A childhood lost in a crisis of identity

A childhood lost in a crisis of identity

Group of children

I snapped my fingers to break his trance. It was unusual that my bubbly ten-year-old was in a pensive mood. Carelessly toying with his white skull-cap, he fired a query that pinned me down, “do we have the papers, mom? he asked. Helplessly, I faked a smile onto my quivering lips. Our papers were in place, however, the heart to expose my child to an identity crisis at his age wasn’t.

It was a paradigm shift, the fabric of his dreams that kept him awake were made of Chandrayaan 2, he spelt and pronounced Kailasavadivoo Sivan just right and he even took steps to emulate him. He dreamt to be both—a rocket scientist and an astronaut, that way he could venture into space as well as newsrooms. Technology has advanced since Kalpana Chawla, he frequently assured me. His nervousness, therefore, pained me. How fair was it to divert a child’s google search from ISRO to NRC and CAA?

It was equally alarming that my daughter, a seventh-grader was trying to locate ‘Shaheen Bagh’ on google maps. Assam was suddenly more than geography and tea plantations. Assam was now a scary story. The words ‘detention camps’ terrified her and she desperately wondered if it was a mistake to put it in the Indian context.

The last time I encountered ‘fascism’ and ‘nationalism’, was when they fetched me a 10 on 10 for the crisp essays I wrote when I was her age.

Times have certainly changed dramatically. She finds the evidence of this strewn over newspapers, its echo resounds in newsrooms, chants of ‘azaadi’ don’t seem obsolete anymore and have found their way out of history books catapulted straight into the protest and human chains right outside my own window, my very street.

It isn’t paranoia. Present national discourse ranging from farmer suicides to electrocuting women protesters only buttress my fears.

Gone are our ‘Malgudi Days’ when children’s conversation was peppered by the latest Khan movie and Sachin’s century. The blanket classification of all friends and peers, neighbours and relatives, city and countrymen into only ‘bhakts’ and ‘tukde-tukde gang’ is appalling. ‘Tragic’ would be insufficient to describe the state of affairs.

Why on earth is the ‘superpower in waiting’ digging out demons buried decades and centuries earlier? Hadn’t we by burying them built the edifice of free India? Inviting them to haunt and hound us will be cancerous for the health of this great nation. These skulls are speed breakers, potholes and pitfalls in the path of our country’s success and glory. The venom of hatred is gnawing at our hearts, desensitising us even to the hunger pangs of over 20 crore fellow Indians who will sleep hungry tonight.

Isn’t it incumbent on a family of more than 130 crore to care for 35 million of its children who have never been to school?

Shouldn’t a citizen’s loyalty to the nation be gauged by his efforts and passion to fight the evils of rape and violence, of child labour and drug abuse? India lies not at the mercy of self-proclaimed patriots. I challenge them to invent a paper that can record one’s love and emotions, sweat and service to the nation.

Can hatred ever overpower love and justice?

As the storm of fears abates in my mind, I proceeded to pass on this legacy of resistance and resilience to my children, as best as I could considering their innocent age.

Patriotism is not about settling scores or demeaning fellow countrymen but in feeding a hungry soul and shifting children from garages and tea stalls to classrooms.

They hung onto every word of my sermon and realised how real power lies not in openly wielding and firing from your gun but in fearlessly standing your ground and upholding brotherhood.

I kissed them goodnight with a ‘goli maro hatred ko!’

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