussion with G on how we wanted to handle this. I went to her and asked her if she wanted a snack. (My daughter is most open to new ideas when she has her favorite snack – must be a genetic thing)
Me :“Errr….. baby, who told you Actor is a (religion)?”
Little G named an elderly relative, who is a regular visitor. This person is someone we all love and respect; and more importantly, is someone who has won Little G over, lock stock and barrel.
Me (in a tricky situation now):“And what if he does follow that religion? How does that make him bad?”
Little G (now looking at me with an exasperated look): “Well, they fight with us. Just like (people from another state in India)”
I looked at G, and the grim look on his face told me that he too, thought this was a serious issue. We had to educate her on the tolerance of the diversity we have in our world, while keeping the friendship she had with the elderly relative intact. Phew!!
Me: “Baby, see….. When Grampy was young, there were many wars. And Grampy fought in them too….. Just like people from (other religion). Grampy lost a lot of money, and friends during that time. So, these people started hating each other. OK tell me something – are all the friends who play with you in the park always nice to you?”
Little G (scrunching her face trying to remember): “Not all. Sometimes Divya says she’s cutty (not friends) with me…. And sometimes, Ananya too, when she and Divya become partners.”
Me:“But you still play with each other, right? Why don’t you stop playing with Divya and Ananya?”
Little G (looking at me as if I had said the unthinkable): Mammaa….. We only fight when we don’t agree on the same things, sometimes. But they are my friends. And we have a lot of fun together too….”
Me :“Sweety, grown-ups are just the same!! We keep having fights over things we don’t agree. We call it an opinion”.
Little G: “O-PEE-NI-ON?”
I laughed at her attempts at saying the new word. But things seemed to be going well, as she climbed up the sofa to sit on my lap. She always did that when she needed to understand something I said.
Me :“Just because they have a different o-pee-ni-on from you, does not make them ‘Bad’ does it?
She shook her head.
“And not everyone is good or bad because they come from a different state, or a different country. A person is bad only if they hurt someone else. Right? And such a person can be from any place.”
A slight nod of the head.
That’s when G pitched in with the last bit of overwhelming information for a 6-year-old. “Sweety, you know Adi Uncle is Papa’s best friend right? He and I shared a room in college for 3 years. Adi Uncle is also a (religion). And did you know that Mamma is not from Delhi?”
Little G smiled. “Yeah! I know. Mamma is from Kay-ra-la. Right Mamma?”
I think we established the fact to Little G – for now. But reinforcement comes by way of our conversations at home. I realized (hopefully right on time) that kids seem to have little magnets in their heads which pick up biases at the speed of light.
Which means that the moment I voice my disappointment over the driver because he comes from a certain state, or when a neighbor has loud wedding festivities which I attribute to their religion or caste, or when I say that someone is a careful spender because of a community they belong to, my little one picks it up, whether I like it or not.
We, as parents, sow the seeds of tolerance in our kids. Or intolerance. The choice, as they say, is entirely ours. And the only way to influence their choices is to walk the talk.
Meena Bhatnagar is a mother of two, with a passion for the written word. She dabbles with fiction, a couple of them finding their way into published work, is an avid blogger, and works as a corporate trainer to pay for all the damages. She blogs on parenting, social issues and humorous incidents of her life and on hotel & restaurant reviews and corporate training.