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Of purple trees and flying cats

Aldina Braganza

We all aspire for a happy life, yet living a happy life is not well taken. In Goa we have a beautiful word ‘susegado’. Better known for describing a relaxed way of living, mistaken for being lazy, the word ‘susegad’ is more often than not considered an insult and never used as praise.

It’s not surprising at all given that we live in a country of hard working, seemingly busy people who have vowed never to relax and have fun – being happy is considered to be a bad thing. It’s all about the hard work. There is no time for a good quality of life. The preferred argument being, that if we don’t work hard enough, we are going to be left behind in the race for that promised fairy tale ending of success and happiness-ever-after. Let’s face it. There are too many of us and of course we may not have enough of that golden pie.

 Our target, of course, is our children. We cannot deny them this route to happiness, where dreams are realised and everybody is rich, successful and happy. Consciously or subconsciously we rationalise that our circumstances did not allow our dreams to come true, so it is important that our children are given these privileges.

Unfortunately we start very early, sometimes even as early as three years. We send these beautiful babies to a pre-primary education facility. Here they learn the basics of writing and other skills that will be desired of them in primary school. This is where we often first break our children. They begin to draw straight lines and colour inside the box. Their little fingers struggling to meet the demands of the few adults in their life. They are so desperate in their attempts at trying to please and obtain favours; their minds trying hard to figure out a world of boxes, straight lines and order – where everything has to be as it should. They learn to look at the world through a tunnel without the exciting possibility of seeing a square-shaped sun, purple trees and flying cats. We rob them of their divergent thinking, their ability to think independently and look at the impossible which these young kids would have automatically picked up if they were left to have fun, play and be ‘susegad’.

Without the curious nature of questions and imagination, by the time the child turns three he or she learns to conform and obey blindly. Unfortunately it seems as if the whole nation and its systems have joined parents in this endeavour. We schedule their life ‘telling at them’ rather than giving them an opportunity to find out. Heck, we even tutor them so that they will pass the entrance exam for primary school. And of course there are tuitions! Tuitions that are much-needed or how else will the child cope with the recommended syllabus? The fact that lessons are designed according to a child’s stage of development rendering tuitions redundant falls on deaf ears. It is the norm that children are not capable of studying on their own and need tuitions. The nearer they get to the dreaded class 10 and 12, the schedules get even more bizarre. Waking up at unearthly hours to go for those special tuitions –otherwise how will they pass their exams?

Education, apparently, is not about knowledge or questions but about ‘The Exam’. Most parents believe that exam results are like a magic password that will open the door to some hidden treasure. So what does 100 per cent mean? Does 100 per cent translate to student possessing knowledge about everything – will they able to think new thoughts and make new discoveries? Or does it merely mean that they are able to provide correct answers from a limited bank of knowledge?

When 100 per cent becomes so common that it becomes the cut-off for admissions to a bachelor of commerce course in some universities in India what should we assume? Does 100 per cent imply that the student has gained knowledge to their fullest potential?

It is a mockery to our own education system. Never once do we stop and think about what we are actually doing to our children. Instead we join the millions of others and find ourselves a space in that tight spot we call the paradox of life.

And if studying is not bad enough we have managed to turn a simple old play into a timetable. Recent studies are suggesting the effects of such schedules on children. The number of cases of burn-outs, suicides, anxiety disorders and gastrointestinal and coronary problems seen amongst youth are on an increase, definitely indicating that we need to rethink the ‘susegad’ concept.

We need a paradigm shift. We need to rethink and re-examine our idea of a successful life. We need to understand that exam failure does not equate to life failure, that fun and play has its functions and are as important for young children as school and exams, that children should be given the opportunity of seeing the world through their own eyes before you introduce them to your view of life and that being creative, questioning and having relationships are more important than 100 per cent results. Children do need purple trees and flying cats.

(Writer is a clinical psychologist, psychotherapist and the HOD of psychology at Carmel College for Women)

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