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Rhyme and reason

Last updated: 23 October, 2009
By Mala Kumar 22:10 IST

Nursery rhymes go through many changes and get learnt in different ways.

There is a simple rhyme that we all know: “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.”

Just how simple is it? Imagine daddy, mummy and tearful child in a city home, entertaining guests. Mummy wants Bunty to recite ‘Humpty Dumpty’ for the nice aunty. “No! I don’t like ‘Humpty Dumpty’. I only like ‘Georgie Porgie’,” says the little fellow.
Is the child a pervert? Is he showing too much attitude? Is he demonstrating the first signs of rebellion?

In class 1 of a government school in Jhumri Talaiyya, Leela Behenji is teaching English. “Mere saath bolo: Humty Dumty had ye girate phall.” The kids recite loudly, “Humfy dumfy addyegrit phall!”

Leela Behenji is happy. Chunnu, Munnu and Pappu’s parents are happy because their children know English. Well, they know that Humfy something something, fully in English, they say proudly. And also the “Twinkalu, twinkalu litalu istar”.

Lobbyists for home-grown rhymes, say, “Indian values dictate that children listen to their elders. But what does Humpty Dumpty do? His mother has told him hundred times not to sit on a wall and dangle his legs. But does he listen to his mother? No! He falls down and …”

“And why do all the king’s men come to his rescue?” questions a feminist. “Why are the queen’s women not running to help him? Why should we bring in gender discrimination so early in the lives of our little ones?”

Knowingly or unknowingly, nursery rhymes go through many changes and get learnt in different ways. Senseless or not, children have fun reciting it. Having grown up on those silly rhymes, and having seen so many kids grow up on those, I’m happy to report that we are all mostly caring and normal. Some children fed on ‘Little Miss Muffet’ grew up to be passionate entomologists. Little boys who shouted ‘Ding, dong bell, pussy in the well’ did not grow up to be senseless murderers who drowned cats.

Some schools in India have tried to replace archaic nursery rhymes with smart new ones. Just recently, there was public outrage when BBC decided to correct the accident-prone Humpty Dumpty by getting all the king’s horses and all the king’s men to ‘make Humpty Dumpty happy again’. The ‘creative licence’ did not go down well with modern parents who believe children should know that in the real world, eggs do break when they fall.
So should we or should we not sanitise children’s rhymes? That is one hard egg to crack.

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