Food for Thought
Honesty Always the Best Policy?!
Musing recently on the capacity of human beings to utilise verbal contortions and outright lies in the pursuit of their various objectives (notoriously so, in the case of politicians - from the "dynamic duo" of Bush 'n Blair, to the more home-grown variety!) I realised that the only ones who "tell it like it is" seem to be those aged 10 years and downwards...
That is not to say that children don't lie! In fact, a fascinating documentary I recently saw indicated that sometimes children as young as two or three can manage a fib when they need to. Perhaps the difference is that they save it for occasions when it's really necessary i.e. "I didn't touch the chocolate pudding"! It could be argued that this kind of lie comes into the category of "jaan bachano farz" - a sort of "lying to save your life" justification (and let me stress that I have met some parents in whose case the missing chocolate pudding would indeed be a life-threatening issue for the child offender concerned!)
But in many cases, children have a refreshing capacity to both see and tell the truth. Sometimes, of course, to the considerable embarrassment of adults! Like my friend Rosita's daughter, seven-year-old Juni. At a mother and daughter picnic organised by her school in Germany, they had the opportunity to go for a quick dip in a her generously endowed, took off her brassiere (keeping her shirt on) in order to let it dry properly. To Rosita's horror, Juni piped up with devastating clarity, "Look, Mummy, that lady must feel so free now"!
secluded lake nearby. Afterwards, one of the mothers, who was rather generously endowed, took off her brassiere (keeping her shirt on) in order to let it dry properly. To Rosita's horror, Juni piped up with devastating clarity, "Look, Mummy, that lady must feel so free now"!
Sometimes the very honesty of children can have devastating consequences for adults. My mother has a story about how she was carefully putting on her makeup for a university event, while her two-year-old niece Reshma watched with great interest. All was going swimmingly until Reshma suddenly asked, "Tumi shajo keno? Tumi to shundor na!" ("Why are you dressing up? You aren't pretty!") Needless to say, despite the inaccuracy of that statement, my poor mother is still recovering from the shock several decades later.
Clearly, there are times when the fault lies with adults. My friend's two-year-old daughter Joya was attempting to induct her carer, Geeta-di, into the pleasures of palaeontology. While playing with her battery-powered plastic dinosaur, Joya tried to get Geeta-di to understand the nature of the beast - "Do you know what this is? It's a dinosaur. Say "dinosaur", okay?" she demanded. Needless to say, poor Geeta-di tried her best to oblige, working her way through a series of attempts including "Dano" and "Danasa". Unfortunately it was not nearly good enough for her small charge, whose frustration drove her to remark quite brutally, "Tumi ki kichhui bujho na?!" ("Don't you understand anything?!")
Aside from bruised adult egos, there can of course be additional unforeseen consequences - sometimes this happens despite the best of intentions on the part of an honest child. As there were for me, when my niece (at the age of five) interpreted my frantic signalling to avoid speaking to someone who had called our landline asking for me, by giving that person the following message (now immortal in family lore): "Phuppi says she is not at home right now"! Yes, yes, I know we aren't supposed to teach them to lie...
Of course, sometimes it is just fascinating to see the particular "take" a child can have on the behaviour of adults around him/her. My friend's little son, Mateo, recently delivered the news about his friend's parents' impending divorce as follows: "They quit"!!
Finally, it's worth remembering that children have a whole range of ways in which to deliver their blunter messages, as my friend Tina was recently reminded by her two-year-old daughter Joya. Recently, she arrived home late (around nine in the evening) after attending a series of meetings. As she trudged up the stairs, Tina was thrilled to hear Joya telling her carer, "My mother is back! My mother is back!" She walked into the house, putting her briefcase down and taking off her dupatta, and prepared to give her daughter a hug.
As she stood up again, Joya said, "Ma, please put on your dupatta", so Tina obliged, albeit a little puzzled. She watched in amazement as her daughter proceeded to run to the balcony and called out to their driver, "Uncle, get the car ready". "Joya, Uncle is going home now, he's finished work for the day," Tina told her.
"Ma, hold your briefcase," Joya said, ignoring her mother's admonition. Tina did so, primarily because Joya was struggling under the weight of a briefcase that was almost larger that she is! "Now you can go back to office!" the two-year-old finally said, making it QUITE clear what she thought of a mother who came home so late...
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