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Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 10/2/15 2:53 PM

Feature: Teaching Kids Gandhigiri

Worthwhile lessons

Of course, our children know who the Father of the Nation is. Unlike a certain island nation where the school-children fared dismally when it came to an awareness of their country’s history and history-makers, most Indian schoolkids will be able to turn in a fair essay on Bapu, his thoughts, beliefs and deeds.

But you have to wonder: are they really able to integrate his precepts, blend them into day-to-day living? Let’s look at some popular teachings of Gandhiji — the ones most relevant to the world we live in today, yet instilling them in our young generation seems an uphill task.

Look only to the good in people 

Everywhere you look, there is a feeding frenzy. And what people feed on in frenzy are not the good qualities spotted in another human being. It’s invariably their bad streak, their criminal streak, their scandalous streak. That is what grabs eyeballs, not stories of the good people do. Given a steady diet of such intense and unswerving focus on the unsavoury side of humans, will our kids really look for the good in people? Or will they imbibe cynicism?

Practise ahimsa 

This was the basic tenet of a man who grafted the principle of non-violence onto politics and made it work! Violence was rampant in Gandhiji’s time too, it’s just that people had the intelligence required to pause and reflect on the folly of their deeds. It was still a time when violence was regarded as a reprehensible aberration. Not so in today’s times, alas. The pushers push, the shovers shove, the beaters beat, and virtually all disputes are settled through violent means. What’s more, a particular act of violence called ‘road rage’ has now become the norm.

Inculcate self-discipline
You must be the change you want to see in the world, Gandhiji proclaimed. Try telling this to the kid nearest you and s/he will smartly shoot back: ‘But it will be only me. And one person is not going to change the world.’ You see, whatever the kids seek today, fame, glory, power, money, none of those seem to have a backstory grounded in self-discipline. Oh, of course, there are tales of how hard work and self-discipline wins the day, but for the most part, what the kids see is manipulation of people, rules and regulations, ducking under the radar, the back-alley deals that win the aforementioned day.

Work for the larger good

Good Samaritans still abound across the nation. But it is in their nature to go around doing their work quietly, efficiently. Those who tom-tom their deeds for a moment’s blaze of publicity don’t stay the course. And Gandhiji knew that working for the larger good was not a time-bound but a ceaseless activity. Do our children have the time or the inclination to do so today?

Be open-minded
If you ask me, this should be the golden rule of them all. Then again, when people are being killed for voicing, writing, singing, painting, acting or filming what is perceived as ‘dissenting’  ideas, for thinking out of the box, just where is this open-mindedness?  It’s an insecure age, where everything that does not conform to set precepts, is seen as a threat.

Honesty is the best policy
Satya was one of Gandhiji’s basic beliefs. Yes, it’s all very well to tout honesty, but what the children see around them are waves upon waves of dishonesty. People saying what they don’t mean; people saying one thing and doing quite another; people wielding the truth to suit them. The Absolute Truth has undergone a radical transformation since Gandhiji’s time: it is now the truth as we see it.

Engage in continuous learning and improvement

Today’s kids are all about surfing ceaselessly, restlessly for quick sensation, quicker gratification. And sadly enough, they don’t see the assiduous application of continuous learning and improvement serving as examples. At a time when many of the classics of literature are on Twitter in a series of 140 characters, who reads books? In the day of the fully shrunk attention spans, how do you get your children to dedicate time and energy to engage in continuous learning?

Adopt the creed of simplicity
The Age of the Consumer has given way to the Age of Ostentation. When children are rewarded with expensive goodies, both edible and wearable, gizmos and vehicles that cost the earth, treated to quick holidays across the world, try telling them about the benefits of living a simple life. When the accoutrements of life are anything but simple, where then will simplicity find a place?

Follow religious co-existence

All the riots that broke out during the last years of Gandhiji’s existence caused him no end of pain. One can imagine just how anguished he would be today when religion seems to have pitted man against man.

“There is no cause I am prepared to kill for,” Bapu famously said, going on to speak his immortal precept: “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.”  Alas, who is listening now?

While the task may be an uphill one, it certainly is not an impossible one. All it will take is a set of determined and committed teachers and parents who will use their power the way Gandhiji would want them to: with love and care. Already, more and more of India’s young are showing that they have their heads firmly in place. The kind of adulation the late President Dr APJ Kalam garnered, the way many top-rankers are refusing cushy MNC jobs to work in the public sector or join NGOs, why even the way the Big Fat Indian Wedding is being given the go-by for a smaller, tasteful affair, are all pointers that young India could well go beyond mere gestures and transform India.

As Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi rightly said, “A man is but the product of his thoughts, what he thinks, he becomes”. So, here’s the question we need to ask ourselves: What do we want our children to become?

This ran in DECCAN HERALD of 2 Oct 2015.


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Sheila Kumar • October 2, 2015

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