Thursday, December 29, 2011

Making Saraswati Flow Again

I picked up the book - Sarawati's Secret River - for my daughter hesitantly. Another story based on Indian mythology? Should I just pick up a fairy tale instead? Oh well, let's see how she likes it, I thought.

Her reading is far from what I would like it to be. So one rare night, when I agreed to read a book for her, I picked this one up. By Devdutt Pattanaik, I was suddenly caught up in the story and read some 8 pages instead of the promised 4. Then, of course, I didn't pick it up again for a while, hoping my daughter would tell me how it read. But I ended up reading it again.

I wondered - is this book for children or adults? Of course, the style is simple and the story straightforward, but it is adults who must read this book. For, children probably already instinctively know what Pattanaik is writing about. It is we adult who go against the grain!

Goddess Saraswati visits a school principal and takes her on a journey to the past when children learned what they were interested in. And so, the River Saraswati flowed big and strong. But over time, rote and forced learning began, and the river shrank.

In the princi's own school, there is a boy who questions, and is discouraged... The lesson being, don't discourage him and let other students think independently too.

Now, tell me, what is the use of making this a children's book? Isn't the greatest tragedy of our times the fact that adults decide what and how children should learn? Isn't it we who cut down curiosity and encourage rote? By telling children about the need to pursue their interests, isn't Pattanaik doing them a great disfavour? By sowing such thoughts, they will only meet with frustration as they go back to schools all enthused, only to find lessons forced down their throats!

Mr. Pattanaik, it is not enough to write great books. Please make them realistic. Don't raise hopes in children without preparing them for disappointments.

Or, maybe he is hoping that children when they become adults will bring about the necessary changes? Hmmm... but by then, they will be 'house-trained' too!
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