The Open Page of The Hindu today featured a short article titled ‘The World of Chhota Bheem’ which highlighted the dark sides of the highly popular animated TV show for children, stereotypical characters and racist biases being some of them. The writer lamented over how these may subtly influence the multitude of children who watch the show regularly. I, for one, being one of the 90s children brought up on a lavish dosage of Cartoon Network, couldn’t help pondering on my own upbringing. Looking back, I realize I can trace almost every aspect of my personality to one childhood experience or the other.
Yours truly is an environmentalist who faces constant death threats from friends secondary to irritating and long drawn lectures about saving Mother Earth, and today it struck me how my favorite toon as a kid, Captain Planet, might have something to do with it.
For the uninitiated, it was an animated edutainment program which featured five youngsters from five continents, each in possession of a powerful ring that could be used to control the elements (Fire, Water, Wind, Earth and Heart). Working together, they could seek the help of Captain Planet who would fight the enemies (criminal masterminds with no concern for ecosystems) and save the day. Their portrayal of the perfect Earth with a focus on sustainability, afforestation, animal conservation and responsible waste management had a significant impact on the kind of person I turned out to be. Today, twenty years down the line, the mantra of Reuse, Reduce and Recycle still stays fresh in my mind and I try to comply with it wherever possible.
On a similar note, I am pretty sure Denver, The Last Dinosaur is to blame for my one devilish craving – potato chips.
The issue does not pertain to TV shows alone. One of my favorite toys as a child was a set of tiny colored wooden cookware I acquired on a visit to Madurai. The minuscule look-alikes of pans, rollers and traditional utensils won my heart like nothing else did. Over the years, the pieces were broken, misplaced, lost.. As I grew up, they became but a fond memory. Fast forward to January 2017 when I come across brightly colored wooden items at a handicraft exhibition in Pondicherry and go gaga over them. I come to know that these are the famous Channapatna Toys from Karnataka – these even have a GI tag! Since then, I have gone back multiple times and acquired more and more of these adorable collectibles. I’m afraid I can’t help it. They are a part of my childhood and that alone deems them a precious and priceless status.
When I was a little girl, I imagined I would remember not to grow up to be the kind of adults I hated, the ones that forgot all the simple games, the tricks, the ones that did not know how to turn a piece of old newspaper into a little boat, or a ripe coconut leaf into a watch. But as J. M. Barrie ruefully documents in Peter Pan, we forget. All of us grow up and forget what it is to be a child. That in itself is not so dangerous – we only turn potentially boring. What is indeed dangerous is how, as parents, elder siblings, uncles and aunts, we forget how impressionable children are, how every little thing can make or break them and have lasting effects on their lives.
Especially in today’s world where mass media, social media and cyberspace come together to play a major role in our daily lives, we need to be responsible enough to decide and control what the posterity is exposed to. Toddlers do not need iPads, they need attention and care that they can in turn learn to disseminate. Let technology take a backseat; lead them to books, stories and imaginative play.
Let us create the perfect future, the perfect Earth, one child at a time.